With a stirring ceremony in the presence of family members of the abducted three youths taken by Hamas murderers in July 2014, the Head of Gush Etzion Council Davidi Perl and thousands of local residents celebrated their memory at the Oz v’Gaon Nature Preserve on the hill above Gush Etzion Junction in Judea. The nature preserve was established in the memory of the three youths.
The event, conducted by Women in Green, which launched the preserve project and has been running it as a site for education, tourism and camping, was opened by Yehudit Katsover, one of the heads of the movement, with the story of how the decision was made to go up to the preserve on the very night in which the bodies of the abducted youths were found. Katsover told the audience that this is the way of Zionism: development and growth emerge out of pain. But she added that “it could also be otherwise; we could and should cut off the enemy’s hope by applying Israeli sovereignty” in Area C of Judea and Samaria (to start, at least).
“Without the backing of the people, the parents, the council, the IDF and the various other bodies this would not have succeeded, and this is why we came to say Thank you,” said Nadia Matar, Katsover’s partner in leading the movement. Matar listed the activists and donors who contributed to the event as well as to the two-year-old nature preserve.
Katsover gave the family members of the youths a memento, symbolizing the preserve – a small JNF bench with a dedication.
Uri Yifrach, father of Eyal, Hy”d, read aloud words that Eyal wrote just a few days before he was abducted and murdered, in which he related to the value of having difficulties and pain on the way to achieving a goal. “The path is the value, and without the path, you will not arrive at the destination,” Eyal wrote. “We would be glad to do without the path, and get to the goal, but God put us on the path. We must understand that if the path takes time, this is the will of God. The path will exact casualties, it is difficult and grueling but it takes us closer to the goal. Every step on the path creates life, and when you are on the path, give it your all, take advantage of every moment of your life as if it were your last.”
Bat Galim Shaer, mother of Gil-Ad, spoke of the poem “My life is in your blood” that was heard at the event, and “became for us a daily reality, from the pain and bereavement we strive to grow towards life and activity, and Yehudit and Nadia are examples for us.”
She went on, emphasizing the uniqueness of Oz v’Gaon as a place of daily and continued activity and not a one-time memory or event, “a living, growing and breathing place every single day.”
Raheli Frenkel, mother of Naftali, Hy”d, drew a parallel with the murder of Hallel Ariel, Hy”d, on Thursday in Kiryat Arba. “We woke up in the morning and the only thing we wanted to do was to embrace the Ariel family and the memory of Hallel, our lost princess. I heard Rina cry, ‘My life is in your blood,’ and this morning became a song in praise of life for those who choose to live here, of the joy that fills this place with energy, with wonderful youth and with visitors who come from all over the world.”
Frenkel expressed the hope that the Jewish youths of the area and throughout Israel will continue to stream to the preserve, to be joyful and complete the dreams for summer vacation that Hallel Ariel, Hy”d, had, dreams that were not fulfilled.
Davidi Perl drew a connection between the weekly Torah portion of Korah, and the growth and renewal that are apparent to all those who come to the preserve. Perl mentioned the saying about the prophet Samuel, who was a descendant of Korah’s offspring who did not die. “From the pit arose the flowering of prophecy, renewal and the prayer of [Samuel’s mother] Hanna,” he said.
“Two years ago, a deep chasm opened with the murder of the three youths and we all fell together into the abyss,” Perl said, adding that “with the spirit of Oz v’Gaon this place was born anew. A call went out from here for a renewal of growth, a flowering of life with great depth on the crossroads between Jerusalem and Hebron. In the place that symbolizes this connection we have put down deep roots, two years of yearning and challenges in which we have lost other victims, two years in which the junction became a symbol of heroism and determination, of the people saying that we will stand for our rights and for our demand for full sovereignty over all of the Land of Israel, as our right and not as a gift of kindness.”
The event concluded with a walk to the observation point overlooking Gush Etzion Junction, which had undergone renovation and new artistic decoration in recent weeks. In the presence of the Head of the Local Council, the recently improved path connecting the junction to the nature preserve was dedicated. After words of blessing and thanks, the ribbon at the path was cut and hundreds of blue balloons were released into the air.