Twelve hundred men and women of all ages sat solemnly Tuesday night, trying to make sense of the brutal killing of three young Israeli students, “our boys” as they were referred to over and over during a community-wide memorial service at Congregation B’nai Israel in Rockville.
Community and religious leaders alike, including Rev. Lynn Strauss from the Montgomery County Faith Community Advisory Board, talked of a mother’s love, senseless violence and the need to go on.
The memorial service was held for those who wished to gather “for the sacred task of remembering, grieving and standing together for the sake of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel,” who were kidnapped and murdered as they were hitchhiking a ride home, said Rabbi Michael Safra of B’nai Israel.
During the hour-long service organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, many people could be seen dabbing their teary eyes or shaking their heads in bewilderment. Others held tightly to their loves ones, especially when the discussion turned to the three mothers and what they must be going through.
“No mother should have to bury their child,” said Cookie Hymer Blitz, JCRC president, who said she spoke “with a heavy heart.” The killings “must be condemned by all people,” she said, noting that “the community is channeling our sorrow and anger to unity.”
Also referring to anger and sadness was Federation President Liza Levy. “Our prayers and yellow ribbons didn’t work” to bring the boys back, she told the crowd, many of whom were seated behind the sanctuary, in specially set up chairs.
Broken hearts may have brought us closer, “but we are not naïve,” she said, urging everyone to support the families of the dead boys “when others will not.” Those in attendance took her words to heart and stood in a long, meandering line that ended outside the synagogue building and into the humid evening, to sign a bereavement book that will be given to the family.
Reuven Azar, deputy head of mission at the Israeli embassy, is not optimistic that the cycle of violence will end, but said, “We have not lost hope.”
The state of Israel comes with a price, he said. The Jewish state is hounded by those who hate it. Hamas, which has been blamed for the kidnapping and murder, “wants to eliminate us,” Azar said, adding, Hamas wants Israel to surrender its heritage and dreams. However, he said, “We only grow stronger and continue to do so.”
In this world, there needs to be a moral line drawn between those who are saddened by terrorism and the terrorists themselves. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas must decide if he wants peace with Israel or be on the side of terrorism, Azar said.
“We don’t forget our values. We don’t forget to sanctify life,” Azar said. “Our unity and our belief keep us strong.”
“We are Jews and when one Jew suffers, all Jews suffer,” Rabbi Safra proclaimed.
It wasn’t only Jews who expressed their sadness. Rev. Lynn Strauss, representing the Montgomery County Faith Community Advisory Board, told the huge gathering, “I bring prayers of compassion.” No house of worship in Montgomery County should suffer alone.”
“We grieve together. Our hearts are broken alongside yours,” said Strauss of Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda.
Rev. Rosetta Robinson of Interfaith Works attended the ceremony, and said afterwards, “We are a faith community that cares.”
County Executive Ike Leggett, Councilmen George Leventhal and Maryland District 17’s Democratic candidate for Senate Cheryl Kagan also attended the ceremony as did staff members of many of the county and state’s politicians.
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First and foremost, my compliments to Noa Meir and the JCRC for a well planned and spiritually moving program. As a parent who has buried a son, I can relate first hand to the grieving of these parents. As I told Noa after the program, all of the speakers forgot about the fathers. She graciously apologized. So often, grieving men are forgotten. It’s as if we don’t exist. The grieving process is especially difficult with the death of a child. All family members are grieving, not only the mothers.
(Due to the loss of a child, I have devoted my volunteer time to Jewish Funeral matters, including serving as a Board Member of the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington and Bereavement Committee Chairman at Bnai Israel Congregation)
North Bethesda, MD