As the search for her son and his two teenage friends intensifies after being kidnapped, allegedly by Hamas operatives, in the West Bank Thursday, Rachel Fraenkel, mother of 16-year-old Naftali Fraenkel, tearfully addressed the media for the first time Sunday.
The Fraenkel home, located in the Orthodox neighborhood of Nof Ayalon, just outside of Modi’in, has been besieged by media hoping to interview the grieving American-Israeli family.
“Naftali, your dad and mom and siblings love you endlessly, and you should know that the people of Israel are turning the world upside down to bring you home,” the mother of seven told Channel 2 News a few meters outside her house.
“People from all over the country are gathering to pray for your return. We love you and will celebrate your return!” Fraenkel, who made aliya from New York over 20 years ago, expressed her faith in God that Naftali – the second eldest of her children – would be safely returned.
“We are optimistic that God will see the combined effort of solidarity and prayer, and embrace the boys,” she said.
Fraenkel thanked the public and IDF for their respective prayers and exhaustive search efforts, which she said has provided great comfort to the grieving family.
“We are surrounded by a very warm group of family [and friends],” she said.
“They take care of us and look after us and our children, and we are constantly in touch with the army, the police, the Shin Bet and the government.”
Noting that she receives regular updates on the search from the IDF and police, Fraenkel thanked the soldiers, politicians and the media for their ongoing efforts. “We are grateful to every soldier in the field, Knesset member, parents of soldiers and the media for bringing our story to the world.”
The kidnappings of Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach, 19, and Gil-Ad Sha’er, 16, took place while they were hitchhiking in Area C of the West Bank, which is under exclusive Israeli control.
A subsequent house-to-house IDF and police search for the teens has resulted in nearly 100 Palestinian detainments and arrests.
Rachel’s sister Ittael Fraenkel said her sister’s faith, compounded by the government’s aggressive response, has sustained the family.
“She’s amazing – they’re very optimistic and know everyone is praying for them and their son,” said Ittael, a few meters outside the home. “They really believe that the most that can be done is being done. The army is here giving updates all the time and they have been very encouraging.”
Ittael said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and former president Shimon Peres have both called on multiple occasions since the kidnapping to express their support. “[Netanyahu] promised that Israel would do everything it can to bring the boys home and asked us to be strong.”
Asked for any emerging details of the investigation, she said: “All I know is what everybody else knows, and we’re full of hope.”
“We all feel that everyone is with us and praying, and we ask that everyone keeps praying,” she continued. “We feel a big hug from everyone.”
The residents of the community largely refused to speak to the press out of respect for the grieving family, but one woman, who requested anonymity, described the tight-knit community as forlorn.
“I think everyone is sad; it’s a very heavy atmosphere,” she said. “But when you pray for someone’s safe return, you have to be optimistic. We’re all spending our time praying and davening, and we have to believe the prayers will create a miracle.”
Indeed, Lavi Hovar, who resides in neighboring Sha’alvim, and whose son attended kindergarten with Naftali, said that members of the kibbutz and Nof Ayalon have turned to prayer to address the crisis.
“We are religious Jews, so we know everything comes from above,” he said.