by Jennifer Cole
It’s a rare scene: Hundreds of Jews, sitting quietly in a synagogue chapel, turn their attention to a women dressed in a black robe and colored sash. As she steps onto the bimah of the congregation, the filled sanctuary falls silent as she offers her condolences.
“We grieve together,” says Rev. Lynn Strauss of the Montgomery Country Interfaith Advisory Board. “Our hearts are broken alongside of yours. Our prayers are with you.”
Strauss was just one of the several speakers who addressed the greater Washington community at a Maryland memorial service on Tuesday evening, one day after news broke about three Israeli teenagers who were found dead in the West Bank. Thousands of miles away from where the tragedy took place, crowds of supporters from all faiths came together at B’nai Israel Congregation in Rockville to mourn the loss.
The boys’ murders “horrify anyone with a conscience,” said Rabbi Michael Safra of B’nai Israel at the service. Together, he said, “we must pray for the souls of the innocent boys.”
The world has been waiting anxiously for a conclusion to the kidnapping of Eyal Yifrach, 19, Naftali Fraenkel, 16, and Gilad Shaar, 16, who were last seen on June 12 hitchhiking a ride home from their West Bank yeshiva school. The boys were reported missing only hours after Israeli police received an emergency phone call from one saying, “I’ve been kidnapped,” which was originally deemed a prank.
The search soon went national. But it wasn’t until last week—when a single sandal was found in the area, followed by a pair of glasses—that investigators honed in on a large area of agriculture land near Hebron, a southern West Bank city. On Monday, volunteers found the bodies in an open field buried beneath stones and misplaced bushes.
Although no group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and subsequent killings, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly accused Hamas. “Hamas is responsible. Hamas will pay,” he was quoted as saying to his cabinet soon after the killings.
Police continue to look for the two prime suspects they believe are responsible. In addition, the Israel Air Force launched several airstrikes in the Gaza area beginning on Monday, hitting 34 targets and injuring four Palestinians, according to Israel Radio citing Palestinian sources.
The United States reiterated its strong support for Israel and the boys’ families in the wake of the tragedy. In a statement on Monday, President Barack Obama called the killings a “senseless act of terror.” “As a father, I cannot imagine the indescribable pain that the parents of these teenage boys are experiencing, “ he said, adding that Israel had “the full support and friendship of the United States.” Meanwhile, Ed Royce (R-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, told JPost.com that the perpetrators of this act must be “held accountable.”
Back at B’nai Israel on Tuesday, Noa Meir, JCRC’s director of Israel Action Center & International Affairs, told guests that regardless of religious or secular beliefs, “across the political spectrum,” Israel has become “one united nation” throughout the tragedy.
However, many Palestinians believe the recent violence during the two-week rampant search for the teens, which included 400 arrests and at least 5 deaths, has gone too far. Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said in a statement that “…collective punitive measures are unacceptable, and the Israeli government cannot continue to pass judgment without evidence and commit grave breaches of international law and war crimes at the expense of the Palestinian people,” reported The Washington Post.
Though violence and unrest continues to infiltrate throughout Israel, the message was clear during Tuesday night’s memorial service: “Senseless violence like this must be condemned,” Cookie Hymer Blitz, vice president of the JCRC, added. “No parent should ever have to bury their child.”
Moment highlighted the various arguments that surfaced on social media during the viral #BringBackOurBoys campaign last week.