The funerals of the three murdered teenagers, Eyal Yifrah, Gil-Ad Shayer and Naftali Frenkel took place yesterday afternoon, each in their own community, with many moving and emotional hespedim (eulogies) followed by kaddish. The boys were then buried next to each other in Modi’in cemetery in a joint funeral attended by tens of thousands of people.
Melanie Lidman reported from Nof Ayalon, from Naftali Frenkel’s levaya (funeral):
NOF AYALON, central Israel — Despite frantic prayers and more than two weeks of desperate searching, the saga of the three kidnapped boys ended Tuesday with the mourner’s kaddish, the traditional prayer for the dead, with three families clasped in prayer and an entire country standing behind them.
“Dear soldiers, intelligence personnel and police, we still thank you very, very much,” Rachelle Fraenkel told more than 10,000 people who gathered next to her hometown of Nof Ayalon for the funeral of her 16-year-old son Naftali. “You promised you would find and bring them back. And you brought them back. That is a great kindness, too.”
People from across the country poured into the towns of Talmon, Nof Ayalon, and Elad. Standing in direct sunlight for hours, mourners’ sweat mixed with tears as politicians, rabbis, and family members memorialized the three boys.
On Monday night, after the news broke that the boys’ bodies were discovered near Halhul, Trachtengot said the entire community of Nof Ayalon, with a population of about 2,600, came out of their homes. “The entire town, we sat together. There was this feeling of being united, everyone supporting each other. This is a big town and not everyone knew him, but still, everyone came.”
Two new immigrants expressed the feelings of all Israelis in recent days:
Ellen Shapiro and Chani Rosenzveig, both new immigrants from the United States now living in Beit Shemesh, came to Nof Ayalon for the funeral even though they did not know Naftali personally. “We came because we’re mothers,” said Shapiro. “We’ve been involved for the whole 18 days — activities at the synagogue, prayer sessions every morning, listening to the news all the time… I feel like a part of me was lost,” said Rosenzveig.
“The Jewish community has been united around the world; just outside of the Jewish community there was nothing,” said Rosenzveig.
The funeral processions then moved simultaneously from each community towards the cemetery in Modi’in where the three boys were buried next to each other. The funeral was attended by tens of thousands of people, most of whom of course did not know the families or the boys but came to show solidarity, to express their grief and to find solace amongst all the other mourners.
Despite a fleet of hundreds of buses deployed to ferry mourners from the three funerals to the Modiin cemetery, where the three boys were later buried side by side, massive traffic jams snarled the roads around the cemetery. Aerial images showed buses standing bumper-to-bumper on the way to the cemetery.
The image of three empty graves next to each other showed the inescapable reality of what the country had prayed would not come to pass.
Prayer is worthy, both before one’s fate is decreed and after, Rachel Fraenkel said. But, she added, “You can not always change a decree. For us it was too late.”
As she spoke, her voice nearly broke down in tears, but almost immediately she steadied herself. The act of prayer is worthy, no matter what the outcome, she said.
“Each prayer has its own work to do. There is no senseless act of love and charity. A good act stands on its own,” she said.
“Everyone says you are now children of the world to come,” she said of her son and the two other teens. “But we had hoped you would have many years in this world.”
In describing the teens’ abductors, she said that “they had gone out to hunt.”
God, she said, chose these three boys who were filled with goodness and love as the “poster children” who highlight how different they were from their murderers.
She described her son as an amazing, happy boy, who was both cynical and innocent.
She spoke of a teenager who knew to pray, who loved music and who lived a life filled with love.
Naftali’s father, Avi, added that his son was both mischievous and mature, the kind of child who knew exactly what he wanted.
Avi said that he had written most of the words he was about to say between Sunday and Monday two weeks ago while the search was still ongoing and Naftali’s fate was unknown.
“I felt that even if you were no longer with us in body, your presence is with me all the time,” Avi said.
But it was clear to him, he said, that the three teens were killed on their way home from school only because they were Jewish.
“So you join the millions throughout our history who have been killed for the same reason, from [Mishnaic sage] Rabbi Akiva to [police officer] Baruch Mizrahi,” he said.
But unlike the past, Jews now have a nation and that nation felt connected to the fate of the three teens in an unprecedented way, Avi said.
To his son, he said, “I do not know why you were taken from us so young,” adding, “but your death has propelled us forward and there is comfort in that.”
Rachel said that throughout the 18-day ordeal she had felt blessed by her family and her community.
She thanked the security forces for finding her son’s body and returning him to her, as they promised they would do. “This is an act of kindness, it was not clear that this would happen,” she said. To her son, she said, “Rest in peace. We will always, always, hear your voice within us.”
In the community of Talmon, Ofir Shayer eulogized his son Gil-Ad and praised his heroism:
A friend, a brother, a kind-hearted student who threw a birthday party for his pet goldfish, and a symbol of courage to the people of Israel as a whole. Gil-Ad Shaer, 16, was described as all of these at a memorial service in his hometown of Talmon in the West Bank on Tuesday, as friends and family tried to describe in their eulogies a life that had hardly begun when it was cut short in a hail of bullets on June 12.
“I’ve lost my only son,” said Shaer’s father, Ofir, his head bowed, before asking, “How can I sum up your life and your acts in just a few sentences?” Faced with unthinkable loss, he appeared to draw comfort from speaking of the heroism of his only son, mentioning a moment of courage that had not been made public until this eulogy in Talmon.
“From the moment we heard your courageous whisper, I stood tall,” he said.
“How did you show such courage, someone who was not yet 17 years old?” He was referring to the call his son had placed to the 100 emergency dispatch on the night of the kidnapping.
His father said he had never expected “that you’d become a hero of Israel while still a youth.”
Gil-Ad’s sister Shir-el also gave a short eulogy, saying, “I no longer have a brother,” and expressing her hope that maybe the tragedy had brought the people of Israel closer to redemption.
His mother, Bat-Galim, described sitting in her son’s room, looking at his things, completely unable to grasp what had happened.
Though there were hundreds of mourners present, the funeral was a relatively quiet affair. There were no shouts of revenge or demands for blood or warfare, but a deep feeling of quiet sadness and shock at the loss of such a young life.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid described the tragedy, saying that “today we are burying a young boy. Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children.
When a grown person dies, we mourn about the life they led; when a young person dies, we mourn for the life that didn’t begin.”
He also urged that the tragedy not be seen as belonging to the nationalist camp or any other single sector of society, but that it be seen as a national calamity.
In the town of Elad, very near Petach Tikva, thousands attended the funeral of Eyal Yifrah. His father eulogized his beloved son:
Uri Yifrah recalled hoping that his son would return home, his voice cracking with emotion and wracked with sobs.
“We loved you so much, Eyal,” he cried. “We believed so much that you would come home.”
Addressing his son, whose body lay in an ambulance nearby, he said, “Ask god to give your mother strength and to give strength to all of us.”
However, he added, “we will not break, [and] we will not give up. We are here. We are a strong nation.”
Afterward, as he broke into song, demanding that God hear his prayer and not hide His face, the crying reached a crescendo, with women leaning on one another for support and weeping openly.
Almost all of the speakers in Elad spoke of the intense unity among Jews that stemmed from the #bringbackourboys campaign, which had united religious and secular, Right and Left.
“All of Israel prayed in unity for 18 days for Eyal to return alive to his parents,” said Rabbi Avraham Nahshon, the rabbi of Elad’s national-religious community. “God gave us his answer: I want Eyal by me, with all the martyrs of the generations.”
In Eyal’s merit, Nahshon added, “Israel lives as a believing people that desires the strength [to act] against the Arab enemy.”
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said that all of Israel was united in mourning and that in their deaths, the three yeshiva students “command us to continue in the unity and love of Israel that they bequeathed us.”
“God will avenge them,” he added.
The boys were killed because they were Jewish and citizens of the State of Israel, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told the crowd.
“Israel’s security forces will not rest until we bring them to justice,” he added, referring to Hamas.
“They [Hamas] honor destruction and death,” he declared. “The price that they will pay for their actions will be heavy.”
As the ambulance bearing Eyal’s body made its way through the streets of Elad, taking him from his home for the last time, the crowd followed, hands reaching through the air to touch the vehicle and connect with the teen who had, through shared tragedy, become the entire Jewish nation’s child.
“You taught the whole world what a mother’s cry is and what a mother’s love is,” he said. “Blessed are the boys of such parents and families, and how terrible it is that fate has separated you from them through an evil that is incomprehensible.”
As he spoke, the flag-draped bodies of Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gil-Ad Shaer,16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, lay side-by-side in front of the television cameras and thousands of mourners.
These inspiring words of hope, faith and prayer, uttered by all those mourning the three teenagers, are echoed elsewhere.
In a beautiful post I saw on facebook (via Shelley) Ariella Belote wrote:
Just some Chizuk I thought I’d share that I gained a lot from: From a whatsapp group I am in:
“If it’s true, if they were killed right away, it makes me wonder. Why would Hashem want us to believe for 18 days that these boys might still be alive?. Why not have us find out right away that the three boys were killed on the way home from school?
Because then, it would have been an unfortunate story where we heard that three boys were killed on the way home from school. We would say b”de, be sad for a bit and that’s it.
But we believed for 18 DAYS that they might be alive. We believed that there was hope in retrieving them. We davened with more kavana, we took upon Shabbos earlier, we lit candles for them, people who would never have spoken to each other united in their tefillos. Many took upon themselves extra learning, tzedakah and so much more. The achdus that bnei Yisroel has displayed these past few weeks was beyond comprehension.
So please, take solace in the fact that these boys did not die in vain. They have brought an immeasurable amount of kedusha to this world. Hashem will punish the perpetrators. We have to continue to pray for their neshamos and continue to be b’achdus and continue to grow in our yiddishkeit. Let this not just be a response to a tragic event. Let this be the start of a growth process that will bring bnei Yisroel closer to moshiach so that a tragedy like this never happens again.
Hashem is sending us messages. It is up to us to see them.”
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the UK, wrote of the three boys “In Memoriam”:
The single most striking thing about the Torah and Tanakh in general is its almost total silence on life after death. We believe in it profoundly. We believe in olam haba (the world to come), Gan Eden (paradise), and techiyat hametim (the resurrection of the dead). Yet Tanakh speaks about these things only sparingly and by allusion. Why so?
Because too intense a focus on heaven is capable of justifying every kind of evil on earth. There was a time when Jews were burned at the stake, so their murderers said, in order to save their immortal souls. Every injustice on earth, every act of violence, even suicide bombings, can be theoretically defended on the grounds that true justice is reserved for life after death.
Against this Judaism protests with every sinew of its soul, every fibre of its faith. Life is sacred. Death defiles. God is the God of life to be found only by consecrating life. Even King David was told by God that he would not be permitted to build the Temple because damlarov shafachta, “you have shed much blood.”
Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were killed by people who believed in death. Too often in the past Jews were victims of people who practised hate in the name of the God of love, cruelty in the name of the God of compassion, and murder in the name of the God of life. It is shocking to the very depths of humanity that this still continues to this day.
Never was there a more pointed contrast than, on the one hand, these young men who dedicated their lives to study and to peace, and on the other the revelation that other young men, even from Europe, have become radicalised into violence in the name of God and are now committing murder in His name. That is the difference between a culture of life and one of death, and this has become the battle of our time, not only in Israel but in Syria, in Iraq, in Nigeria and elsewhere. Whole societies are being torn to shreds by people practising violence in the name of God.
Against this we must never forget the simple truth that those who begin by practising violence against their enemies end by committing it against their fellow believers. The verdict of history is that cultures that worship death, die, while those that sanctify life, live on. That is why Judaism survives while the great empires that sought its destruction were themselves destroyed.
Our tears go out to the families of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali. We are with them in grief. We will neither forget the young victims nor what they lived for: the right that everyone on earth should enjoy, to live a life of faith without fear.
Israelis are not perfect, our leaders are not perfect, and not all of their policies are always wise. But at the most basic level, our hearts are most emphatically in the right place. Most fundamentally of all, we want to live. And we want those around us to live — those, that is, who do not rise up to kill us.
On every side, however, in Lebanon and in Syria, and in countries to our east, and among the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, we are faced by many, many people who are taught to submerge their own instinctive humanity, taught that upholding life on this Earth is of less value than killing and dying in the cause of a perverted religious ideology. Just eight months ago, in Afula in northern Israel, an Israeli soldier, Eden Atias, all of 18, was stabbed to death in the coldest of cold-blooded killings by a Palestinian 16-year-old seated alongside him on the bus. Atias was fast asleep when his assailant struck.
What kind of toxic atmosphere can engender that kind of ruthless inhumanity in a 16-year-old? The kind that prevails in homes like that of Amer Abu Aysha, one of the two alleged killers of Yifrach, Shaar, and Fraenkel, whose mother told our reporter Avi Issacharoff two weeks ago that if her son was responsible, she was proud of him and hoped he would continue to evade capture.
The Second Intifada emblemized Israelis’ remarkable — I believe, unique — resilience in the face of terrorism. The construction of the security barrier, the deepening of Israel’s intelligence capabilities, the relentless activities of the security forces in frustrating innumerable kidnappings and other terror plots — all these underline Israel’s capacity to respond effectively to the threats we face.
We need to maintain both that resilience and the pragmatism of our responses — to take actions that deter further attacks, to act in ways that marginalize the vicious extremists, and to avoid alienating those who do not wish us harm.
In their different ways, each of the families urged Israelis to remain united and strong, hailed our solidarity, thanked us for our hopes and our prayers.
They refused to be tainted by the inhumanity that robbed them of their beloved sons. Our hearts go out to them.
May the families be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem and may they know no more sorrow.
May the memories of Naftali Frenkel, Gil-Ad shayer and Eyal Yifrah be for a blessing.
ת.נ.צ.ב.ה. יהי זכרם ברוך