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I was in the local Sweets Are Us buying gum. Two high school girls came in as I was paying. “Did you hear?” one said to the other. “They found the boys’ bodies.”

I froze. I felt a bullet of pain enter my heart. Heat radiated from that point outwards throughout my entire body. I could barely breathe.

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There had been so many rumors. First we heard that three teenagers, Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel, and Gilad Shaer, were kidnapped while hitchhiking in Gush Etzion, not far from Jerusalem. Several hours later word buzzed around that the army had, in a bold move, rescued the boys and they were unharmed. Later we heard that report was, unfortunately, premature.

It was impossible to believe that what the girls said could be true. We as a people were davening, doing acts of chesed, and believing with full hearts that the boys would come home. We lit Shabbat candles early. We offered rides to people we didn’t know. The boys were in our hearts constantly.

I went to the computer goods store a few shops down. I could hardly make it up the stairs. I asked the proprietor, whom I know, if the news was true. “Yes,” he said. “It’s terrible.” I did not buy the computer paper I needed, but headed down the stairs. At the doorway I could no longer hold in the tears. I didn’t even worry about being embarrassed. I just cried. After several minutes, an older Israeli woman with a bright headscarf approached me. “What’s wrong, honey?” she asked in a soft Moroccan accent.

“They found… the boys’ bodies,” I choked. Her eyes became pained, and she put her arms around me. We stood, hugging, on the sidewalk for what seemed like a long time. “I don’t know if that’s true,” she said. “I haven’t heard. But, even if chas v’shalom it is true, we need to remember that Hashem runs the world, and in His wisdom, He knows what he’s doing, even if we just can’t understand. In the face of evil, we can do acts of kindness. We can do good deeds.”

I went home so thankful for the kindness I was shown by a woman I didn’t even know. I wondered what happened to all the extra mitzvot people had taken on for the boys’ merit. So many people, across the world, dedicated themselves to do more chesed, to learn more Torah, to pray with more sincerity.

I had determined to say the morning blessings with extra concentration in merit of our boys. And when I say those blessings in the morning, I still think of them. Others did far more outstanding acts in our boys’ merit. Some say that all the prayers, the good deeds, and the extra learning served to protect us as we endured the summer of Tsuk Eitan, Operation Protective Edge. Miracles were recorded over and over as rockets fell, as soldiers escaped harm, as we ended the summer with fewer casualties than anyone expected.

And now, a year later, we are re-dedicating ourselves to achdut, to unity, in Israel and across the world.

In my neighborhood of Ramat Beit Shemesh, I attended an achdut rally on the anniversary of the boys’ kidnapping. It was organized by national religious schools in the neighborhood for women and girls. Although most of the nearly three hundred who attended were students and teachers, last-minute publicity brought out a few dozen women from the neighborhood as well.

A human chain was planned to encircle Nachal Dolave Street, a loop which runs for about a mile through a central part of the neighborhood. Although there were many breaks in the chain due to lack of numbers, the women and girls were not deterred. We held hands where we could, and waved signs declaring “Acheinu kol beit Yisrael” – all of the House of Israel are brothers – and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Teachers donning bright yellow or orange vests led us in singing.

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