More than 60 people braved a thunderstorm on the evening of July 2 to participate in a special “Evening of Unity” at Yeshivat Noam in Paramus in memory of 19-year-old Eyal Yifrach, 16-year-old Gilad Shaar, and 16-year-old Naftali Frenkel, who were kidnapped and brutally murdered by terrorists.
The program, which was hosted collaboratively by Ben Porat Yosef, The Moriah School, Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, Yavneh Academy, and Yeshivat Noam, was for middle school students and their parents. People gathered together to process and mourn the tragic deaths of the three Israeli teenagers through Torah, Tefillah, and Shirah.
Against a backdrop of a large Israeli flag and three yahrtzeit candles that were burning in memory of the three boys, Rabbi Chaim Hagler, Principal of Yeshivat Noam, welcomed the crowd and delivered introductory remarks.
In discussing the importance of unity, Rabbi Hagler declared that K’lal Yisrael stands on one pillar, and that is achdut. The Torah states k’ish echad, b’lev echad—that the Jewish people were only worthy to receive the Torah when they were “like one man with one heart.”
“The foundation of the world was shaken with the killings of the three young boys,” said Rabbi Hagler. “Achdut is how we fix that.”
Mrs. Aliza Weinberg, a middle school Judaic Studies teacher at Yeshivat Noam, talked about the importance and power of saying Tehillim in trying times. “When we are left with nothing, God is our savior,” said Mrs. Weinberg. “In our darkest moments, we have to remember that God, who created the world out of nothing, can help.”
Rabbi Jonathan Knapp, Principal of Yavneh Academy, led the crowd in the recitation of four chapters of Tehillim, each of which was recited with a great degree of emotion and a deep sense of meaning.
With beautiful musical accompaniment from the keyboard coming courtesy of Mrs. Adina Mermelstein, who teaches music at Yeshivat Noam, the students and parents in attendance sang a moving rendition of the classic Hebrew song “Acheinu.”
As loud thunderclaps were audible overhead, a powerful and stirring video produced by Rabbi Yitz Motechin, Assistant Principal, Judaic Studies, Yeshivat Noam Middle School, was shown. As the faces of the young victims and images of their grieving families appeared on the large screen, there might not have been a dry eye in the room. The pictures of crowds of people mourning together for the loss of the three boys were particularly striking.
Dr. Elliot Prager, Principal of The Moriah School, offered words of inspiration and comfort.
“The thing that has kept the Jewish people triumphing for over 4000 years of history is the ability to pick up the pieces and move on in times of crises,” said Dr. Prager. “We don’t know why this tragedy happened, but the one way to respond is with achdut.
“The only overwhelming Jewish response to death is overwhelming Jewish life,” continued Dr. Prager. “That’s what we need to do. That’s how we honor the memory of those three beautiful boys that were taken from us. We don’t know why it happened, but what we need to do is strengthen the Jewish spirit.”
The crowd also heard from Rabbi David Kaminetsky, Associate Principal of Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, who shared words of Torah with those assembled. “Our hearts have been with Israel for the past 19 days and Israel has been so thankful for the care and concern that we’ve shown,” he said. “These three boys strengthened us with achdut and with K’lal Yisrael acting as a unit.”
After more inspirational singing, the crowd heard from Dr. Aliza Frohlich, Director of Guidance, Yavneh Academy Middle School. Dr. Frohlich discussed the significance of the number “three” in Judaism and quoted Kohelet: “A threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Noting the famous saying in Pirkei Avot—”The world stands on three things: Torah, Avodah, and G’milut Chasadim”—Dr. Frohlich focused on the importance of performing acts of kindness to others.
“By uniting, we’ve seen the beauty of Jewish Chesed,” said Dr. Frohlich. “After Torah and Avodah, our third strand is Chesed. By continuing to perform acts of Chesed, our rope will remain strong.”
Pledge cards were distributed to the crowd, which encouraged people to undertake to perform acts of Chesed in the aftermath of the tragedy involving Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali.
Rav Tomer Ronen, Rosh HaYeshiva at Ben Porat Yosef, also talked about the importance of achdut. He told the crowd that he recently spoke to his son, who is currently serving in the Israel Defense Forces. His son was one of many Israeli soldiers who helped search for the boys after they were abducted and he participated in the search to find the perpetrators of this terrible crime. Rav Ronen’s son told him that he was stationed in the city of Efrat, where morning, noon, and night, the local residents came to offer assistance to the soldiers in a tremendous show of achdut.
Following his remarks, Rav Ronen recited the Kel Maleh Rachamim for the three boys and led the crowd in the recitation of the Tefillot for the State of Israel and the members of the Israel Defense Forces.
After an emotion-filled rendition of “Im Eshkachech,” the crowd joined together to sing Hatikvah as the program came to an end. Following the conclusion of the program, the people in attendance had the opportunity to write condolence notes to the families of the three boys.
“This program was the perfect way for all of us to honor the memories of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali in an appropriate and dignified way,” said Rabbi Hagler. “By coming together as a community and as a nation, and continuing to highlight the importance of achdut, we can ensure that we persevere, despite our enemies’ perpetual attempts to break our spirit. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of these three special boys, whose memories will continue to live on in our hearts and souls.”
By N. Aaron Troodler