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18 Days

July 3, 2014 | by Elliot Mathias

Do not let our heightened sense of unity, love and connection die out with their deaths.

Shock. Horror. Pain. Anger. Sadness. A mix of emotions swelled over us on Monday as we heard the horrible news that the three kidnapped boys in Israel, Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel, were found murdered. We had hoped and we had prayed that this would have a different ending – but instead we were faced with the unspeakable.

Immediate reactions ranged from questioning the response of the police to demanding revenge and reprisals. While I do not discount these reactions, I personally feel that the story of the last 18 days – the story that will remain of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali to those who never knew them personally – was a much deeper and profound one.

Here is what I learned over the past 18 days.

1) How amazing is it to be part of the Jewish People. Unfortunately kidnappings and murder are not rare occurrences. When does it really hit us? When God forbid it happens to those close to us – our family, our friends. Then we take notice and really feel the gravity of the situation. Jews from all over the world reacted like the three boys are our family. And that’s the point – it’s not “like” they are our family – they ARE our family. What nation exists that feels this range of emotion and deep care for each other across continents and languages? This caring and love is unique and should be cherished.

2) We truly can be unified. Unfortunately we dwell on what separates us. Religious or secular, Israeli or Diaspora, right-wing or left-wing. We have differences and we see things differently – and that is fine. But do we see those differences as divisions that make us incapable of looking at each other as brothers and sisters? Are we unable to respect those that are different than us because we believe so strongly that what divides us is so much greater and more important that what we share? Were Eyal, Gilad and Naftali religious? Were they “settlers”? None of that mattered. They were our boys. We didn’t care about any differences; we identified with what we shared – being part of the Jewish people, having a love for the Land of Israel, being part of a family. We identified and we united.

The best way to honor Eyal, Gilad and Naftali is to strive to continue to live with what they inspired within us.

3) Our deep sense of caring pushed us to be better people. While we watched anxiously to see what the Israeli government and military’s reaction would be, our personal reaction focused on prayer, kind deeds and an outpouring of love. Thousands stood together at the Western Wall and in other locations praying for their safety – religious, secular, ultra-orthodox, soldiers, etc. Israeli Minister Yair Lapid revealed, “I haven’t prayed in six years. I haven’t gone into a synagogue since my son’s bar mitzvah. When I heard what had happened to your sons, I turned my house upside down to look for my grandfather’s prayer book. I sat down and prayed.” High schools students did acts of kindness as a merit for the three boys. A deep, profound reaction that came from our souls.

The coming days and weeks will focus on political inquiries, military reactions, and most probably criticisms of Israel reactions – both calling for more restraint and more revenge. Much of this will come from the deep pain we feel and from a yearning to feel that the boys’ murder did not happen in vain. My sense is that the best way to honor Eyal, Gilad and Naftali is to strive to continue to live with what they inspired within us. To not let our heightened sense of unity, love and connection to die out with their deaths. Let us care more about each other more, realize how blessed we are to be part of the Jewish nation, and further commit to fulfilling our national calling.

Our prayers, tears and consolations go out to the bereaved families. Let us turn our enemy’s hatred and desire to divide and harm us into a powerful response that will unite and uplift us as a nation.

A version of this article appeared in the NJ Jewish News

United in Grief: A compendium of articles and reflections

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