Collective Anguish

At the hitchhiking post in the West Bank where teenagers Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar were abducted, Israelis light memorial candles after the discovery of their bodies in a field near Hebron. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90)
At the hitchhiking post in the West Bank where teenagers Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar were abducted, Israelis light memorial candles after the discovery of their bodies in a field near Hebron. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90)

Members of the Jewish community in Baltimore and around the Jewish world expressed anger and sadness in response to the news that the bodies of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel, three Israeli teenagers kidnapped on June 12 while hitchhiking near Hebron, were discovered Monday by the Israel Defense Forces.

The Israeli government identified Hamas,  which the United States considers a terror group, as responsible for the deaths.

In a statement on behalf of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald S. Lauder, its president, expressed the organization’s “shock, heartbreak and outrage.”

“Once again, Hamas has revealed its true colors: This group blatantly disregards human life, and it doesn’t even refrain from hijacking innocent teenagers,” he said. “Those who committed this heinous crime must be hunted down and brought to justice.”

Lauder went on to denounce Hamas as a terrorist organization that must be “dismantled,” and he called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to remove all officials with links to Hamas from his government immediately. Lauder also encouraged the international community, especially the United States and the European Union, to freeze all financial support for the Palestinian Authority until Hamas is excluded from all government bodies.

In Baltimore, community leaders and members expressed similar sentiments.

“As part of a global Jewish family, the entire Associated family is heartsick over the tragic loss of these three young boys,” said Howard E. Friedman, chair of the board of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. “We cannot even begin to imagine the pain that their parents and communities feel at this tragic loss of precious lives. Our hearts are extended to the grieving parents, the people of Israel and with Jews around the world as we come to terms with this senseless disregard for human life.”

In Howard County, Michael Siegal, chair of the Jewish Federations of North America’s board of trustees, also responded with a statement.

“It is simply unimaginable that anyone could commit such a heinous and despicable act,” he said. “As Jews, as mothers and fathers, as sons and daughters and simply as people, our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Eyal, Naftali and Gilad at this time. There is no reason — none — why a tragedy like this should have occurred. The Jewish Federations stand alongside our brothers and sisters around the world and in Israel in condemnation of this senseless murder, and we pray that those responsible are swiftly brought to justice.”

Rabbi Yerachmiel Shapiro of Moses-Montefiore Anshe Emunah Greengate Jewish Center said the news was “heartbreaking,” especially for the boys’ parents. “I hope their faith can see them through.

“I don’t think the prayers were in vain though,” Shapiro added, referencing the outpouring of support around the globe that saw vigils and Psalm recitations in the days following the abductions. “The Jewish community coming together in prayer and hope was beneficial to the three boys, even if they were not living. Their souls benefited from all our prayers. We must pray that those who did this are brought to justice.”

Reached at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, Rabbi Andrew Busch said that the congregation has been hanging yellow ribbons and mentioning the missing teens during services since they were kidnapped almost three weeks ago.

“It’s especially sad to think that the boys’ parents believed their sons were alive all this time and now have to find out that clearly they weren’t,” said Busch. “BHC joins the whole community in our sadness.”

Tzippie Mahr, a receptionist at the Owings Mills Rosenbloom JCC, said she felt as if the wind had been knocked out of her when she heard that the boys’ bodies had been recovered.

“I’m shattered and frightened for everyone,” she said. “Not every prayer is answered in the best way.”

Rafi Kristall-Weiss of Pikesville was also at the JCC when he learned the boys’ fates.

“I was in Israel last week and if there is anything positive that has come out of this [tragedy] it is that prayers for the boys brought unity to the [Israeli] nation,” he said. “I saw people, nonreligious and religious, praying for them. Friends of mine took on extra mitzvot to honor them.”

“It [the news] is very fresh,” said Dor Ben Hamo, a student who is visiting Baltimore from her home in Israel. She and Keren Amsalem, also an Israeli student, are both working as counselors at the JCC’s Noah’s Arc Camp this summer. Amsalem said she had been receiving calls and Facebook messages since the news of the boys’ murders was released.

“We all hoped they would come back,” said Ben Hamo. “We send regards to their families, and we hope there is no more of this.”

One Pikesville resident who didn’t give his full name shared a Hebrew phrase: “Baruch dayan haemes.” Their souls should rest and be lifted to the highest point in heaven.” JT

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