From young children to grandparents, Jews from all denominations and backgrounds gathered in New Brunswick to honor and remember the three Israeli teens whose kidnappings and murders have been the focus of regional and global turmoil.
The July 1 vigil at Rutgers University was sponsored by Rutgers Hillel and the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County.
It was hastily arranged after the bodies of Naftali Frenkel, Eyal Yifrach, and Gilad Shaar were found on June 30 in a field near Hebron.
“They became our boys even though we didn’t know them,” said senior Aviv Alter of Morganville, the Rutgers Hillel Student Board Israel chair and chief organizer of the memorial. “The three boys united us all.”
“We do not understand how this can happen,” said Mitch Frumkin, a leader of the Greater Middlesex federation. “We elevate our spirits by performing acts of kindness in their honor.”
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 a body of a Palestinian boy whose death was being investigated as a revenge killing in response to the abduction and murder of the three Israeli teens.
Three students, Emily Gutowski of Highland Park, Josh Blachorski of Paramus, and Leah Shamilov of Voorhees, took turns offering eulogies for Frenkel, Yifrach, and Shaar.
Blachorski said that he studied in Israel for two years near the site of the teens’ kidnapping.
Andrew Getraer, director of Rutgers Hillel, described a “terrible empty feeling of deja vu.” Getraer recounted the numerous other vigils Rutgers Hillel has had for past Israeli tragedies and how solidarity has been expressed each time by the Jewish community.
“It is important that we do come together,” said Getraer. “To work together in every possible way to make sure we’re not standing here again.”
Rabbi Shmuel Greene, director of teen initiatives at The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life in the Greater MetroWest community, said he was an alumnus of the Mekor Chaim yeshiva, where the Israeli teens were students.
“This is not a political war, this is a war between different beliefs,” said Greene, director of the Mekor Chaim Ambassador Program. “One that worships death and one that worships life.”
Added Greene: “It is really impossible to beat death with killing it. So the only way to beat it is to live as proud people.”
With the university on summer recess, many of those attending came from surrounding communities.
“I’m a Jewish mother and like all Jewish mothers the last two weeks we’ve all been united in hopes that this would come out to be a good ending,” said Debbie Brown of Highland Park. “We’re here to extend our support to the families and our hearts.”
Added her husband, Andrew Brown: “When you see the mothers, seeing what they did and how brave they are and how profound their words are, there is nothing left but to support them.”
The vigil concluded with the singing of Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah,” and two additional songs led by Esti Mellul of Teaneck and Gavi Dov Hochsztein of Bergenfield, members of the Rutgers Jewish a cappella choir Kol HaLayla.
“We must take action to honor our boys,” said Alter. “Words aren’t enough. We must stand in solidarity with the Jewish people of Israel.”