At 10 o’clock at night, it is quiet in Gush Etzion. At 10 p.m. three years ago, on June 12, 2014, three boys got into a car for a ride that ended their lives. June is usually a time of celebration of milestones as children move on to the next phase of their lives, as young people get married. That June continued “as usual,” yet it did not.
Three years is too long for their parents to wait for them to come home, as three weeks of anguish was too long for their country to hope, pray, and ultimately mourn, knowing that no amount of signs would bring back our boys. They went missing, in our minds, that Thursday night, and the news spread in slow circles, from the center out. We did not know that they had already been murdered, never to return, before most of us had heard. The residents of the entire country gathered in unity and aching togetherness, and we now ‘celebrate’ Unity Day with videos and prizes for people who have done the most they can to bring achdut, unity, back to our people. The boys just wanted to get home for Shabbat, home to their families who will now forever have an empty place at the table, never to celebrate another milestone with any of them.
At this time of year, so many are happy and celebrating, and they should, because life goes on. I often wonder what it is that makes some people resilient, able to get up from a hit—whether a light slap or a gut-wrenching take-down—while others are not. We are the nation who gets up, who has been slapped down and degraded and murdered and worse for so many years. We have our own country and still we are told that nothing we do is right, no matter what—it is not ok because we are the ones doing it. But still we get up, go on, and celebrate. And still, somewhere inside, we are hurting, whether for ourselves or our “extended family”; we feel the sadness and then get up in the morning and go on.
To add to the pain of this time, which I think of in terms of the general calendar because the English dates happened to stick in my mind, just last year a young girl was murdered in her bed, also on June 30th, the date the boys were finally found. She was only 13 years old. Hallel Yaffa Ariel was a sister, a daughter and an incredible dancer, and her only crime was living where someone else thought she shouldn’t.
During every summer we mourn for our lost Temple for three weeks, but for me and likely others, these are the three weeks where I think of lost children, lonely mothers, and a nation that has taken enough of a beating. And somehow, there is more pain in seeing how quickly the achdut ended, how we fell apart and are now back to fighting with each other over nothing more than what we are wearing. We do not need to inflict this pain and humiliation on ourselves; it is still being done to us. This loss of an achdut we had is too much during these three weeks; why can’t we learn our lesson? It is not one any of us want to repeat.
Tonight, shortly after 10 o’clock at night, I passed the spot from which the boys were taken, the hour they were kidnapped. It was quiet again, but I noted how the landscape here in the Gush has changed since then, due to that and many additional terrorist attacks; it is dotted with soldiers’ checkpoints, even at the entrance to the shopping complex. That itself is sad, but also scary if I allow those thoughts. But what went through my mind at that moment was an old ad from when I was growing up. It made no sense to me then, but now the words are chilling. “It’s ten pm. Do you know where your children are?”
To Racheli & Avi Frankel, to Bat-Galim & Ofir Shaer, to Iris & Ori Yifrach, and to Rena & Amichai Ariel, no words can comfort, and nothing can bring back those who were taken from you. We are with you in your sorrow. May you and our nation no know more suffering.