Sometimes it takes the worst to bring out the best. We see this cycle repeatedly when tragedy strikes, and the human spirit responds triumphantly in an uplifting and inspiring way. Examples of this here in Israel are far too many to count.
Nine years ago this month, three boys were kidnapped from a bus stop in Gush Etzion. The drama of those few weeks will be forever etched in my memory. When a WhatsApp message went out on a Friday morning requesting t’filah for three boys who were feared to have been kidnapped, nobody could have imagined the horror the search personnel would discover 18 days later. The palpable state of dread intertwined with the sounds of non-stop t’filah resulted in a rare international display of unity, as Jews around the world collectively held their breath hoping that the boys would somehow be found safe and sound. It was a demonstration of unity that many were surprised our nation was even capable of. Following the lead of the boys’ mothers, many desperately tried to maintain a sense of hope.
I was walking on the street when the tragic fate of the boys was announced. I broke down in tears and could hear the sounds of bitter crying coming from every direction. The three boys who had once only been known to their family and friends had become everyone’s sons. The loss was great as the last flicker of hope was extinguished. After almost three weeks of fervent t’filah and hope, everyone had to accept reality. The boys were gone. I recall hearing a recording on the radio a short time later of an emotional k’rias ha’sheim at a bris milah at which a baby in Brooklyn was named Eyal Gil-ad Naftali after Eyal Yifrach, 19, Naftali Fraenkel, 16, and Gil-ad Shaar, 16, the three murdered teens.
As Jews, when faced with adversity, we try to channel our grief into positive action. We try to comfort those in pain and make the world a better place. During the week of shiv’ah, a food drive was initiated in which people were asked to donate three items of food to the needy every time they went to a supermarket, one in memory of each boy. Towards the end of the shiv’ah, the bereaved families sat with Nir Barkat, the Mayor of Jerusalem, at that fateful time, and tried to figure out a way to maintain the sense of unity that had developed during the time the boys were missing. In a joint initiative, they established the Jerusalem Unity Prize and Unity Day. The Jerusalem Unity Prizes are awarded during a ceremony at the official residence of the President of Israel on Unity Day to individuals and organizations in Israel and throughout the world who foster unity among the Jewish people. This year’s ceremony took place last week. From the bad comes the good.
Two weeks ago on Shabbos, three soldiers, Sergeant Lia Ben-Nun, Sergeant Uri Yitzhak Illouz, and Staff Sergeant Ohad Dahan were killed in a terror attack on the Egyptian border. While the circumstances of this unusual and heartbreaking event are being investigated by senior Israel Defense Forces (IDF) generals, soldiers as well as ordinary citizens are doing their best to support the families of these soldiers during this challenging time.
Soldiers who served with Uri Yitzhak Illouz set out on a journey in his memory last week. They wore shirts emblazoned with a photo of Uri along with the sentence he wrote to his friends before his death: “Get up with a smile, even when it’s hard.” The soldiers then went to visit Uri’s family and presented them with the shirt they had printed in his memory.
The Pirchei Yerushalayim Choir came to the shiv’ah home of the family of Lia Ben-Nun on Erev Shabbos to conduct a special Kabbalas Shabbos for the family. The family was very moved by their sweet voices. The voices of evil stimulated the voices of love and compassion.
The ninth-grade girls from Ulpanat Bar Ilan in Netanya went to the Netanya train station on a recent Friday and handed out toys, soda, and snacks to soldiers returning home from their army bases. They dedicated this initiative l’ilui nishmas Meir Tamari, father of two who was brutally murdered in a terror attack in the northern Shomron two weeks ago. Good counters the bad.
When the mother and two daughters of the Dee family were murdered on Chol HaMoed, farmers from the Jordan Valley brought a variety of produce to the Dee home. In an additional show of support, residents of the valley brought more than a hundred cakes to the families of Efrat where the Dee family lives. People from across the religious spectrum came to pay a shiv’ah call, including the Sadigura Rebbe.
Thousands of people gathered on Sunday for an event to salute the Magen David Adom (MADA – a national rescue organization) to mark the 94th anniversary of its establishment. During the event, the CEO of MADA presented the certificate of completion of the medic course of Yigal Yaniv to his parents. Yigal was murdered along with his brother in an attack in Hawara a little over three months ago. His parents were moved by this gesture and told how much their son dreamed of saving a life.
Over and over, we see cruel acts spurring acts of love and kindness. How nice it would be if we learned to do this more in unity, even without tragedies. Hopefully, the many efforts currently being made toward this goal will lead us in that direction.