A land in grief


On Sunday, Rabbi Jack Luxemburg will board a flight for Israel with 44 members of Temple Beth Ami in Rockville. They’ll land as the country ends the shiva week of mourning for three kidnapped teens found murdered on June 30. Luxembourg believes his group will find a country in grief and that their 10-day visit will be something of a condolence call.

“I expect that we will be received as bringers of comfort,” he said.

Comfort is in short supply, as events moved quickly following the discovery of the bodies of Gilad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrach in a shallow grave in the West Bank.

On Wednesday, the body of Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian teen, was found in the Jerusalem forest hours after he was reported kidnapped from an eastern Jerusalem neighborhood. The murder is believed to be revenge by extremist Jewish Israelis for the deaths of the three teens.


Speaking before news of the Palestinian’s murder, Luxemburg said that although Israel has suffered many terrorist attacks, the murder of the three yeshiva students seems different.

“How it happened. How it was reported. Who these young men were. [The fact that their faces were known through their photos] underscored the notion that all Israel is responsible for one another,” he said.

In B’nai B’rak on Monday night, Yael Herzog, 23, found herself in a gathering on a busy street a few minutes after the deaths were announced. “We stood singing first quietly, then with a passion that I believe one feels only rarely in a lifetime,” wrote Herzog, who has family in the Washington area.

“The cars on the highway slowed down to read our signs that read am yisrael chai (the Jewish nation should live), and one after the other, honked in camaraderie, in shared grief and in shared mourning. The men in black velvet kippahs waiting at the bus stop nearby held our signs, the non-religious sang our songs.”

At the same time In Jerusalem, University of Florida student Naor Amir sat in silence after hearing the news of the teens’ death.

“You reflect on yourself,” said Amir, who was born in the United States and has dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship. “It could have been my brother or sister.”

Amir blamed the peace process with the Palestinians for the deaths of the Israelis.

“It reaffirms the question of why does every peace process have to be accompanied by dead bodies? We try to compromise and it ends up with horrific horrors, dead bodies.”

On Monday evening, Rabbi Bruce Lustig, of Washington Hebrew Congregation, went out to the streets of Jerusalem and saw signs of hope in the young Israelis around him.

“I watched young teens gather spontaneously light candles and sing songs of hope,” Lustig wrote to his congregants. “The teens in Jerusalem did not burn cars or scream hateful slogans…no, they lit candles, prayed and sang songs of hope! Even in their pain, they give us all hope.”

Even before the death of the Palestinian teen there was talk of revenge. On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of it in his address to the nation following the discovery of the teens’ bodies.

“Revenge over the blood of a small child is not the devil’s work, and neither is revenge for the blood of a teenager or young man.”

On Tuesday, Rabbi Amy Schwartzman of Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church counseled against vengeance.  “I don’t see how that will ultimately move the situation that led to this forward,” she said.

Calling the deaths of the three Israelis “an absolutely unnecessary waste of human life,” Schwartzman said. “I hope the leaders of Israel will redouble their efforts to bring about a resolution, rather than stepping onto the landmine that more violence will bring about.”

Meanwhile, Rabbi Shlomo Buxbaum of Aish Greater Washington said in a message that in response to the murders, Jews should “continue to pray. Continue to do mitzvot [holy acts] for the safety of Israel. Continue to light Shabbat candles for the blessing of the Jewish people.”

Asked why he offered that advice, Buxbaum said that it is for some to speak of military matters or of peace, but as a rabbi, “I can best guide them spiritually.” Some might call for vengeance, but that message “doesn’t need to come from me.”

As for Israel, “I am a believer that you need an army and a Torah.”

Senior Writer Suzanne Pollak and Special Assignment Reporter Alexa Laz in Jerusalem contributed to this article.

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