For the past three weeks, the People of Israel – both in the Land of Israel and in the diaspora – have swung violently from despair to hope and ultimately to mourning.
We despaired at the report that three of our sons, three teenage boys, were missing. Reports that they had been kidnapped threw us into swirling, relentless worry and angst. Knowing this part of the world as we do, knowing our adversaries as we do, logic told us that there was little reason for hope; the silence of the perpetrators, their failure to make contact, even to make demands, made things even worse.
Yet we continued to hope, especially after seeing the boys’ families: holy families, held together by dignified, spiritually aristocratic mothers who brought the entire nation together. They got us to pray, to add more holiness to our lives, to start Shabbat a little earlier, to light extra candles. These families inspired us to be our best. They brought out the powerful unity that is the secret of this great and awe-inspiring People. And still, Racheli Fraenkel warned us, “God does not work for us” and there may not be a happy ending. For some of us, her reminder gave us further reason to look up to these families, as they maintained perspective when many others did not.
We continued to pray: Bring our boys home.
The report that the bodies had been found thrust the entire nation into mourning. For some, this tragic end raised questions of faith: What of all of those prayers and good deeds? What of our unity? Was it all for naught? We realized that we had been praying for a miracle that was impossible: Apparently, the boys had been killed before any of us were even aware that they had been abducted. The prayer for their safe return was an impossible prayer, yet we all prayed – and I believe that those prayers did have an impact.
We prayed for a very different ending, yet there are a number of even more gruesome possibilities for how this might have played out. We were spared the gut-wrenching decision of trading live terrorists with blood on their hands in exchange for the boys’ remains. We were spared harm to our soldiers who courageously, untiringly searched for the boys. October 14th 1994, the day kidnapped IDF soldier and American citizen Nachshon Waxman, and Nir Poraz, commander of the Sayeret Matkal unit sent to free him, were killed (on the very same day it was announced that Yasir Arafat had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize), serves as a reminder that the end could have been very different.
Yet I am specifically reminded of three other boys who went missing in this same time of year in 1982: Zvi Feldman, Yehuda Katz and Zachary Baumel. On June 10th, 19 Sivan 1982, in the battle of Sultan Yacoub, we lost some thirty soldiers, and three went missing: Zvi, Yehuda and Zach – who also held American citizenship.
I knew Zach. We studied together in Yeshivat Har Etzion; we played basketball together in a kibbutz near the yeshiva – in close proximity to where Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrach went to school.
Until the end of his life, Zach’s father searched endlessly for information regarding the fate of his missing son, and went to his own grave without having found any answers. Nobel Peace Prize -winner and arch-terrorist Yasir Arafat did return Zach’s “dog tags” but never bothered to explain how they came into his hands, nor did he share any other information regarding Zach or the other missing soldiers.
There were no funerals for Zvi, Yehuda or Zach. Their parents never sat shiv’a. Their families never attained the emotional respite that comes from closure. These families were devastated.
Indeed, as Racheli Fraenkel reminded us, God does not work for us. At times we pray, and we do not know what we pray for. Had we all known that the boys were already dead, perhaps we would not have prayed with such fervor to “Bring the boys home,” yet we did pray and God brought them home, without our being forced to negotiate with terrorists, to free murderers, or to forfeit the lives of our sons in uniform. The funerals for these three boys gave the entire nation a time and place to cry, to come together and vent our grief and frustration. The families are sitting shiv’a, processing their emotions and collecting themselves to face the coming days and years. Hopefully, this will help them achieve some closure, and eventually, peace of mind.
God does not work for us, and so I thank Him for listening, for redirecting our prayers, and for comforting the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. I thank Him for bringing the boys home.