During the 18 days between Eyal Yifrah, Naftali Fraenkel and Gil-Ad Shaer going missing and when their bodies were found, I prayed for them more times than I can count, my eyes inevitably welling up with tears each time.
I prayed in the Knesset with lawmakers across the political spectrum, becoming a part of the story I was reporting. I prayed in synagogue. I prayed at home, reciting Psalms in my heart. But mostly, I prayed with the Israeli and Jewish peoples who were united in hope that the boys would come home safely.
I also went to Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to pray three times. First, two days after the news came out, with hundreds of people cramped into the square’s southern end, as most of the area was filled with the annual book fair.
Second, on Sunday night at a prayer rally, with thousands of people, who were bused in from all over Israel, filling the square.
Then, I returned late Monday night. This time, I was praying in the boys’ memory.
When I approached the square’s northwest corner, I saw about 300 people – some sitting on the floor, some standing – gathered around hundreds of candles. Some of the candles were arranged in shapes like the Star of David or a heart. Some formed a frame for an Israeli Flag that was on the ground. Some spelled out Eyal, Gilad and Naftali in Hebrew. Others spelled out messages, like “May God avenge their blood.”
The crowd was surprisingly mixed; young and old, religious and secular. I only say surprisingly because the crowd at the huge rally on Sunday night looked like a national convention of religious- Zionist youth groups.
On Monday, there were quite a few teens in Bnei Akiva shirts playing instruments and lighting candles, but there were also Breslov Hassidim, young adults with dreadlocks and tattoos wearing tank tops and shorts and people who looked like they could have been the boys’ grandparents, some with their heads covered by kippot and scarves and some with their heads bare.
One of those possible- grandmothers, who looked secular, stood up and said, “My name is Rachel and I am a mother. Rachel is mourning for her children,” she declared, quoting Jeremiah.
“This is a tragedy, but one good thing came of it, we are all here, united. There is so much hatred, usually. Please, we must stay this way.”
Sitting around the candles were people with musical instruments – guitars, flutes and recorders – and the mourners were singing as one, both religious songs like Rabbi Nachman of Breslov’s “the world is a narrow bridge and the most important thing is not to fear at all” and secular ones like the Nahal Band’s “sing a song for peace.”
But perhaps the most moving song was one by Arik Einstein, who represents the Israeli ethos for many and was remembered in a similar spontaneous gathering of mourners with candles in Rabin Square the evening after he died in November.
The next day, thousands paid respects to him in an official ceremony at the same site.
The guitars played on Monday night and the mourners sang along: “Between the hidden darkness\ in our bitter world\they say we still have hope\it is called love\and we are waiting for it to come.”
“Between confusion and tragedy\know there is a solution.\ They call it love.”
And the chorus: “We have love\and it will wake up and touch us\we have love\and it will win.”
I remembered what Naftali’s mother, Rachel Fraenkel, said to a group of schoolgirls after a prayer rally at the Western Wall: “God doesn’t work for us.”
No, God doesn’t work for us, and He certainly didn’t answer our prayers for the boys to come home in one piece, but God also works in mysterious ways. Perhaps, the light in all this darkness is from the love that the people of Israel, Am Yisrael, showed for one another on Monday night.
Young, old, religious, secular, men and women came to Tel Aviv’s main square to be together, unite in mourning and comfort one another.
We still have love for one another, and it will win.