Even as they hope their efforts will no longer be needed, and the three Israeli teens kidnapped on June 12 will be safely back in their homes, people in Monmouth County have been ramping up their support for the boys and their families.
On lawns and trees, in homes and offices, in synagogues and schools, and on the Internet, they are voicing their solidarity.
Rabbi Ira Rothstein of Temple Beth Shalom in Manalapan said, “Certain things unite us, no matter what differences we might have or where we are on the political spectrum: We all agree that this is simply unacceptable and not to be tolerated.”
The boys — Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel, both 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19 — were last seen at a hitchhiking post near the Jewish settlement bloc of Gush Etzion. As of press time, no information had been released on who took them or their whereabouts. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Hamas for kidnapping the teens and was holding the Palestinian Authority responsible.
The Jewish Federation of Monmouth County swung into action, asking people to show support and spread the word. In a message on its web page it says, “Jewish Federation embodies the value that all of Israel is responsible for one another, and our Jewish community stands in solidarity with the families of these boys and the people of Israel.”
It set up a “virtual rally” on Facebook at jewishmonmouth.org/virtualrally and put up a blog post at jewishmonmouth.org/federation-insights/bringourboyshome.
It had lawn signs made up, and is urging people to request more than one so they can get a friend to post one too. (To get lawn signs, visit jewishmonmouth.org/lawnsign.) Yellow ribbons are being distributed, three at a time, to represent each boy. Community members have been also urged to sign a virtual card being sent to the boys’ families, at bringbackourboys.net.
Keith Krivitzky, the federation’s executive director, said, “The drive for action was that many in our Jewish community, including myself, have been struggling with what action we could take that might make a difference in terms of the missing teens, and to show our solidarity with the families and people of Israel.
“The big challenge,” he said, “was that many, even within the Jewish community, were not connected to the issue or aware of the situation, or sure what they felt. So, we looked for ways to connect and educate. We want to engage and educate as many as possible about the missing teens, and the broader situation affecting our extended Jewish family in Israel.”
Awareness and concern for the boys spread quickly. Four days after the kidnapping, on June 16, with just a few hours’ notice, over 100 people came to a community prayer service organized by Chabad of Western Monmouth County in Manalapan.
Rabbi Levi Wolosow, its director of adult education, described the turnout as “a reflection of the deep and very real family bond that is felt by the Jewish nation.” He said those present were “deeply concerned for the plight of our brethren in the Holy Land” and asked “the Almighty to protect the three kidnapped students and the soldiers who were looking for them.”
Responses varied from one congregation to another. Some showed their support by leaving three seats empty, as the federation message described the move, “to show they are a part of our congregations and thoughts, as long as they are missing.”
At Beth Shalom, Rothstein said his goal, “first and foremost, has been to focus people’s attention not just on what has happened to three innocent people, but on the context, on what it symbolizes.
“There are two levels to this,” he continued. “The first concerns the tangible — what can be done. The second is the matter of faith, building inner strength. As is traditional when times are very difficult, we have recited the Psalms. And we have sought to let these families know they are not alone — that they are part of the Jewish world, and the Jewish community.”
Rabbi Donald Weber of Temple Rodeph Torah in Marlboro said that at every service, he and his congregants have been reciting the prayer formulated by MARAM, the association of Reform rabbis in Israel. It says, in part, “Help and sustain all those entrusted with the task of finding the captives, removing them from danger and returning them to safety.” It ends with, “Praised are You, O God, who redeems the captives.”
Weber said, “If we could look for them, we would. Given that we can’t, we’re all trying to figure out what can be done, as much for ourselves as for them.”
Though the semester was winding down when the kidnapping occurred, schools also joined the effort. A representative for Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Monmouth County in Marlboro said that a prayer was recited with the students and was included in an e-mail blast that went out to thousands of parents, grandparents, alumnae, and friends.
She said, “We have a lot of Israeli parents and teachers, so we’re very much in touch with what happens in Israel. Whatever happens there — good or bad — hits home for all of us.” With e-mails and messages on social media, including Facebook and Twitter, she said, the school sought to convey one central message: “We stand with Israel and the families of the kidnapped boys.”