We did not find out about the kidnapping on the Internet. Early Friday afternoon, my husband was praying the afternoon prayer in an ancient synagogue in our neighborhood, the Old City of Jerusalem. The prayer leader appended Psalms 121 and 130 onto the regular liturgy, as is done when an extra dose of heavenly mercy is urgently needed. Afterwards, my husband asked who was sick, and he heard the heart-stopping news.
Three yeshiva students had been kidnapped on Thursday night by Arab terrorists. Naftali Frankel, 16, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, were studying in their yeshiva in Gush Etzion, an area of Jewish towns and Arab villages south of Jerusalem. The night study session over, they were last seen hitchhiking at a major intersection in the area. One of them used his cellphone to call “100,” the number of the Israel Police, and managed to say, “They abducted us.” Then the phone went dead.
The I.D.F. launched an intensive search throughout Gush Eztion and Hebron. They also sealed all the main crossings into Gaza in an attempt to stave off a repeat of the Gilad Shalit kidnapping. Gilad was kept by Hamas terrorists in a basement in Gaza for five years, and was then traded to Israel for a thousand terrorist prisoners.
"Our boys were kidnapped by a terrorist organization. There is no doubt about that," Prime Minister Netanyahu said in an official statement. "We are in the midst of a widespread operation to locate and bring back the three young yeshiva students. I spoke with their parents, and I told them that we are doing everything possible and more to bring back their boys, who are also our children."
Prime Minister Netanyahu informed U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro that one of the abducted boys is an American citizen.
Meanwhile all day Friday celebrations were held in Gaza and other Palestinian Authority cities. Video footage showed residents waving Hamas and PLO flags and distributing sweets, as jubilant music could be heard in the background.
We ask all of Am Yisrael to pray for the three missing boys that they return home safely to their families.
As Shabbat approached, with no news about the boys’ whereabouts, their families issued a message to the Jewish People: “Candle lighting time has the power to bring salvation, and we ask everyone, even those who do not regularly pray, to pray for the success of the I.D.F. in search of the missing boys. We ask all of Am Yisrael to pray for the three missing boys that they return home safely to their families.”
Life with No Assumptions
Just Friday morning, after my son left home to return to his yeshiva, I sat there folding laundry and reflected on how good it feels to lead a life full of assumptions. For four years, from 2000-2004, through the War of Terrorism in which Arab terrorists murdered over a thousand innocent Israelis, we lived an assumptionless life. When our daughters went into town to buy new shoes, we could not assume that they would return home safely. When our sons got on a bus to go to school in the mornings, we could not assume that they would reach school alive. When our husbands left for work, we could not assume that we would ever see them again. During those years, every departure was accompanied by a fervent prayer and every return by fervent thanks.
But Operation Defensive Shield cleaned out the terrorists’ nests, arresting and incarcerating thousands of Jihadis whose most cherished dream was to kill Jews. And slowly, slowly, our busses, cafes, and malls felt safe again. Slowly, assumptions crept back into our lives.
Surely last Sunday when Rachel Frankel, Bat Galim Shaar, and Iris Yifrach kissed their sons goodbye and waved them off to yeshiva, they assumed that they would come home on Thursday night as they did every week. Instead, they are plunged into an abyss of uncertainly and dread, a whirlpool in which all of Israel feels the dizzy, downward pull.
As the sun set on Friday, ushering in Shabbat, a gloom descended on Israel. As the Prime Minister had told the families of the missing boys, “your children are also our children.”
I did what the families requested. I lit my Shabbat candles, prayed for the boys to be returned safely, then sat down and recited psalms. Shabbat is supposed to be a time of transcendence, of light, joy, and peace. We read stories of great souls who experienced tragedy before or on Shabbat, and they did not allow themselves to grieve until the holy day was over. I am not on their level. My feeble attempts to transcend the calamity unfolding around me felt like a bird trying to fly with clipped wings.
At the Kotel
We went to Shabbat dinner at friends here in the Old City. The dinner table conversation, of course, centered on the kidnapping. Then one of the guests announced that the Chief Rabbis had asked people to go to the Kotel (Western Wall) at 11:30 PM to pray for the boys.
Hundreds of people there, from every stripe on the religious spectrum.
At 11:15 my husband Leib and I, with heavy hearts, walked to the Kotel. Only a smattering of people dotted the area beside the ancient wall, the last remnant of the Second Temple. It’s too late and people are too tired, I thought to myself, as I picked up a book of Psalms and sat down next to the Wall. I recited Psalms for fifteen minutes before a loud voice pierced the silence. When I turned around, I was surprised to see hundreds of people there, from every stripe on the religious spectrum.
A tall man with a white knitted kippah, whom I vaguely recognized, led us in reciting psalms. He would intone a verse, then the crowd would repeat the verse. The man prayed with such fervor, such intense feeling. Only afterwards did I understand the depth of his empathy. My husband identified him as Rabbi Tuvia Lipshitz, whose teenage son Yohai had been murdered in the Mercaz HaRav terror attack six years ago.
At one point I noticed standing near me Devori Franklin, a young woman from our neighborhood. Her older sister Michal, on her last day of college, had been killed by a suicide bomber.
We stood there praying, a broken and devastated People, riven by internal strife, attacked by our enemies, vilified by the other nations. The words of the psalms expressed both our anguish and our faith. Which would prevail?
At midnight, we finished saying the final psalm. I thought we would close our books and go home. But instead people spontaneously started singing the poignant melody, Aheinu kol Beis Yisrael:
Our brothers are the whole family of Israel.
Those in distress and those in captivity,
Whether on the sea or dry land.
May God have mercy on them,
And bring them out from distress to relief,
From darkness to light,
From bondage to redemption,
Now, speedily and soon.
And let us say, Amen.
The song lifted us all up in its moving strains. When it was over, we sang it again. And again. And again. “Our brothers are the whole family of Israel.” As we sang, we were fused into a single congregation of avid souls, beseeching God for the salvation of three boys and 14 million Jews, “the whole family of Israel.”
The song suddenly morphed into another song, a line from the Passover Seder made into a popular anthem:
And this has stood for our fathers and for us,
For not only one has risen against us to destroy us,
For in every generation they stand against us to destroy us,
And the Holy One, blessed be He, delivers us from their hands.
The full moon shone down on the ancient stones of the Kotel as hundreds of voices, strong and determined, rose in crescendo.
We had been lost all day in a forest of darkness and dread. At midnight, in a moonlit clearing in the forest, we found each other. In the merit of Jews throughout the world uniting in prayer, may we go on to find our missing sons.
Please pray for the safe return of:
Yaakov Naftali ben Rachel Devorah
Gilad Michael ben Bat Galim
Eyal ben Iris Teshura