From the moment that we arrived in Israel on Thursday night the 12th of June, the fate of three teenage boys, kidnapped on their way home, was one everyone’s mind. While the weather is picturesque, and the sky bright blue, the country was gripped by a gnawing pain about the fate of these three boys.
Now as we depart Israel, the tragic news of their murder has been announced.
Eyal Yifrach, 19, Naftali Frenkel, 16, and Gil-Ad Shaer, 16, went missing near Hebron on June 12 and were all yeshiva students. Beloved by their families and their classmates, they were on their way home for Shabbat, but never made it. Instead, they were abducted by Palestinians in a van as they hitchhiked home. One managed to get a cell phone call to the Police, but the police thought initially it was a prank call.
News spread Friday morning the 13th of what happened. Then the nation prayed.
From the most secular to the most observant, Israelis prayed for the last 18 days for the return of “our boys.” At synagogues across the country, prayers for their return were said three times daily. Massive prayer rallies were held bringing together people from all walks of life. The country was glued to the TV waiting for any updates, reports, or information. Signs went up on bus shelters and public buses. Every day the story was front-page news.
This painful and tragic event brought a palpable sense of unity to a country that has many divides. Today the country is united in anger and sorrow, and wants revenge against the cold-blooded murderers.
We had to postpone our visit to Hebron for that Sunday. I wanted our trip to begin with a visit to the resting place of our ancestors, where the whole story of the Jewish people began. It was to be our first stop on our first family trip to Israel, and already we had to change our itinerary for security reasons.
After some time, even with the continuing search operation nearby, Hebron opened up again and we planned a visit for our last day in Israel. We would return with my close friend who now organizes weekly peace and reconciliation tours to Hebron. Twenty years ago, as college students, he and I had visited Hebron together for the first time.
My family spent most of Monday in Hebron, visiting the 2000 year-old structure built around the most ancient Jewish holy site, the Maarat Ha Machpela, or Tomb of the Patriarchs. My kids sat quietly as our friend explained the history of this Holy site and the caves which are below.
Soldiers seemed on edge, but it did not about seem like the city was about to explode in violence.
Hours after we left Hebron, the city was in turmoil, as clashes broke out when the IDF went one more time to the houses of the suspects. Hundreds hurled rocks and stones at the soldiers who responded with tear gas. Soon the entire city was on lockdown and all entrances to the city blocked.
My children have been concerned about the fate of these three boys for the entire trip. They felt that it could also happen to them. While we reassured them that was not the case, we knew in our hearts that this story was not going to end well as the days turned to weeks.
When I tell my children today about the tragic fate of these teenagers, I am not sure how they will respond. This horrible turn of events will certainly color their view of all Palestinians and Arabs. They may distrust all Arabs for the foreseeable future and their anger and sorrow may quickly turn to hate.
The international press can continue to call these boys settlers, but to my kids, they were fellow Jewish kids. And now they are dead because they were Jewish.
And we leave back for California this afternoon.
Here is what I will tell my kids:
“I am sorry kids. I didn’t want this to be the take-away lesson from your trip to Israel. I didn’t want this to be how you remembered what it is to be a Jew
“Please remember all the love that we have experienced here from our friends and family. Please remember all our wonderful experiences as we drove 1,500 kilometers around this small country. Please remember that Jewish life thrives in Israel, and not a place where bad things are always happening to innocent people.”
“This is your homeland. And though we live very far away, it should always be in your hearts and minds as a wonderful place full of life, beauty, and wonderment.”