Thousands of mourners stood tightly packed together in the intense heat of Elad on Tuesday to hear eulogies for Eyal Yifrah, one of the three kidnapped yeshiva students whose bodies were discovered outside of Hebron yesterday.
The crowd, a mix of national-religious and ultra-Orthodox Jews, stretched for blocks around the Mishkenot Neria synagogue in Elad, where Yifrah, 19, lived.
The apartment where he grew up, several blocks away from the memorial ceremony, was covered in signs expressing solidarity with his family.
Haredi men in white shirts and black pants, their tzitzit flying, hurriedly pasted up the death-notice signs from the municipality with giant strokes of their glue-covered brushes on the sheet-metal wall across the street from the Yifrah residence, while workmen labored to build a tent covering the street for the family to sit in and receive visitors later on. Cars traversed the neighborhood, announcing the memorial, reciting psalms and calling on God to avenge Eyal’s blood – a phrase Orthodox Jews commonly append to the names of those who have died sanctifying God’s name.
Uri Yifrah recalled hoping that his son would return home, his voice cracking with emotion and wracked with sobs.
“We loved you so much, Eyal,” he cried. “We believed so much that you would come home.”
Addressing his son, whose body lay in an ambulance nearby, he said, “Ask god to give your mother strength and to give strength to all of us.”
However, he added, “we will not break, [and] we will not give up. We are here. We are a strong nation.”
Afterward, as he broke into song, demanding that God hear his prayer and not hide His face, the crying reached a crescendo, with women leaning on one another for support and weeping openly.
Due to the heat, at least one woman passed out during the ceremony.
Almost all of the speakers in Elad spoke of the intense unity among Jews that stemmed from the #bringbackourboys campaign, which had united religious and secular, Right and Left.
“All of Israel prayed in unity for 18 days for Eyal to return alive to his parents,” said Rabbi Avraham Nahshon, the rabbi of Elad’s national-religious community. “God gave us his answer: I want Eyal by me, with all the martyrs of the generations.”
In Eyal’s merit, Nahshon added, “Israel lives as a believing people that desires the strength [to act] against the Arab enemy.”
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said that all of Israel was united in mourning and that in their deaths, the three yeshiva students “command us to continue in the unity and love of Israel that they bequeathed us.”
“God will avenge them,” he added.
The boys were killed because they were Jewish and citizens of the State of Israel, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told the crowd.
“Israel’s security forces will not rest until we bring them to justice,” he added, referring to Hamas.
“They [Hamas] honor destruction and death,” he declared. “The price that they will pay for their actions will be heavy.”
As the ambulance bearing Eyal’s body made its way through the streets of Elad, taking him from his home for the last time, the crowd followed, hands reaching through the air to touch the vehicle and connect with the teen who had, through shared tragedy, become the entire Jewish nation’s child.