NEW YORK – Though the organizers expected only about 20 to 30 people, 500 Israelis, American Jews and passersby gathered on Monday evening in Manhattan’s Union Square to mourn the loss of Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel.
With the guitar music, the Hebrew folk songs and the chalk drawings on the ground, it could have been a typical summer night at a Jewish camp, except for the myriad red eyes and sense of loss and disbelief that permeated the whole affair.
Hosting the vigil, which was organized in less than six hours, were Dor Chadash and Moatza Mekomit, two New York organizations dedicated to serving Israelis living in New York.
“We canceled all our other events this week,” said Oren Heiman, chairman of Moatza.
“This is a great example of how one Facebook post, one idea can spread. When the community needs to get together, we do.”
Eve Stieglitz and Uri Turk, two of the founders of the newly formed group Bring Back Our Boys – NYC, which just last week raised more than $15,000 for the IDF, said that they would now be focusing on fund-raising for the IDF and allotting the money they had already received. Stieglitz said the majority was now slated to go to organizations Friends of Levy, Pizza IDF and the Lone Soldier Center.
Earlier in the day, just after the news of the boys’ deaths was announced, several hundred people waving Israeli flags and carrying placards with the names of the three teens gathered outside the Israeli Consulate on Second Avenue and marched to the Isaiah Wall across from the UN headquarters, one block away.
“Our hearts are broken. Our hearts are shattered. And all of the United Nations must speak out,” Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale told the crowd. “The murder of a person is the murder of a person. But the murder of a child is the murder of the world.”
Many in the crowd said they had come because they felt powerless and wanted to express support publicly for the families.
Another vigil was set to take place Tuesday night at The Jewish Center in Manhattan, with New York congressman Charlie Rangel, congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Israeli Consul- General Ido Aharoni, Deputy Prime Minister Ofir Akunis and New York community leaders in attendance.
Reuters contributed to this report.