How different the world can look from one week to the next. One week ago we were at an enormous rally of hope and love, embracing the Shaar, Frankel and Yifrach families with the warmth of the nation as we prayed for the return of their boys, Gilad, Naftali and Eyal who had been kidnapped more than two weeks before.
Today, a week later, the three families are near the end of the ‘shiva’ or mourning period, after the devastating discovery of the boys’ bodies only a day after the rally, and news reports bring more and more pain and deep challenges. The incredible unity that was inspired by both the deeply personal pain we all felt, as well as the incredible dignity and faith shown by all three of the families has made ripples for all to see, though we have already seen cracks in the shiny veneer.
My sister and I decided to go and be ‘menachem aveilim’ – to comfort the three families of mourners. We set out first thing for what was to be a several hour trip to each of the three locations where the families live. We just needed to go. We were far from the only ones.
People literally from all walks of Israeli life – and many from outside of Israel who made the trip just for this purpose! – felt the need to dedicate the better part of a day to go and see each family, to ‘comfort’ them.
Everyone from your average person to leaders and high-ranking officials; the visitors were religious, secular and everywhere on the spectrum. Police officers, soldiers, mothers with babies, teenagers, professionals straight from the office… We all wanted to reach out and offer whatever small comfort we could, even if all we did was just be there.
We were amazed and overwhelmed as we saw chartered buses, hundreds of cars, and just so many people constantly coming and going. We didn’t even have directions to any of the homes; we simply arrived at each community, even Elad an actual city where the Yifrach family lives, and we were able to find the home easily. Our paths were marked by signs, helpful strangers and a steady stream of people constantly making its way in the right direction.
At the tent outside the Sha’ar family home, amongst the hundreds of people who came to comfort them, were Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein, a prominent Torah scholar revered among the centrist Modern Orthodox, Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, the former chief rabbi of the Old City of Jerusalem with close connections to the Mir Yeshiva and Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel – all sitting there, together, to bring words of comfort to the Sha’ars.
The rabbis were but well known examples of the different segments of Jewish life, who joined in a sort of national pilgrimage to do whatever little we could do. Because we had to.
I think Rabbi Steven Burg of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said it best:
The world does not understand that this is not political for Jews. This was deeply personal. We all loved #EyalGiladNaftali
— Rabbi Steven Burg (@stevenburg) June 30, 2014
As we went from city to city we found ourselves following many of the same people. It was not enough for so many of us to visit just one of the families; we needed to see all of them. Do they know us? No. Would they have noticed if we hadn’t come? They would not have. Will they remember us? Surely not. In fact, the crowds were so great, that in some instances we couldn’t even get close to them. We were simply there. It was enough.
As we left the Yifrach home, the third and last family we visited, I reflected on our visits. In such a terrible, dark episode we were able to see points of light, incredible light. Was the light always there, we just couldn’t see it? Or did it take such darkness for us to create the light and find our way out? Whatever the answer, don’t extinguish the light.
As the shiva is coming to an end we are already facing new and unbearable challenges as a nation. Another child was kidnapped and murdered. Another family will have to endure immeasurable pain and suffering. This child is an Arab. At this time it looks like the killers are Jewish.
We did not think our hearts could break any more, and now we must face this beast – confront it; with honesty and integrity. We must draw from the incredible reserves of love and unity and embrace each other as we have been embraced by the Sha’ars, Yifrachs and Frankels. And yes, we must, in some way, embrace the Khudair family as well. We must exhibit a wholesale rejection of murder and murderers. They are an abominable aberration. It does not become us. It does not become anyone. And we must never become it.
After seeing the incredible families of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali, knowing all that they have done, and how they conducted themselves with such dignity through unspeakable horror, understanding the unprecedented way they brought the Jewish people together it dawned on me. Perhaps I speak just for myself, but we made all this effort to comfort them; and no doubt we did provide comfort, just in our sheer numbers. However, it was actually the three families who were comforting us, giving us the reserves to face what we must.