Kidnapped Israeli teens.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
For 18 days last June, the public cast differences aside, and in a spontaneous gesture of solidarity with the Fraenkel, Shaer and Yifrah families whose sons Naftali, Gil-Ad and Eyal, yeshiva students who had been kidnapped while hitching a ride home in Alon Shvut in Gush Etzion, waited hearts in mouths for progress reports in the search for the three missing teenagers.
According to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, the boys’ parents exuded a sense of nobility and placed national considerations ahead of their own personal concerns. Their inspiring example created a spirit that many people in the world of Jewish outreach wanted to preserve, disseminate and emulate.
While he was in the process of paying condolence calls to the families, said Barkat, the idea of creating a Jerusalem National Unity Prize in the names of the dead boys was born.
The Gesher organization and other outreach groups and institutions were brought in and it was decided that because President Reuven Rivlin is the living symbol by virtue of his office and his own personal example of national unity, that the launch of the prize would take place in the President’s Residence.
Just a few minutes prior to the launch ceremony on Thursday, Racheli Fraenkel, the mother of Naftali, told reporters that the best way to commemorate someone is to take the sweet out of the bitter and use it in the spirit of the deceased.
The spirit of solidarity and connection from people all over Israel and the Diaspora that engulfed the families during the period of the tragedy was something that the families felt should continue beyond them for the benefit of the nation and Jews everywhere, she said.
In an effort to achieve this, a steering committee had been formed, which comprises people from many different sectors.
Indeed, among those attending the launch were haredim, people from the National Religious camp, traditionalists and secularists who are all working together to promote unity.
There will be three prizes: one to an organization or individual working towards national unity; one for initiative and social entrepreneurship and the last to an organization whose projects result in closer connections between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora.
“I stand here as the father of Eyal,” said Uri Yifrah. “Before that I was just an ordinary citizen.”
What had happened to Eyal, Gil-Ad and Naftali, he said, had created a new spirit of solidarity, which “brought us to another place, and we felt a duty both to the nation and our sons.”
“As parents we have to cope with our own personal pain each day,” said Ofer Shaer, “but in memory of our sons we want to create something living and lasting in the spirit of unity that accompanied us during the worst period of our lives. This is an opportunity to promote mutual respect, tolerance and dialogue, despite existing differences.”