Cheryl Levi

A Meeting in a Field with the Families of the Hostages

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I will admit that when I heard about the event, I was debating whether or not to go.  I was finished teaching for the day, and I could have gone home.  But when I heard the families of the hostages would be there, I decided I shouldn’t miss it.  How often would I have the opportunity to show them my support?

The families of the hostages are on day three of a five-day march that would take them from Tel Aviv to the home of Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.  They requested that the war cabinet meet them somewhere on the road, but they had yet to hear from them.  This morning they were near Kibbutz Gezer, which is about a two-hour walking distance to the Yishuv (village) where my school is located – Nof Ayalon.

The Yishuv planned a stop for the families.  I was told there would be singing and prayers.  When I got to the field, I found a shady area under a tree to stand, and I watched a group of high school and yeshiva boys in a circle with hands on each other’s shoulders singing songs from the Yom Kippur liturgy.  The songs created an atmosphere of supplication, determination, and unity.

About a half hour into it, someone announced that the families were coming, and asked us all to move toward the stage.  It was at that moment that I realized just how many people had joined our group.  There were students from schools from all over the country, (even as far as the southern city of Sderot). There were adults from the villages and cities all around Nof Ayalon.  There were ministers from various government parties.   I was shocked to learn that there were about 1000 people standing beside me in that field.

I went over to pet a dark brown border Collie standing next to me, as the program started. The families of the hostages slowly walked onto our field. We bashfully sang “ אחינו כל בית ישראל” (All Jews are brothers) as they neared us.  It was clear that we all felt ill-equipped to do the job we were meant to do.  If we were meant to make them feel better in some way,  none of us knew how.  We had never drowned in the horror they were sunk in.  We had never known their nights of terror and their days of longing.  I started to read their “Missing” signs.  There were images of smiling elderly women, athletic teens, and delicate children.  The families held up their placards as if by holding them they were holding themselves up too. They looked tired from their trip but sounded determined to get their family members home.

There were a few speeches from rabbis and leaders of the community, but the speech that stood out to me was the one given by Rachelle Frankel.

In 2014, Rachelle’s son, 16 ½-year-old son Naftalie, and two of his friends went missing.  The families spent the next 18 days in sheer terror trying to learn what happened to their sons.  As the days went on, they learned more and more.  They discovered that Naftali, his friend, and a third boy were standing at a bus stop when a car pulled up to offer them a ride.  The people in the car were dressed up like Jews, and Jewish music was playing, so they accepted the ride. Somehow their phones ended up in Hebron.  That was all they knew of them.  Over those 18 days the project “My Brother’s Keeper” was carried out in Israel in search of the boys.  The families experienced an outpouring of unity and love from the Israelis and diaspora Jews alike.  After 18 days were over, they found that their sons had been kidnapped and killed shortly after.  It was Hamas that carried out the kidnapping and murder.

Rachelle did something on that stage that none of us were able to do.  She related to the families of the hostages.  She spoke about the horror of those 18 days and told them that they were not alone.  She actually unified all of us in a way.  We all remembered the terror we felt during those 18 days, as we had adopted those 3 boys in our hearts.

As she stepped down Moshe Peretz’s song “גבור של אמא” (mommy’s hero) was played.

גיבור של אמא

אתה תמיד תהיה לי מלך העולם

תמיד עם החיוך הכי מושלם

כמו בתמונות בזכרונות

לכל מקום שלא תלך תהיה של אמא…

תמיד תהיה לי מלך העולם

תמיד עם החיוך הכי מושלם

כמו בתמונות בזכרונות

תמיד תהיה שלי


Mommy’s hero

You will always be the King of the World to me

Always with the most perfect smile

Like in the pictures, in the memories

Wherever you go, you will always belong to your mother…

You will always be the King of the World to me

Always with the most perfect smile

Like in the pictures, in the memories

You will always be mine

I tried to get a hold of myself as I passed a tissue to my friend.  It was difficult for us not to think of our own children, some of them in uniform at the moment.   They are all our heroes.

After the speeches, the sound of the shofar pierced the field with its long desperate cries.  It brought new meaning to the shofar of the High Holy Days.  Now whenever I hear the shofar blow, I will think of the faces of the precious children on the placards wielded by their grandmothers and grandfathers in the field of Nof Ayalon.

The event accomplished what it set out to do.  By the end, we all felt like friends of these families.  I saw them talking intimately with members of the crowd.  In some cases, they were hugging people who had been complete strangers a few moments earlier. We all left with the feeling that we were all in this together.  We are all living this horror together.

About the Author
Cheryl Levi is a writer and a high school English teacher who lives with her family in Bet Shemesh, Israel. She has a master's degree in medieval Jewish philosophy and has written numerous articles about faith crisis in Judaism. Her book, Reasonable Doubts, was published in 2010.