Tens of thousands of Israelis, including haredi men in long coats and side curls, Sephardic women in tight jeans and low-cut tops, and, of course, thousands and thousands of national-religious representing the entire swath of the religious Zionist spectrum braved searing afternoon heat Tuesday to give one final honour to three boys – and their families – who unified a fractured nation.
In many ways, the funeral procession of Eyal Yifrah, Gil-Ad Sha’ar and Naftali Fraenkel had a different feel to other mass funerals following terror attacks. Of course, the event bore terrible resemblance to other mass funerals following horrific terror attacks. As at funerals of the Fogel family, Koby Mandell, and countless more victims of Oslo, today’s procession was marked by teenage boys crying openly on each-others shoulders, middle aged men and women staring blankly at the crowd, trying in vain to understand the justice and the Divine logic behind the tragedy, and teenage girls sitting on rocks and dirt paths, quietly sobbing into prayer and Psalm books.
But a closer look revealed another, unusual side to the burial of three children murdered in cold blood. In addition to the natural human instinct to offer comfort to the grieving families, mourners seemed moved by another, deeper feeling. As much as a tribute to the victims, the gathering seemed to be a desperate grasp to hold on to the last three weeks – a period of fear and uncertainty, and of hope, all of which eventually exploded into the biggest show of national unity since the abduction and murder of Nachshon Wachsman HY”D in similar circumstances in 1994.
As Israelis of all political and ethnic stripes mourned the boys’ murder, there is a reluctance to bid farewell to Iris Yifrah, Rachael Fraenkel and Bat-Galim Sha’ar, the devastated mothers who both drew strength from the support they received from Am Yisrael and returned it to the nation ten fold. To paraphrase Prime Minister Netanyahu said, the past three weeks were a lesson – for Israel and the world – in prayer, in belief, in national unity, in humanity. Today’s gathering, then, was in many ways a desperate attempt to down one last gulp from the cup of unity and faith that defined the past 19 days.
Although the burial service was not scheduled to begin until 5:30 pm (individual funeral services were held in each boy’s hometown), the area leading to the Modi’in cemetery was nearly impassible by 4:00. An hour before the speeches were set to begin, this reporter could not get within 250 meters of the eulogy tent. Ultimately, the bodies were delayed by more than a n hour, giving mourners ample time to sweat, pray – groups of yeshiva boys seized on the opportunity before the eulogies to recite the afternoon Mincha service – and most of all, to sing.
As happened at memorial services around the country when word of the murders made the rounds last night, groups of teens hugged, linked arms and soothed their pain with the songs that have defined the entire ordeal – songs about God’s power and goodness, prayerful songs asking God to redeem captives, and especially the line from the Passover Haggada – “The promise made to our forefathers holds true also for us: For more than once they have risen against us to try to destroy us… But the Holy One, Blessed be He, saves us from their hands.”
Mourners from around the country – this reporter spoke to individuals who had travelled from Jerusalem, Rehovot, Bat Yam and Netanya, in addition to yishuvim around Judea and Samaria – said they were moved to attend the funeral by the families’ grace during the crisis, but also out of feelings of helplessness in a tough situation.
“Of course I’m here,” said Hallel, a 21-year-old university student from Ofra. “Am Yisrael came together for these boys, hoping against hope for a different outcome, knowing all the while that the signs didn’t look good from the very first moment.”
Asked what she prayed for knowing that the odds were against finding the boys alive, she said simply “mercy.” After a short pause, she added, “You know, growing up in Ofra, we’ve had our share of awful attacks. Too, too many people have been killed.
“Be’ezrat Hashem,” she said, “this whole story will serve as a catalyst for spirituality and good things.
“But the pain is unbearable. There’s just no way around it.”