The nation is tired of senseless hate and has come together to embrace one another, Rachelle Fraenkel said Wednesday evening at a special ceremony at the President’s Residence to promote national unity in memory of her son, Naftali, who along with Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah, was kidnapped and murdered last year by Hamas terrorists.
“Unity is an issue of national security, but also of national hope. As different as we may be, we have a shared future and, together, it is a good one,” Fraenkel said.
The newly inaugurated Unity Day, which is to be an annual event, was developed by the parents of the three teens and the foundation they have established – the Memorial Foundation for the Three Boys – together with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Gesher, an organization that aims to bridge gaps in Israeli society. It was celebrated in Jerusalem and simultaneously in the Jewish communities of 25 nations, including Ireland, Finland, Hong Kong and Jamaica.
From the moment the teens were kidnapped from a hitch - hiking post near the Gush Etzion junction in the West Bank on June 12, 2014, and until their bodies were dis - covered nearby on June 30, Jews from around the globe reached out to the three families.
Throughout the anxious weeks and during the mourning period that followed, the families spoke of the importance of Jewish solidarity.
“There are many rifts and tears which need repair, many pains and insults, old and new, but we saw this people at its best, and we know what we are capable of,” Fraenkel said Wednesday night.
“Unity is an issue of national security, but also of national hope. As different as we may be, we have a shared future, and together, it is a good one.”
Earlier in the day, the three families called for the continuation of Jewish unity in a joint statement.
“The kidnappings of our boys marks one of the more difficult moments in Israel’s modern history. But the reality is that out of this bitter tragedy came a spirit of unprecedented unity among the Jewish people,” the parents said.
“Our commitment is to ensure that this sense of unity remains alive. This was the mission of Unity Day and we are so moved and encouraged by the global response.”
Speaking at the central conference of the event at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem, Naftali’s father, Avi Fraenkel, acknowledged the difficulty of maintaining the kind of solidarity expressed during the events of last summer, but said this did not minimize it’s importance.
“Everyone who experienced last summer knows how high we can reach in terms of our togetherness,” he said. “At other times, this is more difficult, such as the recent elections, which radicalize people, but it is crucial that people remember that we can reach such heights, as well.”
Eyal’s father, Uri Yifrah, said, “The warmth and love we received from the Jewish people for 18 days was amazing,” adding that the three families “are trying to return and continue this warmth and love to the Jewish people.”
Despite a return to the daily reality of the old divisions within Israel since the summer, he stressed that “Israel isn’t the same place, and Israeli society has developed for the positive.”
Rivlin, similarly, spoke of the sudden sense of solidarity that marked those anxious weeks as an entire nation prayed for the safe return of the three teens.
“Amid the terrible pain, we saw how the people in Israel as a whole came together as one in times of sorrow in joint prayer, and hope for the families. For a moment, we were all one family, anxious for the safety of our sons.
“The sense of unity that enveloped us at those tense moments did not last long, and within days of that painful week of mourning, we learned of the horrific act of revenge, the murder of an Arab boy, Muhammad Abu Khdeir,” Rivlin said.
“And immediately after that, we entered into the long and exhausting operation against terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip, an operation in which we lost some of our best sons.”
Although the sense of unity returned during the war, it fell apart during the year that followed.
“We managed to undergo a stormy election period, in which, like a pendulum, we all swung from the peaks of responsibility and unity to a lack of tolerance and, at times, even violence.
“We always knew the people in Israel know how to unite and be strong at times of crisis. But, just as in the fairy tales, when clock strikes midnight, the daily routine resumes the unity is breached, the cooperation is lost, impatience returns and the warm embrace fades,” Rivlin said.
He then handed out the first, of what is to be an annual, Jerusalem Unity Prize to honor those individuals and organizations that have worked for Jewish solidarity.
Prize recipients included: Rabbi Nehemia Wilhelm, who heads the Chabad in Bangkok, whose door is always open; Raya and Yossi Afner, who created the “Meeting for Israel” initiative, which links social values education with hiking on Israel’s trails, in memory of their son Sgt. Avi Afner who died in the 1997 helicopter disaster; Maj.-Gen. (res.) Ram Shmueli, whose project “Connecting” promotes dialogue between different sectors of Israeli society religious and secular, Jews and Arab; and “Hachacham” David Menachem, who has built bridges between different peoples and nations through his music and poetry.
Speaking earlier at the conference at the Van Leer Institute, Menachem, who as a musician and rabbi has sought to promote peace in the region, said Jewish unity in Israel had two requirements: that religious leaders reach out to people who are less practically observant and more traditional; and for those traditional and less observant people to view Jewish heritage as being relevant to them.
Through partnerships with the Education Ministry, more than 400,000 students took part in special programming designed to highlight themes of Jewish unity.
A similar program was coordinated with the IDF’s Education Corps, as well as 43 individual municipalities that signed on to take part in dedicat - ed commemorations. Another 65 youth movements were involved in the day’s events, and the Knesset dedicated a session to the initiative with statements of support coming from across the political spectrum.