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Three Funerals, Countless Tears and a Nation Deep in Mourning

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By Anav Silverman
Tazpit News Agency

For the past three weeks, life in Israel seemed to have hit a pause. A
heavy cloud descended on the nation as a rain of prayers poured forth from
a people united in hope and some, in foreboding. From the moment that the
report came out that three teenage Israeli boys had been abducted,
hitchhiking home, on Thursday night, June 12, the quick-paced atmosphere of
this tiny country slowed down.

The boys; Eyal Yifrach, 19, Naftali Frenkel, 16 and Gil-ad Sha’ar, 16, were
beloved members of their families, schools and respective communities.
Naftali’s aunt, Ittael Frenkel told me two weeks ago during an interview
that “These are very hard days. But we are very optimistic. We really
believe that with all this help, all the prayers that the country is
praying for them, we hope to see them home soon.”

“Naftali is a sweet kid — a combination of fun and serious,” his aunt told
me in a soft-spoken voice. “He was supposed to take a biology exam
tomorrow.” I remember the only time Ittael smiled during the interview was
when she described her nephew, lovingly calling him “delicious,” an
“amazing kid.”

In my work as a journalist covering Israel in the past seven years, the
tragic saga of these three boys struck a very deep chord with me, as it did
with millions of other Israelis and people around the world. I didn’t
personally know the boys, nor their families, mentors or classmates
previously. But as I interviewed and wrote about them, I felt that I was
given an opportunity to get know three special individuals whose families
and communities further inspired my faith in the goodness of humanity.

Across Israel, prayer rallies were held at public squares and bus stops
almost every day. It felt as if we were all praying for three abducted
family members, whose disappearance was the main topic of conversation on
public transport, in coffee shops, at work and around the dinner table.
During the Sabbath services on the weekend, special prayers were said in
synagogues across the Jewish state, with Psalms 120 and 121, designated as
the appropriate psalms to be recited for the boys’ rescue.

Until the very last day, Sunday, June 29, more than 10,000 people gathered
together at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv to pray and sing for the safe return
of the boys. The parents spoke as did the newly elected president of
Israel, Reuven Rivlin, who asked that all religious leaders around the
world, in churches and in mosques, join in prayer for the Israeli teens.

No one could know that the very next day, the boys’ bodies would be
discovered in a field north of Hebron, in a poorly dug grave hidden by
bushes not far from the site of the Gush Etzion junction from where they
were abducted.

No one could know that for nearly three weeks, the bodies of Eyal, Naftali
and Gil-ad, had been abandoned after being shot by Hamas terrorists, who
struck at the heart of a nation that so values its children.

“We cry, but these are tears of strength,” said Eyal’s father, Uri, weeping
as he spoke about his son before the joint-funeral today. “You were such an
example to your family. Your brothers are missing you, Eyal. We are loving
people. We will not break. We will not give up.”

“Eyal, please whisper in God’s ear and ask him to give us strength to
cope,” asked Uri Yifrach in a breaking voice.

Hundreds of Israelis accompanied the families of the terror victims, as the
funeral procession made its way to the Modi’in cemetery where the three
boys were buried in a joint-funeral after their families held separate
services and eulogies in their respective hometowns. Holding Israeli flags
and supportive signs, regular citizens stood at junctions along the way
showing their love and solidarity.

“We need each other on this day,” said Israel’s Finance Minister, Yair
Lapid, speaking at Gilad’s Sha’ar’s wake in Talmon. “We need one another,
not anger, we need no further split, we need love, a common language. We
are mourning a life which will not be actualized.”

“The song of their lives was stopped. They were kidnapped and murdered just
because they are Jews,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said at the service
for Eyal Yifrach in the boy’s hometown of Elad. “Even in these hours, our
security forces are looking for their murderers and we will not rest until
we find them.”

Naftali’s father, Avi and his mother, Racheli also spoke of their son, who
is an American citizen at his eulogy in Kibbutz Sha’alvim near their
hometown of Nof Ayalon. “Three young boys killed in cold blood, in a shared
fate, which in turn can only make us better people. Your death will lead
this nation together forward,” said Avi Frenkel.

“Those people were out there hunt, and you were those chosen to be God’s
poster children, the opposite of what those killers represent,” said
Racheli. “We are thankful for the army, police and security forces that
promised to bring the boys back — and they did. We will learn to sing
without you. We will always hear your voice within us, Naftali.”

Israel’s heart is heavy tonight. There is an overwhelming sadness as the
nation attempts to process the difficult end to a heart wrenching chapter
that has left many struggling for hope and for answers.

But as the grandfather, Ezra, of 16-year-old Gilad Sha’ar said: “I have one
wish for all the people that believed the last three weeks since the
kidnapping that the boys, would return alive: do not stop praying and
believing.”

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  • Published: 7 years ago on July 1, 2014
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  • Last Modified: July 1, 2014 @ 6:21 pm
  • Filed Under: Israel

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