Some 250 people chanted, waved signs and withstood the brutal heat in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. on June 18 to show their support for the three Israeli teenagers who were allegedly kidnapped on June 12 by Hamas members.
Speaker after speaker called Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaer, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, a part of their family and said they would not rest until they were returned home safely. The three boys are yeshiva students in Israel who have not been seen or heard from since hitchhiking home from school in an area of the West Bank known to have sparse bus service.
“I am not an Israeli, but these are my sons. These are my brothers, and these are my boys,” said Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.).
“They are not soldiers. They are not combatants. They were just kids coming home from school,” said Rabbi Adam Raskin of Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac. “They are our kids. This is a kidnapping from our family,” he stressed.
“Children must never be sacrificed,” Raskin added, referring to “the sacred Abrahamic tradition.”
Attendee Eddie Cohen said he knows the area where the boys were last seen, and that hitchhiking there “is a way of life. That’s how kids get around.”
Waiting time for a bus can be up to two hours, while a ride home takes only 20 minutes, explained another attendee, Bernice Cohen, a frequent visitor to the Jewish state. Israelis, she said, “rely on each other.”
The vigil was sponsored by Jewish groups, including the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, The Israel Forever Foundation, Israel Bonds and Gather the Jews.
Speakers included area rabbis, two members of Congress, a Presbyterian minister and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, who said that Israelis appreciate and are moved by the outpouring of American support.
“This is a very, very difficult time. We all feel these are our children, our boys, our grandchildren,” Dermer said. Rather than a tepid denunciation from the Palestinian Authority, Dermer said the best thing P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas can do to condemn this apparent act is to end the new unity government and “the alliance with those who celebrate death, glorify murder and glorify the kidnapping of three young boys.”
Dermer, along with Reps. Deutch and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), each tied a bright yellow ribbon around a nearby tree, and called on everyone to do the same.
After attaching his ribbon, Engel said those who are likely behind the kidnapping “are murderers and terrorists who have no regard for human life.”
Engel told the crowd that “Congress is united in saying ‘Bring the boys home and no money for terrorists.’ As far as I am concerned, they will get no money with our vote.”
Ron Halber, JCRC executive director, called the kidnapping “nothing more than a moral outrage and an act of barbarism,” and said the Jewish community here stands in “complete and total solidarity. We will not stop advocating until we bring our boys home.”
Not just the Jewish community, said Presbyterian Minister Roy Howard of St. Marks Church in North Bethesda. “We are united with Israel, the Jewish people,” he declared to the crowd. “They are not my boys, but I stand in solidarity with you.”
Many of those attending the vigil were Israelis or those with ties to that country, including Saadia Tuchman, a young man from Silver Spring who just returned from Israel. While life in Israel goes on, the kidnapping has “been on everyone’s mind.”
This article was updated on June 25.