On prayer, hatred and cynicism

The commandment to “remain compassionate even when a sharp sword is placed on your neck,” is not restricted to religious people.

Mothers of Eyal Yifrah, Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel (photo credit: ISRAEL AT THE UN-GENEVA)
Mothers of Eyal Yifrah, Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel
(photo credit: ISRAEL AT THE UN-GENEVA)
The fate the kidnapped boys was known all along. Even those who hadn’t heard the recording of the distress call, during which commands in Arabic could be heard, as could the shots being fired and the subsequent cheering by the kidnappers, could not delude themselves into thinking that this story could possibly have a happy ending.
Certainly the parents of the three boys, who had heard the recording and knew all of the details about the hijacking, could not have realistically thought their boys would be returned home safely in the end. In retrospect, we know this from the comment Rachel Fraenkel, Naftali’s mother, made to a group of girls praying at the Kotel for the kidnapped boys: “I believe wholeheartedly that they will come home. And if they don’t – be strong. God doesn’t work for us.”
And then she added, “But I believe they will come home.” And surely this became evident at the funeral when in his eulogy, Naftali’s father Avi Fraenkel read from something he had written just three days after the boys were kidnapped.
And despite all of this, we all wanted to hope – including the parents, of course – that there was a slim chance that our worries would be proven wrong and that they’d be able to hug their sons once again. It is human nature to remain hopeful and bury terrible thoughts.
The commandment to “remain compassionate even when a sharp sword is placed on your neck,” is not restricted to religious people. It is a reflection of the human soul.
The families of Naftali, Eyal and Gil-Ad put their faith in God. They believe that God controls everything and that we have the power to influence his decisions through prayer and supplication.
They also believe that when a large group of people prays together, their strength is greater. Thus they turned to the people of Israel and requested that they pray together to bring the boys home.
Uri Misgav defines himself as a person who believes in peace and love. He views himself as a misgav la’am, as he calls his blog, or someone who provides a refuge for the people. He does not believe in God, which is his right. The families of the kidnapped boys did not force anyone who didn’t want to pray to do so. Misgav, though, was not satisfied with stating that he would not pray for the boys. He felt the need to be offensive and say he “doesn’t want to pray” (Haaretz, 20.6.14). He writes decisively in Haaretz, “I am not praying for their safe return.”
He then goes on to explain that, “I’m not going to pray because I’m not a religious person and I don’t believe in any form of higher power.” But Misgav doesn’t stop there. He describes his outrage since “too many people do not respect his right not to pray.” In his magnanimity, Misgav allows “the poor, miserable boys’ families to request divine mercy,” but he criticizes the other Israeli families who he says are “getting carried away and swept away by emotion.”
Even a person with a minimal amount of sensitivity would realize that these poor families should not be blamed for everyone’s sins in this darkest hour. But Misgav does not hold back and in the column he rushed to write after the boys’ bodies were found cynically and gruesomely celebrates his own victory since “the prayers didn’t help.”
I cannot help but wonder whether Misgav would have reacted the same way if the parents of Muhammad Abu Khdeir had turned to him with a similar request before his body had been located, especially if Muslim public leaders supported this request.
And Misgav is not alone. The three mothers left for Geneva to put their pain and pleas before the UN Human Rights Council. Instead of showing sympathy for them, Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy hurled epithets. He wrote: “You need to be pretty arrogant to expect the world to take an interest in three Israeli boys who were kidnapped, and an extra dose of chutzpah when you’re disappointed that the world remained silent” (“And the world dares to remain silent,” Haaretz, June 26, 2014). With cruel cynicism, Levy claims that, “There is no reason the world should be interested in the fate of Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrah and Gil-Ad Shaer. There’s no reason for people to be emotionally affected when Rachel Fraenkel speaks about how Naftali was such a good boy and how he loved to play guitar and soccer.”
I know that Levy was expressing the pain people felt after Muhammad Dudin was shot during searches for the kidnapped boys. But must he do so in a way that is like twisting a knife inside the hearts of Rachel Fraenkel and sisters in suffering? Levy does not stop there, but goes on to mock the finance minister for speaking about our “children.” He asks cynically, “Why don’t we just call them babies?” (“Bring Back our Boys: the grotesque stage,” Haaretz, June 22, 2014).
From what I see on the Haaretz website, Gideon, you are the father of two children.
Until what age do you plan on calling them “children”? And why did you write that Muhammad was a “boy”? Wasn’t he was the same age as Naftali, Eyal and Gil-Ad? According to what standard do you decide if a person can be considered a child? Is it by nationality? To be honest, this time I was pleasantly surprised by Levy. I expected him to write something similar to what he wrote following the murder of the Merkaz Harav students, when he highlighted that, “Most of the students who were killed in the attack were second-generation settlers.”
We can learn many top-quality and noble character traits from these bereaved parents.
As opposed to the cynicism and cruelty expressed by people like Misgav and Levy, when the body of Muhammad Abu Khdeir was found just hours after the three boys were laid to rest, Naftali Fraenkel’s family made the following unambiguous statement public: “If indeed an Arab boy was murdered for nationalistic reasons, then we denounce this appalling and shocking act. There is no difference between our blood and their blood. Murder is murder, regardless of nationality or age. There is no justification, forgiveness or atonement for any murder whatsoever.”
The author is dean of the Peres Academic Center Law School.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.