NEW YORK – A sense of purpose permeated the air at a fund-raiser put together in just over a week by the newly- formed group Bring Back Our Boys NYC.
A mostly young and very fashionable crowd arrived in droves on Wednesday night to the swanky Lower East Side bar The DL, enjoying free pita sandwiches donated by the kosher food joint Pitopia. Several attendees told The Jerusalem Post how great it felt to be able to do something for the cause of Bring Back Our Boys, despite being so far away.
Manny Halberstam, a second cousin of Naftali Fraenkel’s and one of the first American family members to come forward since the kidnapping, told the Post how grateful the family is to receive all the support from the international Jewish community.
“The reaction from the American- Jewish community has been amazing,” he said. “The family feels the love of the entire Jewish world right now.
And it’s amazing how quickly the global Jewish community came together over this.”
Halberstam added that he had just spoken at length recently with Naftali’s grandmother, who is his aunt.
“I speak with many members of the family every day, and it’s hard to live a regular life. Here we are living comfortably, knowing that he’s experiencing something that is beyond our imaginations,” he said. “The family is positive, and hopeful, but over time this strength is challenged by no news.”
Halberstam, who is based in Washington and came up to New York for the event, added that although much of Fraenkel’s American family has stayed out of the media spotlight, they are active in raising awareness in their own communities.
He said that he has arranged prayer vigils in front of the White House, and one of Naftali’s uncles, a rabbi in Borough Park, Brooklyn, has been organizing special sessions to recite Psalms.
Ruth Welcher and Talia Rona, two attendees at the party, said they had been looking for ways to support efforts in Israel and to express solidarity, but they had been feeling powerless because they were in New York.
“Being so far away, we often feel disconnected, and I felt this was a good opportunity to come show my support,” said Welcher, who is originally from South Africa but is studying at Yeshiva University. “It was just so overwhelming when it happened, and we didn’t know what to do. We wanted to do something, and this was a great event with a really good message.”
“It’s nice to know that everyone here has a sense of purpose,” said Rona, a recent YU graduate.
The evening’s celebrity guest speaker, former deputy foreign minister and ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon, told the Post he “couldn’t say no” when he heard about the event.
“It’s impressive and inspiring to have this huge coming together without much formal organization,” he said. “I felt like it’s my duty to come support the effort.”
Ayalon expressed his frustration at the “international oblivion” over the kidnappings.
“We’re not seeing condemnations,” he said.
He was especially frustrated at the reactions at UN in Geneva to Naftali Fraenkel’s mother.
“The international community is either indifferent or hostile.”
He commended the mothers for their grace under pressure in Geneva. Now, he said, the most important thing is to sustain the momentum and support.
“They [the boys] could turn up anywhere,” he said.
Eve Stieglitz, co-chairwoman of the event, said her friend Uri Turk contacted her last Thursday to say he was founding Bring Back Our Boys NYC.
“We felt this is an obligation,” Stieglitz said. “Just because we’re in the US doesn’t mean we can just sit back. We are doing what we can to honor the boys.”
Turk, who served as a paratrooper in the IDF for two years, told the audience that he felt frustrated being in New York, “not being able to do anything.”
“We all need to do something,” Turk said. “My message to the boys is that everyday, we are thinking about you.”
Stieglitz said they were expecting about a thousand people and had already raised over $20,000 prior to the event.
New York has been host to many rallies and events in support of the #BringBackOurBoys movement, including recently a 12 m. by 12 m. billboard in Times Square sponsored by Young Israel of the West Side, in a space that usually goes for $15,000. Rabbi David Cohen told the New York Post this was an effort to keep the story alive and get the word out.