I have just returned from a memorial service for the three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped while hitch hiking and murdered in cold blood: Gil-Ad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah, and Naftali Fraenkel. I am still in awe of this experience.
The Jewish community of Sydney, in Australia, much like other Jewish communities across the world, is a potpourri of diverse – often opposing – views and opinions; different degrees of observances, varied religious affiliations (from ultra-orthodox to none at all) and at times vastly different attitudes to the daily Jewish life. And yet, despite this, the Jewish community of Sydney came together tonight in its hour of grief; Jews of all walks of life and political stripes put aside their differences and supported each other in this collective hour of mourning. In response to the terrible news of the death of the three Israelis, and following their funerals, local Jewish organisations hastily sent out messages calling for the community to come together to mark the first day of the shiv’a.
It was a very sad and special time; a time of solidarity with the three families of the murdered boys, with the state of Israel and with our own community.
The ceremony was short and simple; humble and dignified. Candles were lit and prayers were read. This was followed by a pause for silent reflection. A number of people spoke and their words came from the heart. Abi Blackman summed up the mood and sentiments very aptly:
Eighteen days of anguish. Eighteen days of hope, eighteen days of crying out to God and to the world around us to bring back our boys. Eighteen days of prayers and tears and coming together. I know that for the last eighteen days I have given my children an extra hug as I put them to bed. I know that for the last eighteen days I squeezed them a little bit tighter as I allowed unimaginable thoughts to cross my mind. I uttered silent prayers to Hashem: Thank you, over and over again, that I can still hold my children. As these eighteen days came to an end our hearts were torn at the thought of Eyal, Gil-Ad and Naftali, three young boys torn from their families, torn from their youth and torn from ‘am Israel’. Three young boys taken so cruelly - so suddenly - leave us with so many unanswerable questions in our search for reason and a search for meaning.
It is within this search for meaning and answers, in the face of such colossal loss, that our community, Jews of every hue and shade, sought and offered each other solace.
We saw it in Israel, too: the country came together. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, rabbis, politicians, dignitaries, old and young, secular and orthodox; new immigrants and veterans. Jews around the globe prayed with, cried for and became an extension of the three families. In that sense, the three young men achieved something so rare and beautiful: they united us under one flag and gave us a sense of common destiny; a real connection.
The piano accompaniment to Hatikvah stirred something deep within; there was not a dry pair of eyes in the audience by the time the last note was played. It is this – the hope – which matters most; our hope to live as a free people. I do not recall a time when the words to my national anthem held so much meaning; when they brought me so much pride and forged such a strong link to fellow Jews – wherever, whoever, they may be.
Gil-Ad, Eyal and Naftali are no longer with us; victims of senseless hatred and targets of despicable savagery. But we have emerged strong, defiant and resolute. A people of hope. And our hope is not lost.