The sanctuary of Young Israel Shomrai Emunah was packed and nearly silent Monday evening, filled with the prayers and psalms of the faithful. They had come to this Orthodox synagogue in Silver Spring to seek deliverance for three Israeli yeshiva students — Gilad Shaar, 19, Eyal Yifrach, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, an American citizen who was born in Israel.
The three vanished after leaving their West Bank yeshiva on Thursday and are believed to have been kidnapped. The disappearance has led to an outpouring of grief and rage among Jews worldwide. In the Washington area, vigils and prayer services like Monday’s have been called to air those emotions.
So many came to stand shoulder to shoulder at Young Israel because “Jewish tradition believes that prayer conducted in a large group is more powerful and meaningful than individuals praying on their own,” said Rabbi Jack Bieler of Kemp Mill Synagogue, which co-sponsored the gathering.
Such community prayer gatherings take place during “very serious situations,” he said. “Everyone was moved and felt that we were doing what we could in terms of expressing emotions and expressing our feelings.” At the same time as the prayer gathering, supporters of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington were attending their annual gala.
Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer used the occasion to tell Washingtonians that the Israeli military “is working tirelessly” to find the missing teens. He called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to end his partnership with Hamas, which Israel and the United States consider a terrorist group and which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accuses of conducting the kidnapping.
On Tuesday, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington was crowded with teenagers learning about their responsibilities at summer camp. Interspersed were adults heading to the exercise area. Several of them were unaware that the three yeshiva students had been kidnapped. Others, like Sarah McNally of Silver Spring, were suspicious that the teens were kidnapped to trade for Palestinians in Israeli jails.
“What’s scary to me is these Palestinians are using it, and Hamas is using it, especially because of the Gilad Shalit trade,” she said, referring to Israel’s 2011 release of more than 1,000 prisoners in exchange for an Israeli soldier who had been held hostage by Hamas for more than five years.
The Palestinians are thinking, “if we capture more Israelis, we can get more back, and that’s scary,” McNally said, adding it was particularly frightening to her since the kidnapped teens are about the age of her son. Michele Weil of North Bethesda said the kidnapping can only hurt Israeli-Palestinian relations.
“It’s devastating,” she said. “I’m sure Israel is doing everything possible that can be done and hopefully they will find the boys.” “It’s tit for tat. It will never end,” said David of Bethesda, who didn’t want his last name used. “Either side can’t stop or they will dishonor the people who have died. It’s unfortunate. I guess they are fighting over land.
I don’t know if they are fighting over ideas.” “It’s certainly a tragedy, and I’d like to be optimistic, but I don’t think I am,” said Jill Smudski of Potomac. The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington planned a vigil, scheduled for yesterday outside the Embassy of Israel in Washington.
“The Jewish community must stand strong together with our fellow Jews in Israel,” the two agencies wrote in an email blast. “We join with Jews around the world to offer our prayers, thoughts and solidarity to the families of the three boys.”
The groups suggested action on the kidnapping victims’ behalf including: sharing a selfie with a #BringBackOurBoys sign on Twitter and Facebook; tweet with the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys and #EyalGiladNaftali “to show support and demonstrate solidarity with the people of Israel”; and sign a letter of unity to the three teens’ families.
Washington Jewish Week staff members David Holzel, Suzanne Pollak, Dmitriy Shapiro and Alexa Laz contributed to this article.