“Since those three boys were murdered many things have changed in this country,” said Opposition Leader, MK Isaac Herzog Tuesday night at a memorial service for yeshiva students Gil-Ad Shaer, 16, Eyal Yifrah, 19, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16. “They saved the nation.”
As the sun set over Jerusalem, thousands of Israelis who could not be seated in the capital’s Great Synagogue stood in silence behind metal partitions as speakers and a projector broadcast the images and words of political and religious luminaries memorializing the three slain teens.
“Their death was the beginning of a big battle, and there is no argument between opposition and coalition that what we are doing is to protect our country,” continued Herzog. “Our soldiers, who are just a few years older than them are giving their lives so other kids will be able to live regular lives – to laugh, to love.”
Noting how their deaths have galvanized a once divided nation, newly sworn-in President Reuvin Rivlin said the country’s path since their murders was a decidedly “Israeli journey.”
“It’s a path of pain, but also of devotion and power,” he said. “And it is uniting the religious, secular rich, poor, right, left, and making us all one.”
Rivlin, who said he has been visiting wounded soldiers and families of the deceased since Operation Protective Edge began over three weeks ago, added that he is heartened by the bravery and dedication of a generation that has risen to the call of duty.
“I am astonished by this generation – their devotion and enlightenment gives me great hope,” he said. “They understand the power of giving, and how one can give his life for the others. When I go to meet the soldiers in the hospital who used their bodies to protect the country, I know we have young leadership that we can trust to lead.”
Rivlin went on to praise Shaer’s, Yifrah’s and Fraenkel’s families for their enduring strength throughout the protracted process of searching and finding their bullet-ridden bodies in a Hebron field.
“After 30 days we are crying, but we are also proud of how you have been a light of love without asking for anything in return,” he said.
Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel Yitzhak Yosef echoed the evening’s theme of tragedy leading to solidarity.
“What happened to those kids brought unity to the nation,” he said. “It is ok not to think the same way, but we must be united.”
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau reiterated Yosef’s sentiments.
“We have one nation and one heart, and even if we disagree we are one,” he said. “We prayed for them to come back and they died, but those prayers have remained.”
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said their deaths helped “save thousands of lives” by “planting a seed” that has yielded uncommon solidarity and power. “The enemy made a big mistake when they kidnapped those kids,” said Barkat. “They didn’t know the power of the Israeli people. By killing those three boys they saved thousands of lives by planting a seed – and now we see the fruit in the entire nation, which has given power to the army that the world does not understand.”
Meanwhile, Avital Yehoshua, who attended the memorial with her husband and two young children, said she truly believed that Shaer, Yifrah, and Fraenkel’s deaths have lead to greater security, strength and meaning for all Israelis.
“This process that started with their deaths, and now this war, shows us how strong and united we are,” she said. “If you go in the streets you see people with their heads held high. Because of them we found out about the tunnels, rearrested terrorists in the West Bank, and fought back against Hamas.”
Yehoshua continued: “In Judaism, when something bad happens to you, you don’t ask why; you grow from it by asking yourself how you will respond to be a better person, and a better nation. The power of their spirits has carried over to the soldiers and the rest of the country.”
Asked what the three boys’ legacy will be, Yehoshua paused and looked at her young son.
“Those three kids saved the Israeli nation,” she said.