Without a sign of life or any idea when their loved ones and classmates will return, hundreds crowded the Mekor Haim Yeshiva in Kfar Etzion on Sunday morning hoping to find divine answers to the kidnapping of three yeshiva boys Thursday night.
Chief Rabbi David Lau led the prayer where classmates and family of Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrach recited psalms and called out “Hoshi’enu!” (Rescue us!), many choking back tears.
Lau called on the crowd to remember the story of the Gross family from Jerusalem, who lost two daughters in January after an exterminator had left dangerous levels of pesticide in the house. Two sons who became critically ill, however, recovered, which Lau called an example of a divine miracle.
“What does God ask of us? God says what I want from you is that you all look out for one another. Sometimes we forget this, and then there is a reminder, something that happens to remind us,” Lau said.
Roads and pathways outside were packed Sunday outside the yeshiva in Kfar Etzion, where well-wishers came to pray ahead of a mass prayer session Sunday evening at the Western Wall.
While throughout the service there were young men in tears embracing one another, outside and in the roads of the village a few youths joked and clowned around, despite the tragedy.
In another, possibly stranger contrast between tragedy and happiness, just meters from the yeshiva a canopy was set up, covered in pristine white drapes ahead of a wedding Sunday night.
Among those who arrived Sunday was IDF Chief Rabbi Brig.-Gen. Rafi Peretz, who said he is a longtime friend of the head of the yeshiva.
After leaving the service, Peretz said: “We’re a gentle people, but when we have to, we know how to be strong more than anything else, and that’s the same with this yeshiva. On the one hand there’s tears; on the other hand we cannot be broken.”
Outside the service stood Yael Mishaly, a mother of seven from Shoham, whose 18-year-old son studies at the yeshiva.
Mishaly said that she received news of the kidnapping on Friday morning, after the yeshiva sent out a message to all of the parents of students.
She said that she and the other parents are not in panic but in a state of worry and uncertainty, which they try to cope with by helping each other and holding prayer sessions.
“It’s the not-knowing,” she said, that was truly frustrating, but on the other hand the fact that her family keeps Shabbat made things easier: on Shabbat her son was not able to watch the news or hear rumors by way of his smartphone.
When asked if her son hitchhikes to get around in the West Bank, she said he does, but that she didn’t try to scold him about it over the weekend.
“We still don’t even know what happened yet. We’re not at that moment of trying to find someone to blame yet,” she said, adding: “We know who’s to blame for this – the terrorists.”