The news broke over a Shabbat in mid-June of last year: Three Israeli teenagers had been kidnapped after hitching a ride from a Gush Etzion junction.The two-week search for Gil-Ad Shaer, 16; Eyal Yifrach, 19; and Naftali Fraenkel, 16, ended in heartbreaking tragedy on the afternoon of June 30, when their bodies were found near Halhoul in the West Bank. Heartbreaking because in those two weeks nearly every front page and news show carried updates on the search, rhetoric of the politicians, commentary by the columnists, and solidarity of the people of Israel with demonstrations and prayer rallies.
Candles placed next to a picture of the boys in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square June 30, 2014.(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Thousands of people are praying at the Western Wall.Thrust into the spotlight were the three mothers, who went before the UN Human Rights Council to urge them to do more and finished simply, “We just want them back in our homes, in their beds. We just want to hug them again.” (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Bat-Galim Shaer, Rachel Fraenkel, Iris Yifrach in Nof Ayalon.(photo Credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)Gil-Ad, Eyal and Naftali weren’t “those boys,” they became “our boys.”What we didn’t know at the time, but could nonetheless feel in the pit of our stomachs, was the unrelenting rise in tension. As the three yeshiva students were buried, rockets fired from the Gaza Strip increased in frequency on the South, and Muhammad Abu Khdeir, a sweet-looking 16-year-old, was heinously murdered outside Jerusalem. Violent and destructive riots spread like wildfire from Khdeir’s hometown of Shuafat to other Arab cities in Israel, and before we could catch our breath from running to bomb shelters and stairwells, Operation Protective Edge was declared and the IDF was preparing a ground invasion into the Strip.But before this, the Shaers, Yifrachs and Fraenkels laid their sons to rest – and the country mourned with them. The lessons learned in those harrowing 18 days were the solidarity of the people of Israel, the lengths the IDF would go to in a search and rescue, and the hope the masses held out that one way or another our boys would be brought home.That is their legacy.
Unity Day banners commemorating Eyal Ifrach, Gil-ad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)