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Pain and politics at service for slain teens
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Pain and politics at service for slain teens

At Shaari Emeth, Rabbi Melinda Panken, right, leads the gathering in prayer along with, from left, Cantor Gabrielle Clissold, Rabbi Michael Pont, Rabbi Lisa Malik, and Rabbi Michael Klein.
At Shaari Emeth, Rabbi Melinda Panken, right, leads the gathering in prayer along with, from left, Cantor Gabrielle Clissold, Rabbi Michael Pont, Rabbi Lisa Malik, and Rabbi Michael Klein.

Members of synagogues throughout Monmouth County gathered at Temple Shaari Emeth in Manalapan on July 1 to remember three Israeli teens whose kidnapping and murder shocked and galvanized Jews the world over.

Participants in the memorial service, which drew 175 people, shared short readings, poetry, and personal words that expressed the grief that the community shared. 

Keith Krivitzky, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County, talked about the Jews as one family. 

“Sometimes in a world filled with individuals, it is hard to remember that we stand stronger together than apart,” he said, before reading Yehuda Amichai’s poem “The Diameter of the Bomb,” whose imagery conveys the impact of “a larger circle of pain and time,” extending even up to God.

Rabbi Melinda Panken of Shaari Emeth expressed solidarity with the families of the slain yeshiva students. “Though we may not have known them, the moment they were kidnapped, they became our sons,” she said.

Israeli officials have identified two West Bank Palestinians affiliated with Hamas as the alleged abductors of the teens. The memorial took place a day before the discovery of the body of a Palestinian boy in Jerusalem; Israeli police arrested six Jewish men in connection with what has been described as a revenge killing. 

Rabbi Lisa Malik of Temple Beth Ahm of Aberdeen, who chanted the memorial prayer “El Malei Rahamim,” said she heard the news of the Jewish students’ murders just before taking her daughter to the airport to spend the summer in Israel. When she initially heard of the kidnapping, she said, she found a ribbon she had gotten in Israel when Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit had been in captivity. “I took this ribbon and put it on my current handbag,” she said. “I hoped it would stand for hope; unfortunately that did not happen.”

Rabbi Michael Pont of Marlboro Jewish Center spoke about concepts of justice in Torah. “We must pursue justice, but let us not forget that we are a people that sanctifies life above all else,” he said. “Even with the anger we are feeling, we remember what God tells us…, that we must choose life.”

Rabbi Ira Rothstein of Temple Beth Shalom in Manalapan struck the most pointed political note in an event devoted mostly to affirmations of life, hope, and tempered responses. 

“When you kidnap three kids and murder them simply because they are Jews, you get clarity,” he said. “You see once and for all that you can’t have peace with people who lust after your children’s blood.” 

He continued to lay out his own political position: “There is no peace, because there is no partner for peace; the Palestinian government rules in unison with Hamas. The PA is in partnership with Hamas and as such they are to be held responsible for what Hamas has done.”

Other participants were Cantor Gabrielle Clissold of Monmouth Reform Temple, Rabbi Edward Friedman of Freehold Jewish Center, federation president Sheryl Grutman, and Rabbi Michael Klein of Congregation Ahavat Olam in Howell.

Lisa Greenberg of the Marlboro Jewish Center said, “It is great that the community came together; the whole thing is very sad.”

Rhonda Eiger, also a member of the Marlboro Jewish Center, said, “We feel helpless here so we have to do something to foster knowledge so no one forgets it and appropriate actions can be taken to do something about it.”

Glenn Cohen, Panken’s husband, said holding the service was “very important because the Jewish community has many different elements and many different opinions. On a day like today we can come together as a big family of the Jewish people in opposition to those negative forces that confront us.”

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