Eve Wasserman wiped tears from her eyes at Oheb Shalom Congregation’s morning minyan on July 1 as Rabbi Mark Cooper led a memorial service for the three teenagers killed in Israel.
Susan Marx of Orange lit a yahrtzeit candle, and the 20 people present at the South Orange synagogue heard snippets about each of the teens’ lives, read a prayer for the IDF, recited poetry, and sang. They concluded with “Hatikva.”
The news was still raw, delivered only the day before: After weeks of dread that galvanized Jews here and in Israel, the bodies of the three missing teens, Naftali Frenkel, Eyal Yifrach, and Gilad Shaar, had been found in a field in the West Bank.
“These were children just living their lives, coming home from school, texting their mothers. They are regular people living their lives,” said Wasserman of Short Hills. A mother with teenage children herself, she said she couldn’t help thinking of her own children.
The Hazkara, or memorial service, at Oheb Shalom was just one of many gatherings, impromptu and planned, being held around the area in memory of the teens, who went missing from their West Bank yeshiva on June 12. The Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ planned a memorial service at its headquarters for July 2. Politicians around the state issued statements of condolence (see box).
Coty Blank, who has lived in South Orange for more than 40 years, also spoke to NJJN after the service, with tears welling. “These teens have offered the sacrifice Hashem has asked us to make for the sake of the children to come. Some land must be cultivated, fertilized, loved, and if our tears are not enough, then sometimes we have to add a sacrifice of our only gift — our children.”
Charlotte Nad of West Orange placed the event in a larger context, saying she thinks the boys “are pawns in a geopolitical crisis. There were no demands made for their release. If you kidnap kids and you do not make demands — not for prisoner exchange, not for money — why would you do this?”
According to one article she read, “the kidnappers, Islamic terrorists, are trying to destabilize both regimes,” Israel’s and that of the Palestinian Authority. “I’m not an expert, but it seems to me that this is a similar tactic as the one being used in Nigeria with the kidnapping of children there,” said Nad.
Lorraine Survis of Short Hills, who came to the minyan with Wasserman specifically for the memorial service, said, “As a mother, it’s sickening. It’s just senseless hatred.”
Her son, Matthew, now at the University of Pennsylvania, created a curriculum based on tolerance for religious school students as a bar mitzva project. Now he is attempting to introduce a similar curriculum into the Philadelphia-area public schools. “This goes to the issue of tolerance, and why people cannot live amongst each other and practice their own religious beliefs,” said Survis.
Marx, however, said she doesn’t think these kinds of ideas about tolerance apply in the Middle East.
“People try to look at the Middle East and apply Western rational reasons. In the Arab world, it doesn’t work; this is proof,” she said. “You are dealing with a different mentality. It’s a crime that this happened, and now the world will blame us. ISIS” — the Islamic militant group currently marching across Iraq — “has already said it wants to be ‘Baghdad to Jerusalem.’ And that’s what this is.”
Seventeen-year-old Benji Cooper was the youngest minyan attendee. The rabbi’s son, he was scheduled to fly to Israel later in the day to participate in Camp Ramah’s Israel Seminar.
“It’s a bit weird that I’m about the same age as the teens,” he said. He objected to the constant reminders in the media that one of the three, Naftali Frenkel, held American citizenship. “He’s a full-blown Israeli. I think it’s a ploy to make him a martyr for Obama,” he said. “People are trying to get Obama to react, so they are saying an American citizen was killed. But he’s only American because his grandparents lived here in the 1950s.”
He pointed out that this case was singled out, in a way, with names and faces being publicized differently from the many thousands of soldiers who die with regularity defending Israel but are “just statistics.” The distinction was being made, in his opinion, “on the basis of their innocence. The others were soldiers in straight-up wars. These were three yeshiva boys going home.”
In the meantime, he said, he isn’t nervous at all about traveling to Israel. “I’m going on a very touristy trip,” he said. “I will not be in the West Bank, and I will not be hitchhiking.”