We were so full of hope. For 18 days we searched, we marched, we demonstrated, we baked, we served, we wrote, we shared – and we loved. We loved three boys most of us had never met. And we felt the loving embrace of three families going through unspeakable fear and trauma, all while carrying themselves with a quiet dignity that was so deeply inspiring.

In a short time we felt our whole nation seemingly miraculously contract into a cohesive unit; we felt the splinters and rival factions converge enough to become the unified people we are supposed to be. In a short time, Eyal, Naftali and Gilad truly became our family. And we all became theirs.

In 18 days, though their hearts were no longer beating, they generated such an abundance of love in the hearts of so many others. In 18 days Eyal, Naftali and Gilad influenced a mind-boggling achievement: they brought us all together.

When our hopes were so utterly and cruelly dashed upon hearing the heartbreaking news on Monday, a piercing wail could be heard throughout Israel. It was not a siren this time; but the whole country crying together. 

All over Israel and beyond, candles have been lit in the boys’ memory. Thousands of us made our way to junctions across the country where we found some consolation in sharing our grief with others – the strangers and neighbors who have become our family these past two and a half weeks – uniting to light candles publicly and sing slow, emotionally powerful songs together. Uniting in our grief, as we were united in our hopes and fears.

As we deal with our national anguish, and more-so, the Shaars, Yifrachs, and Frankels deal with their unspeakable grief, it is important to bear in mind the incredible gift we received from our precious boys. Eyal, Gilad and Naftali brought us together in ways we could never have imagined.

We have only just begun to shed the ocean of tears for our boys. We are shedding them together. Let us remain together. I can’t think of a more fitting tribute to honor their memory.