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Tens of thousands attend funerals and mourn loss of three kidnapped yeshiva students (photos videos)

By Mason White 8:32 AM July 2, 2014
Candle lighting ceremony 

By: Aryeh Savir and Anav Silverman
(Scroll down for photos and videos) Ten of thousands of Israelis attended the funerals and mourned the loss of three kidnapped yeshiva students, the Tazpit News Agency reported.

The families of the three murdered Israeli teens conducted separate services and eulogies before laying their children side-by-side in a joint funeral in the Modi’in cemetery.

Thousands gathered together in the home communities of Gil-ad Sha’ar, 16, Naftali Frankel, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, whose bodies were discovered on Monday evening, not far from the site where they were abducted in Gush Etzion, by Hamas terrorists nearly three weeks ago.

Israel’s government ministers spoke at all the services. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon spoke at the service of Eyal Yifrach in Elad. “The song of their lives was stopped. They were kidnapped and murdered just because they are Jews,” said Ya’alon. “Even in these hours, our security forces are looking for their murderers and we will not rest until we find them. Before us stands a cruel enemy, a terror organization that seeks to kill us. We will not be afraid and they will pay a heavy price. Dear Yifrach family, Iris and Uri, these hours of personal grief are shared by all of us. May their memories, Gilad, Naftali and Eyal, be blessed,” said Israel’s Defense Minister.

“You were such an example to your family. Your brothers are missing you, Eyal,” said the weeping father, Uri Yifrach. Eyal Yifrach’s grandfather said at his wake: “I am convinced that Eyal struggled with the kidnappers with all his strength, to show them that we are not afraid, because he was a hero in his soul, a hero in his love to the Land of Israel, a hero of his love for the people of Israel, and certainly did not go like sheep to the slaughter. I’m sure he gave them what he could to prove that we are in our country, our homeland, and we are confident in the righteousness of our way that the Land of Israel is ours.” Eyal’s father asked his son to whisper in God’s ear and ask him to give them strength to cope. “It is hard without you, we need strength,” he said. “We are loving people, we have the love and it will win. We will not break. We cry, but these are tears of strength. We will not give up. We are here and you can do nothing about it. We are a strong nation.”

Finance Minister Yair Lapid spoke at 16-year-old Gil-ad Sha’ar’s service in Talmon, and Education Minister Shay Piron spoke at Naftali Frankel’s service in Nof Ayalon. Both ministers spoke of the unity of the nation of Israel in the face of the heavy tragedy. “We will find the killers and punish them. The real revenge will be in the ability to bridge the gaps among us,” said Lapid. “We need one another on this day. We need one another, not anger, we need no further split, we need love, a common language,” said Lapid. “We are mourning a life which will not be actualized.”

“I remembered all the times we argued, how you would wake me up in the mornings to go to school,” said Shirel Sha’ar, Gil-ad’s sister with her mother holding her. “I told the nation of Israel how much I will miss wrapping you in my tallit during the blessing of the Cohanim, now that tallit is wrapping your body today,” said Gil-ad’s father, Ophir Sha’ar, in a breaking voice. “I believe your story will be told for generations. I was able to speak to you an hour before you set home and heard your loving voice. Your sisters loved and were proud of their only brother,” said Gil-ad’s father.

The community of Nof Ayalon, gathered together to remember 16-year-old Naftali Frankel. “Three young boys killed in cold blood, in a shared fate, which in turn can only make us better people. Your death will lead this nation together onwards. Rest in peace my dear son,” said the father of Naftali Frankel, Avi, in tears. “Those people were out there to hunt, and you were those chosen,” said Racheli, Naftali’s mother. “We are thankful for the army, police, security forces who promised to bring the boys back and they did. We will learn to sing without you. We will always hear your voice within us, Naftali.”

For the past three weeks, life in Israel seemed to have hit a pause. A heavy cloud descended on the nation as a rain of prayers poured forth from a people united in hope. From the moment that the report came out that three teenage Israeli boys had been abducted, hitchhiking home, on Thursday night, June 12, the quick-paced atmosphere of this tiny country slowed down.

The boys, were beloved members of their families, schools and respective communities. Naftali’s aunt, Ittael Frankel told me two weeks ago during an interview that “These are very hard days. We are very optimistic. We really believe that with all this help, all the prayers that the country is praying for them, we hope to see them home soon.”

“Naftali is a sweet kid — a combination of fun and serious,” his aunt told me in a soft-spoken voice. “He was supposed to take a biology exam tomorrow.” I remember the only time Ittael smiled during the interview was when she described her nephew, lovingly calling him “delicious,” an “amazing kid.”

In my work as a journalist covering Israel in the past seven years, the tragic saga of these three boys struck a very deep chord with me, as it did with millions of other Israelis and people around the world. I didn’t personally know the boys, nor their families, mentors or classmates previously. As I interviewed and wrote about them, I felt that I was given an opportunity to get know three special individuals whose families and communities further inspired my faith in the goodness of humanity.

Across Israel, prayer rallies were held at public squares and bus stops almost every day. It felt as if we were all praying for three abducted family members, whose disappearance was the main topic of conversation on public transport, in coffee shops, at work and around the dinner table. During the Sabbath services on the weekend, special prayers were said in synagogues across the Jewish state, with Psalms 120 and 121, designated as the appropriate psalms to be recited for the boys’ rescue.

Until the very last day, Sunday, June 29, more than 10,000 people gathered together at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, to pray and sing for the safe return of the boys. The parents spoke as did the newly elected president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, who asked that all religious leaders around the world, in churches and in mosques, join in prayer for the Israeli teens.

No one could know that the very next day, the boys’ bodies would be discovered in a field north of Hebron, in a poorly dug grave hidden by bushes not far from the site of the Gush Etzion junction from where they were abducted.

No one could know that for nearly three weeks, the bodies of Eyal, Naftali and Gil-ad, had been abandoned after being shot by Hamas terrorists, who struck at the heart of a nation that so values its children.

Hundreds of Israelis accompanied the families of the terror victims, as the funeral procession made its way to the Modi’in cemetery where the three boys were buried in a joint-funeral after their families held separate services and eulogies in their respective hometowns. Holding Israeli flags and supportive signs, regular citizens stood at junctions along the way showing their love and solidarity.

Israel’s heart is heavy. There is an overwhelming sadness as the nation attempts to process the difficult end to a heart wrenching chapter that has left many struggling for hope and for answers.

As the grandfather, Ezra, of 16-year-old Gilad Sha’ar said: “I have one wish for all the people who believed the last three weeks since the kidnapping that the boys would return alive: do not stop praying and believing.”