Joining Jews across Israel and North America, individuals and institutions in the Greater MetroWest area have been joining forces in various ways in support of the three Israeli teens kidnapped on June 12.
The Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ urged people to attend a June 24 solidarity rally in New York City organized by StandWithUs, and to sign a petition addressed to the president that the CRC created together with the teen organization Save Our Soldiers.
At synagogues and schools across the range of denominations, people recited psalms, offered special prayers, and took to the Internet to boost awareness of the boys’ plight.
The boys — Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel, both 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19 — were last seen hitchhiking near Gush Etzion, a Jewish settlement bloc in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Hamas for the kidnapping.
On the Monday night after the kidnapping, the board of Temple Sholom of Scotch Plains/Fanwood recited a prayer formulated by MARAM, the association of Reform rabbis in Israel, said Rabbi Joel Abraham. In part, the prayer says, “Help and sustain all those entrusted with the task of finding the captives, removing them from danger and returning them to safety.”
At Pine Brook Jewish Center in Montville, Rabbi Mark Finkel said his congregation gathered Tuesday evening, June 17, to offer Psalms and prayers for the safe release of the students.
A similar gathering took place the following day, led by Rabbi Shaul Bogomilsky at Congregation Beth Ephraim/Maplewood Jewish Center. The Chabad emissary described the recitation of Psalms as a mitzva, intended to help redeem the boys. The turnout was smaller than he’d hoped — fewer than a dozen people.
“Unfortunately,” he said with a shrug, “I think there will be plenty of other opportunities to pray for them.”
In the discussion afterward, one of the men attending added, “Israelis are going nuts about this. These weren’t soldiers; they’re kids. That touches a nerve like nothing else.”
Bogomilsky’s brother, Rabbi Mendel Bogomilsky of the Chai Center of Millburn/Short Hills, said he was encouraging members to sign up with the Chabad Terror Victims Project, which offers financial aid and runs activities for those affected by violence. “They are forwarding mitzva resolutions to the families,” he said.
Former congregant Guy Netef, who made aliya with his family three years ago, said the father of Gilad Shaar, one of the kidnapped boys, is a very close friend of his. “I visited him two days ago,” Netef wrote in an e-mail to Mendel Bogomilsky, “and it was very moving to see the amount of love they are getting from am Israel. B”H [with the help of God] we should see the kids coming back soon.”
Rabbi Randi Musnitsky of Temple Har Shalom in Warren said that beginning last week and for every coming Shabbat, every service will begin with Psalm 121 (“The Lord shall keep thee from all evil”), as requested by the teens’ families.
“The most important thing we can do is raise consciousness for our members and support for the families,” Musnitsky said.
In her Shabbat message to her congregation on June 20, she said, “No kidnapping — of Christian girls by Muslim extremists, business men, young boys to serve in armies, etc. — should be tolerated. This is a global issue, and we need to speak out when anyone is affected.”
Rabbi Laurence Groffman of Temple Sholom of West Essex in Cedar Grove, called on his congregants to join the “Bring Back Our Boys” Facebook page, recite Psalms, and keep the boys in their prayers. He wrote, “Needless to say, this is an issue not only for Israelis but for us — Jews everywhere — as well.”
He also urged them to sign an on-line petition asking President Obama to strongly condemn the kidnapping and do whatever he can to facilitate their speedy release.
Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler of Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob & David in West Orange shared the suggestion from some rabbinic authorities in Israel that Jews around the world “accept Shabbat earlier this week than one normally does in the merit of the three kidnapped boys.” He invited congregants to come at 6:15 for the Friday evening Shabbat service. He also pointed out that it is permissible, on a temporary basis, to light extra Shabbat candles.
At Jewish day schools, in the midst of year-end activities, educators sought to keep students and staff informed about the kidnapping and provide them with ways to express their concern.
Middle school students at Hebrew Academy of Morris County in Randolph added special prayers to their morning davening and discussed the kidnapping with their Hebrew teachers. At the school’s end-of-year annual meeting and final faculty meeting, special prayers were said, led by head of school Moshe Vaknin.
Rabbi Joyce Raynor, head of school at Golda Och Academy in West Orange, said the kidnapping was a real “shocker” for her students. At the outset, the school’s Israel educator, Lilach Bluevise, spoke to the high school students. A slide showing the three boys was on display on the electronic notice board at the high school entrance, and students were kept abreast of the latest news. “This time it hit close to home,” Raynor said. “The kidnapped students are pretty close in age to our high school students.”
Rabbi Eliezer Rubin, head of school at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, said the school community prayed together twice — at the eighth-grade advancement ceremony and again at a gathering on June 18.
He asked the students to use social media to spread awareness. “I have been updating high school students with links to Internet sites using our school-based text service to keep them informed and updated,” he said.
Rabbi Eliyahu Teitz, associate dean of the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, said students have been reciting Psalms daily after davening, both morning and afternoon. “We sent out emails (and are in the process of sending out the GMW student petition) which contain action items for the students. We hope that this will be resolved favorably in the very near future,” he said.
The CRC is continuing its work to raise concern and awareness, urging students and community members to participate in social media efforts, including #mothersUnite and #BringBackOurBoys. The CRC also shared a Greater MetroWest federation statement with elected officials, which read, in part: “We call on the U.S. government and the international community to support Israel’s efforts to ensure that the boys are found and brought home safely. Israel holds the Palestinian Authority responsible for the well-being of the missing teens. We stand in solidarity with our fellow Jews in Israel and around the world. To express your solidarity with the families, please share this message on social media using #EyalGiladNaftali.”