Ottawa’s Jewish community filled Congregation Machzikei Hadas Congregation to capacity on the evening of July 3 to memorialize the three murdered Israeli teens, whose bodies were discovered near Hebron on June 30.
The Jewish Federation of Ottawa organized the special Zachor service for Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach, who had seemed to become the sons of the entire Jewish nation, when, after being reported kidnapped on June 12 brought the Diaspora and Israel together in the hopes of their safe return.
“It is difficult to find the words to describe the overwhelming sorrow we feel tonight as a nation and as a community,” said Israeli Ambassador Rafael Barak. “For 18 days, we were united in hope and in prayer, anticipating, with all of our hearts, the safe return of our boys, Gilad, Eyal and Naftali.
“They are the faces of our nation, our people,” Barak said. “I was deeply touched, witnessing this incredible warm support of this community in the past few weeks.”
The Ottawa Jewish community had previously shown its solidarity by participating in the world-wide “Bring Back Our Boys” social media campaign at the Federation’s annual general meeting, June 18. A group of CITs, schlichim and staff bused in from Camp B’nai Brith of Ottawa to participate in the memorial and lead the singing of the Canadian and Israeli national anthems.
“Tonight, our community comes together as one. United in our heartfelt prayers and condolences to three heartbroken families,” said Federation Chair Steven Kimmel. “And now we mourn with them, knowing that their lives have been forever changed, and their families will never be whole again.”
Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka of Congregation Machzikei Hadas reminded the community that their prayers were not in vain.
“We don’t pray because we expect our prayers to be answered, we pray because it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
The memorial also acknowledged and mourned the tragic loss of a 17-year-old Palestinian who was kidnapped and found dead shortly after the three Israeli boys’ bodies were found.
“We condemn in the harshest terms, the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir. We don’t know who did it but we know that cold-blooded murder is inexcusable,” Rabbi Bulka said in response to the death of the Palestinian boy whose death is widely speculated to have been a revenge killing.
“We are here today to once again emphasize that we are a faith that venerates life, sanctifies life, hallows life,” he said.
Three memorial candles were lit in the boys’ memories and memorial prayers and songs were chanted by Cantors Daniel Benlolo of Congregation Berth Shalom, Jeremy Burko of Agudath Israel Congregation and Yair Subar of Congregation Beit Tikvah.
The three boys also inspired a series of Mishna lessons from Pirkei Avot on themes of “three” offered by Rabbis Barry Schlesinger of Agudath Israel Congregation, Menachem Blum of Ottawa Torah Centre Chabad, Dovid Hayes of Chabad of Ottawa, and Yonah Burr of the Kollel of Ottawa.
“And as for the theme of three, what should be in our hearts is what was denied and taken from those three boys, and that the cord of three should not be torn, which is family, Shabbat and Torah,” Rabbi Schlesinger said.
“Wanton hate must be countered with wanton love,” said Rabbi Blum. The world stands on Torah, service (prayer), and acts of kindness, he added.
Rabbi Blum also encouraged the assembled to commit to performing a mitzvah such as lighting Shabbat candles or laying tefillin in memory of the three boys.
“Let us all do a mitzvah in their honour,” Rabbi Blum said.
In his closing remarks, Rabbi Bulka also encouraged all to commit to a mitzvah as they signed their names in the books of condolences the Federation set up on tables in the synagogue foyer. Each of the three tables held three books for members of the community to sign.