April 13, 2024
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April 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Thinking about the three Israeli teenagers, Eyal, Gilad, and Nafta­li, who were just recent­ly kidnapped, the whole horrific story really hits home for me in many ways. Especially given some of my recent experiences and my age, it really makes me feel that I have to do some­thing about it, that I have to try to help, be­cause I have a pretty strong connection in some ways.

A few months ago, I visited Israel for the first time. It was incredible to see the land in person for the first time and experience the holy places and the culture that I had spent 10-plus years of school learning about (in­cluding the fact that Israelis love writing Eng­lish words in Hebrew more than you expect). But I didn’t just visit the famous sites. I have a friend who made aliyah at the end of eighth grade (two years ago), and moved to Chash­monaim. We had planned to meet up while I was there, and then I discovered where Chashmonaim is located—the West Bank. I’d rather not comment on any politics or issues surrounding that area right now, which is not a conversation I know enough to get into. However, with my parents’ permission, I took a Kavim-operated bus to “Chashmo,” as it’s called, and got a chance to hang out with my friend for the first time in ages. It was great to see him again, and Chashmonaim is a beau­tiful little town, filled with wide roads, dotted with picturesque brown house, and views that could be straight out of a postcard.

Here’s where the first parallel between myself and the three teenagers comes in. The teenagers were from the West Bank, yet they had little to do with the politics. They were regular people, living peacefully in the towns they were from. You can generalize and mor­alize about the settlements all you want, but on a personal, human level, the people who live there are normal people—normal, friend­ly people who shouldn’t be pigeonholed be­cause of where they live. Some are condemn­ing the kidnappers for using kids as pawns in their political game; I say not only that, but us­ing anyone from this area as political pawns is absolutely wrong.

My friend took me around Chashmo, we caught up on different things in our lives, and then we planned to go to the Modi’in Mall, five minutes away by car. (My parents would be meeting me there.) But my friend’s parents weren’t home, and neither of us could drive. He had the perfect solution: hitchhike. I was taken aback. Could that be safe? I would nev­er hitchhike back in America (except in one extenuating circumstance, but that’s a differ­ent story). Now in Israel, an amazing but vol­atile place, that could be okay? Yet he insist­ed that everyone did it here and that it was more than fine in a town like Chashmo. So he flagged down a woman who had extra space in her van (she actually knew my friend’s dad), and we hitchhiked to a spot only a few min­utes away on foot to the mall. Later on, when my dad asked me how I had gotten there, he joked that I shouldn’t tell him if I hitchhiked. I went, “Um…” (It would be funny if this arti­cle was the first way he was finding out. But don’t worry, I did tell him.) But I realized that this was a cultural difference between Israe­lis and Americans—Israelis can be more trust­ing, more open with each other, and didn’t see any danger with hitchhiking. If my Amer­ican friend who had only been living in Israel for two years could do it scott-free, of course it wasn’t seen as a bad thing by the general public.

I think the second parallel between my­self and Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali should be ob­vious now. They were kidnapped while trying to hitchhike to Modi’in. And for those who say that they, God forbid, almost brought this on themselves because they shouldn’t have hitchhiked, I say that’s false. Living in an open culture where it’s generally no big deal getting a ride from a stranger, it is disingen­uous to describe these boys as having been foolhardy. It would almost be nice if Ameri­ca could be that open. But in addition to that, it makes me think, what if it had been me? What if I had been the one who, when hitch­hiking like I did, was kidnapped? I’ll admit it: that terrifies me like few other things do.

That’s where the parallels between my story and theirs end, and I know my expe­riences are barely comparable to whatever they’re going through now. However, it gal­vanized me to want to do something, to help out in whatever way I can. I’ve been saying tehillim, keeping them in mind in my prayers, and plan on doing some extra learning. But I’ve also been able to leverage a medium to help spread the word: social media. Like most teenagers, I’ve had a Facebook account for a few years now, and I use Instagram to share photos pretty frequently. There isn’t always anything that meaningful on Facebook— pictures of people being happy or the latest Buzzfeed quizzes (Which Harry Potter Mug­gle Hunger Games Westeros mansion charac­ter unicorn’s hat are you? Or something like that), or other bits of fun but unserious fluff. However, social media, in general, can be a great way to spread word about a cause— and then keep it in the forefront of people’s minds. We saw this with the #bringbackour­girls campaign (which, worth noting, should still be in our minds), and now the section of the Jewish people that is online has creat­ed the #bringbackourboys campaign for the three teenagers. I’ve signed up to learn an ex­tra parsha and to do a daily perek of tehillim thanks to Facebook posts, and seeing all sorts of photos of people around the world pray­ing for the boys’ return reminds me to keep praying and working hard to save them. I’ve also managed to add my own bit of input into the mix. I’ve shared posts by the Israe­li Defense Force and other pages to spread awareness further, and on June 18 uploaded some of my own #bringbackourboys pictures thanks to a conference I attended.

Which leads me to my next point. On June 18, a press conference was held at the Israe­li Consulate General in Downtown New York. Ramaz Upper School was allowed to send a few students to participate, and I had the for­tune of being able to attend. Scott Stringer, NYC comptroller, opened the conference with an assurance that the city of New York stood with Israel in the campaign to return the teen­agers to safety. He was followed by a diverse range of speakers, including Rabbi Michael Miller, head of the Jewish Community Rela­tions Council, non-Jewish representatives from various communities and organizations, a vic­tim of a Hamas terror attack, and many more. Watching this, what was impressed on me the most was the galvanizing message they were trying to send: This conference was meant to raise awareness, to make us all do something about the issues—but it was not the end of it. We should keep rallying, working, crying out until the prisoners are returned. And to me, as a teenager who sees himself in this story as well, that meant the world to me.

Don’t let this be forgotten—keep the cry going. #bringbackourboys (and not to be forgotten as well: #bringbackourgirls).

Oren Oppenheim, age 16, lives in Fair Lawn, New Jer­sey and attends Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan. He spends his free time writing and reading, and hopes to become a published novelist. You can email him at [email protected].

By Oren Oppenheim

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