A little over 20 minutes ago, my clocks struck midnight. For a little over 20 minutes, I have been crying. In the eastern time zone it has now been exactly 365 days since the cold-blooded kidnapping and murder of our boys.
I spent a lot of time over the past year thinking about how young they were, how they had their whole lives ahead of them, and how I was barely older than the oldest of them. I spent a lot of time thinking about how any of them could have been my relative, my friend, or the love of my life. I spent a lot of time thinking about their families and friends, and the heartache they have suffered. I still think about those things.
I also think about everything that occurred afterwards. I think of how human beings, my kin, scattered across the world mourned for the loss of these souls. People from all over Israel came together, emotionally and physically, for their funeral, and those of us who could not be there with our bodies were there with our hearts. My own hometown held a memorial service, and it seemed that every Jewish person I knew in the state was there. We all grieved together. We still all grieve together.
During the winter of 2013-2014, I fulfilled a life-long dream of going to Israel when I went on Birthright. My second full day there, January 1st, I saw the sun rise over the Knesset. My only New Year’s resolution was to be more in touch with my homeland, and I felt that I could not have gotten a better start. That entire summer, I was as in touch with the country as I could have been from 6000 miles away.
When the news broke about the bodies being found, I felt as if my world was crumbling around me. When rockets were fired from Gaza, I did not sleep. I stayed awake, night after night, for two months, seeing my phone light up with notifications for “Red Alert” non-stop. I messaged and called every person I knew in Israel as many times as I could. Some days I was able to push it all to the back of my mind, and focus on the life around me that was tangible. Most days that was not the case.
This past December and January, I had the privilege of returning to Israel with Hasbara Fellowships. So much was crammed into that week and a half that some of the finer details have escaped my memory by now. However, there are two moments that I will never forget for as long as I live.
The first occurred on the day we went to Sderot. At that point in the trip, I was mentally overwhelmed by a personal situation that had arisen the night before. I was having trouble remembering why I had decided to be a part of this experience. That day, it all became clear again. We climbed a small hill that is located about a mile from the Gaza border. I had been on that hill once before in my life, and it was while I was on Birthright. My first time standing there, I realized how important the future of Israel actually is to me. I did not know it at the time, but it was also in that instant that I realized that my future is in Israel. To return to that exact spot, this time learning to be an advocate for this country that I love, this country that stands for what is right, this country that bands together for the death of three boys, was phenomenally powerful for me.
The second moment took place during our last full day there as a group. We had gone through so much together, but nothing and nobody could have fully prepared us for our final guest speaker: Rachelle Fraenkel, whose son Naftali was taken from us along with Eyal Yifrah and Gilad Shaer. The speech she had written ahead of time lasted for only a couple of minutes, as she had devoted most of her time to answering questions. While this was not new for her, it certainly was for us. What do you ask someone who has gone through something you cannot begin to imagine? One person told her about his motivation to make Aliyah, and how he made that decision based not only on what happened to the boys, but also by how the nation, especially their families, chose to respond.
Rachelle, as humble as ever, did not take credit for her actions or feelings. She made it clear to us that she felt she was not doing anything special. She does not think that nobody else would do what she does. She is courageous, strong, and a true inspiration, and I aspire to be as resilient as she is.
My heart goes out to Rachelle every day, but especially on this day. Today, my heart goes out to everyone who loves Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali. Today, more than any other day in the past year, my heart is in the East, though I am in the West.