June 15, 2014. Beit Knesset HaRamban. Rav Benny Lau’s synagogue in Jerusalem. I’m one of hundreds of weeping women who have come together to pray for boys we don’t know, for parents we don’t know, and for a reality that we know all too well.
Our brothers… who are in distress and captivity… May God have mercy on them and bring them from distress to comfort, from darkness to light, from enslavement to redemption…
The main sanctuary, usually a stronghold of men in white prayer shawls, is full of colorful shirts, flowing skirts, and head coverings of every kind. It seems to be perfectly natural for this space to be filled with women’s voices. What could be more normal than mothers praying for sons and daughters for brothers? The silent prayer of Hannah echoes in the background; mother Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are gone. The plaintive cry of the prayer leader and tentative voices of the congregants grow louder as the service goes on.
I lift my eyes to the mountains. From where does my help come?
Young and old, we reach for tissues, as we give vent to our collective anxiety. We know the feeling of blood running cold when children go astray, when teens miss the last bus, when someone suspicious is seen on public transport. We may never have met these families, but they are living our worst nightmares. Their sons are our sons, as are the soldiers who are being dispatched to bring the boys home.
May God protect you from all harm; may God protect your soul. May God protect you in your comings and goings, from now and forever.
As we weep silently, trying to steady our voices in song, gut wrenching sobs pour out of the back of the room. Who is it? A cousin of the abducted boys? A childhood friend of their parents? A sister? Is it Tamar Fogel, remembering the horror that met her when she came home on Friday night? Or perhaps Sherri Mandell, whose son never made it to school, or Frimet Roth, whose daughter never came home from Sbarro? Although I have never met these women and they are unlikely to be here, as a woman in Israel, I am haunted by their pain.
I know it’s not my friend Michal, whose brother was killed in action when he was 18; I caught a glimpse of her in the balcony.
And we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You.
Why are we here? Because ever since the rumors began to circulate on Friday, we have not known what to do with ourselves. We have tried to work, but we have been distracted. We’ve been checking the news obsessively and monitoring Facebook incessantly. We have no idea if prayer will help, but at least it gives us something to do. And besides, the families of the boys have asked that we pray. It seems to be the least we can do for them.
A prayer of an afflicted person… Do not hide Your face from me, in my day of distress.
Musical traditions merge. Tunes that I’m sure were written in the United States in my youth seem to have made aliya, taking on an Israeli accent and changing some of their notes in the process. The room swells with another song that crossed the Atlantic that I have heard only once before. It’s the “Prayer of the Girls” that was sung by brokenhearted young women in a synagogue during the evacuation from Gush Katif, falling on deaf ears. We can only hope that in this case, redemption will come.
Hear our voice, Lord our God, have compassion and mercy upon us and accept our prayers.
Verses from the High Holiday liturgy add to the urgency and give a sense that the hour of judgment is approaching. We beg that this be an hour of grace and time of mercy before God, and pray for the welfare of the three abducted young men, invoking their mothers’ names:
Gil-Ad Michael ben Bat Galim
Yaakov Naftali ben Rachel Devorah
Eyal ben Iris Teshura
Silent and spent, we exit the enclave of pure spirit, leave an island of solidarity that transcends borders and ideologies, and turn on our cell phones. We reconnect with a world in which kidnapped boys are “settlers,” 16-year-old victims are guilty because they hitchhiked, and petitions are being circulated urging Israel to cut off water and electricity to the Palestinians. But whatever may divide us, we are united by the hope that Gil-Ad, Naftali, and Eyal will come home safely and speedily and in our day.