On July 30, 2014, I addressed a packed event at the Saban Theater, to mark the end of the 30-day mourning period for the 3 teenagers who had been kidnapped and brutally murdered in Israel a few weeks earlier.
As I put together my remarks, I reflected on the fact that the kidnap and frantic two weeks of searching until the bodies were discovered had already receded into the past. So much had happened since then. We had been very distracted by the events that unfolded in Israel and Gaza, and the horror we all felt for those two weeks was almost entirely swamped by our absorbed concern for Israel under threat, and IDF soldiers at war.
But I feel strongly that we must never forget what happened to those beautiful boys, and for that reason I would like to share my remarks of that emotional night.
This is what I said:
We are currently in the midst of three weeks of mourning, a period in the Jewish calendar during which we mourn the destruction of our Temples, the holy sanctuaries which were the center of Jewish religious life for hundreds of years, and whose destruction almost spelt the end of the Jewish nation, and of the Jewish faith. And tonight we are here to reflect on the horrific loss of 3 young boys – Naftali Fraenkel – Gilad Shaer – Eyal Yifrah – holy souls, whose kidnap and murder horrified all of us. We have a confluence of mourning.
This mourning is augmented by the dreadful situation that has unfolded in Israel over these past weeks since the boys were killed. Rockets raining down on our brethren, aimed at the indiscriminate slaughter of Israeli civilians. A daily toll of dead IDF soldiers, deployed to root out the threat from the Gaza Strip. The pain is unbearable.
I want to focus on this confluence. It is reflected in the blessing we say when visiting mourners during a shiva: המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים ‘May God comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.’
It seems strange to offer this as a comforting line as we leave the mourners who have just lost their loved one. When someone has lost a father, a mother, a brother, a sister, a child – why would they care about Zion and Jerusalem?
The answer is simple. We are only Jews because of the legacy of Zion and Jerusalem. No Jew is a Jew if he rejects the essence of Judaism as represented by the holiest shrine of our faith. The Temple site represents our relationship with God, our relationship with the Torah, and our relationship with the piece of land – the tiny piece of land – that is a portal to God Himself.
When a Jew dies, we mourn his or her loss, but we are comforted in the knowledge that our tradition continues, that our love for God, for our faith, for our Holy Land, for our people, continues, even as one link in that chain is taken from us. That is why we bring up Zion and Jerusalem as comfort when we mourn for an individual Jew.
Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah – your names will forever be etched in our memories. You reminded us that although we have returned back to our Promised Land, and we see that Jewish life and Jewish pride has increased and thrived as never before over the past 2,000 years, the quest for Zion and Jerusalem is far from over.
Your families need comfort, but we too are mourners – together we all mourn – and that is a great comfort. Families Fraenkel, Shaer and Yifrach. We mourn with you. We mourn for Naftali. We mourn for Gilad. We mourn for Eyal. And we mourn for Zion and Jerusalem.
On Tisha B’Av we will remind ourselves that the struggle is far from over. Even as we sit and pray for the reinstatement of our Temples, our brethren in Israel, and the holy soldiers in Gaza and beyond, find themselves in the crosshairs of evil beasts, beasts who would delight in not just the death of every Jew and in the destruction of Israel, God forbid, but also in the death of the dream and the message of Zion and Jerusalem.
I don’t want to end on such a sour note, so let me add one more thing.
Our greatest monarch, the extraordinary King David, wrote as follows in Tehillim, chapter 30, and we recite it each morning: הָפַכְתָּ מִסְפְּדִי לְמָחוֹל לִי פִּתַּחְתָּ שַׂקִּי וַתְּאַזְּרֵנִי שִׂמְחָה ‘You turned my mourning into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.’ Even as we mourn Naftali, Gilad and Eyal, we must acknowledge the extraordinary unity that has resulted from them having been taken from us.
This unity has continued these past weeks, and long may it continue. The boys are surely dancing, as they watch us – old and young, religious and secular, left and right – coming together as one united group of Jews, to remember them, and to dedicate ourselves to the future of Judaism and to the continuity and safety of Jewish life.
My friends, we will continue. We will prevail. And as a united force, we are invincible.
May their memory be a blessing, and may God bless us, and all of Israel. Amen.