A national trauma that began 18 days ago ended in the worst possible way in a stony field outside Halhoul Monday evening with the discovery of the bodies of the three teenagers – Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah – who became more than household names in this country, but rather the object of intense hope and millions of prayers.
Their smiling faces – Eyal playing guitar at a youth group function, Naftali and Gil-Ad forming a human pyramid at school – affected and touched the country so deeply because their faces, their smiles, looked so familiar.
They looked so much like the faces of the youth we pass on the street downtown, or on the buses, or in the halls of our apartment buildings, or even in the kitchens of our own homes.
Those children, snatched and later murdered as they were trying to do nothing more than return home from school, could have been anyone’s kids. Which is one of the reasons why we were all so affected.
Part of the world, in its obtuseness, has warned us against “disproportionate” reaction. As if there is a proportionate reaction to three boys stolen and murdered for no other reason than they were Jews. And this in the oh, so enlightened 21st century. What, exactly, would constitute a “proportionate” reaction? Traumas such as these are not easily forgotten, they leave scars – not only for the families, obviously, but for the nation.
This type of brutality leaves a mark on the national psyche. Not only the brutality of the act itself, but also the glee in which so many on the other side greeted the news of the kidnappings, glee grotesquely paraded on Facebook in the form a three-finger salute.
The kidnappings, the murders, the support the kidnappers enjoyed among so many of their own people and the calls for more kidnappings of innocents reveal a hatred we try to avert our eyes from, but which from time to time pops up and serves as a reminder of where we live and what we have to deal with.
And it leaves an impact.
Those abroad who fail to grasp why Israel is not more “forthcoming,” not more willing to “make sacrifices for peace,” or why it builds a security fence, or why it sets up roadblocks, do not understand the degree to which incidents like this leave their mark.
To understand Israel, to understand so much of what the country does, it is necessary to understand the insecurity that gnaws at the psyche after incidents like this: after kidnappings, after rockets randomly fired into living rooms, after bombs blowing up buses. Those incidents sap desire to “take risks for peace.”
This country is no stranger to random acts of cruelty.
What speaks so strongly about the nation’s character, however, is that it is not consumed or subsumed by these acts, but continues on its way – to build, to grow, to develop, to move forward, to get stronger.
That resilient quality was embodied over the last 18 days in the parents of the three boys, parents who throughout the entire ordeal showed a nobility of spirit, and degree of faith, that left many awestruck.
Rachel Fraenkel, at a visit to the Western Wall last week, came across a group of elementary school girls reciting Psalms for the safe return of her son, Naftali, and the other two boys. Her message to them was simple: hope for the best, but no matter what happens, don’t let it break you, don’t lose faith.
At times like these, that’s a relevant message for the entire nation, not just for elementary school girls.