Coping with tragedy

The close-knit Makor Chaim Yeshiva is uniting its students in prayer and support.

As well as being a traditional yeshiva, Makor Chaim incorporates special projects into its program (photo credit: NATAN EPSTEIN)
As well as being a traditional yeshiva, Makor Chaim incorporates special projects into its program
(photo credit: NATAN EPSTEIN)
In a week of prayers and tears, Israelis across the country, from every sector of society, took part in massive prayer rallies for the three kidnapped teenagers. Perhaps some of the most heart-felt prayers could be heard in the Makor Chaim Yeshiva in Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, the school where two of the three kidnapped Israeli boys, Naftali Fraenkel and Gil-Ad Shaer, are students.
“Naftali has been studying for a biology exam at the yeshiva that he was supposed to take this week,” his aunt Ittael Fraenkel of Nof Ayalon, Naftali’s hometown, told The Jerusalem Post last week. “Naftali is an amazing kid; he’s really sweet – a combination of a serious kid and fun kid.”
The three kidnapped Israelis, Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gil- Ad Shaer, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16, were abducted by Palestinian terrorists on Thursday, June 12, in Gush Etzion. Their last contact with Israeli authorities was on Thursday night, when one of the boys called the police hotline to notify authorities that the three were being kidnapped.
Classmates of Fraenkel and Shaer at the yeshiva have gathered together since, in special prayer and learning sessions with their rabbis and teachers at the yeshiva.
“Given this tragic situation, the yeshiva is functioning in an excellent fashion,” said Yael Mishali, a parent of a son who learns at Makor Chaim. “There is a strong atmosphere of support in the yeshiva among graduates, parents and faculty. There is great sensitivity to the plight of the students and classmates as well. You can feel the waves of support being extended to the yeshiva from the outside as well,” she told the Post.
The yeshiva head, Rabbi Dov Singer, was notified by SMS that the boys had been abducted the following day, on Friday morning at 6 a.m.
“That Friday morning, I drove straight to see the mothers of the boys and from them, I got the strength to be their emissary and continue my work in the yeshiva,” he told Israel National News.
Singer asked the yeshiva students to return on Saturday night, where he asked each of the students to open a book of Psalms to find the passage they connected to the most at the time.
“We sang these Psalms together. The first step was to bring all the students together.”
For the students in the yeshiva, it was very difficult to process that their friends had been abducted, according to Singer.
“One of the students stated that during the Saturday night prayer session, the realization that he was praying for his abducted friends broke him during the prayer for redeeming hostages.”
Rabbi Singer recounts how that the particular student had told him: “I know my classmates by their last names, Fraenkel and Shaer, not by Ya’acov Naftali ben Rachel and Gil-Ad ben Bat-Galim.”
Makor Chaim Yeshiva was established in 1985 by the noted and internationally respected educator, Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz. As part of a wider educational framework, Rabbi Steinsaltz with 15 students created three other schools, including the Yeshiva Gevoha post-high school hesder yeshiva located in Tekoa, and the Makor Chaim elementary school and Makor Chaim-Netiv Meir Junior High School in Jerusalem.
“The Makor Chaim Yeshiva is a very unique educational institution,” says Rabbi Meni Even-Israel, Steinsaltz’s son. “It is a close-knit community of students, teachers, staff and parents.”
There are 270 boys from eighth to 12th grade, with two classes per grade. The students learn in an intimate atmosphere, according to Even-Israel.
“Hassidic thought is incorporated into the actual learning, so it’s not just dry, technical academic study, but a more cohesive learning environment,” he adds.
“Makor Chaim was founded to educate a new generation of committed Jews to respect each other,” says Even-Israel, who serves as the executive director of the Shefa Foundation, which oversees Steinsaltz’s educational institutions worldwide.
The yeshiva continues to function according to Steinsaltz’s unique educational model, “a blend of love for the people and land of Israel, analytic Lithuanian Torah scholarship and hassidic warmth and vitality,” according to the yeshiva’s website. The school also engages in special projects where its yeshiva students participate in a joint learning program at a secular high school, as well as volunteer with at-risk-youth, visit home-bound elderly, work with children with special needs, and help out at ambulance and emergency service centers.
Considered one of the best religious high schools in Israel, some 750 students from all over the country apply for the 60 coveted places in the freshman class.
The Education Ministry in 2005 awarded the school the prestigious Religious Education Award.
Steinsaltz continues to serve as the spiritual leader of the yeshiva, maintaining close contact with the yeshiva’s rabbis, staff and students and teaching a class there once a week.
“The kidnapping of our students is a shocking, painful and frightening event. In a time and place that had seemed to us quiet and serene, we have been thrown into an event that we can do nothing to resolve,” said Steinsaltz in an official Shefa statement. “Perhaps we are better off than in past times, when we were totally unable to even attempt rescue and deliverance. We are grateful to the Israel Defense Forces for all their efforts. We pray also for the safety of those who are working toward their rescue.”
Steinsaltz also added that prayer was critical for the boys’ safety.
“We can never know the extent [of] our pleas and cries reaching Heaven – and they also have some effect here, on earth. What we can do – and this has been the Jewish way from time immemorial – is to add more holiness and learn more Torah. If we can, each of us should take upon ourselves something additional, no matter how small, especially and explicitly... for the sake and well-being of the missing boys.”
The Makor Chaim Yeshiva is structured in such a way that there are two madrichim, or mentors, that accompany each grade.
“The madrich knows the class well and guides it throughout the year,” explained Even-Israel.
Subsequently, Mordechai Hacohen, the madrich of the class in which the kidnapped students learned, approached Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and the deputy chairman of the Shomron Regional Council, Yossi Dagan, for special permission to hand out prayer material for the three kidnapped boys at bus and train stations across Israel.
Permission was granted and classmates of Fraenkel and Shaer from the yeshiva have started handing out the prayer sheets to passengers and commuters.
“May it be God’s will that in their merit and for the merit of their suffering, together with our prayers and good deeds, we shall see our boys returned to us, God willing safe and sound,” concluded Steinsaltz.