On Sunday night there was a gathering dedicated to unity, prayer and song surrounding the kidnapping of the three young boys from Gush Etzion just under three weeks ago. Tens of thousands of people flocked to Rabin Square in Tel-Aviv: young and old, religious, traditional and secular.
As I walked from the parking lot to the square I remembered the many rallies and protests we had attended over the years. I can’t remember when it began, but for as long as I can remember, we were going to demonstrations in Tel-Aviv with varying messages, all along a similar theme — hold on to the Land of Israel! Whether it was to encourage Yitzhak Shamir as he traveled to the US not to surrender anything despite US pressure, or whether it was to send a strong message to Rabin or Peres that we were against their various plans to divide the Land, the atmosphere and the people were the same. Tens of thousands poured out from Judea and Samaria and religious Zionists from all over the country, men, women and children, lots of children! And we held placards and heard political speeches and hoped that our growing numbers would send messages to the powers that be and really make a difference.
The climax of all of this was the massive protests before the Disengagement. Hundreds of thousands filled that same Tel Aviv square, as well as the Old City of Jerusalem and so many other places. We protested, we prayed and it didn’t work. Close to 10,000 people were forced from their homes despite all our efforts. And so we gave up. We didn’t give up on our cause, but we stopped demonstrating, feeling no one was really listening anyway.
So as I walked towards that same square that knew so many settler protests, I reflected on those long ago events and felt a peace in my soul. This gathering was going to be different. No political speeches, nothing that divided us. We were one people praying together, singing together and expressing solidarity with three amazing families as they waited for their boys to come home. Then, as now, the religious Zionists took the lead and set the tone. But now, the message was one of hope and faith not mixed with anything else. And it was a message that resonated in the hearts and homes of Jews all over the country.
At some point in the rally, a group of people burst out in a song of prayer that people just joined extemporaneously. The words are that of an ancient prayer that has been said for centuries by the nation as a whole whenever any part of the nation was in trouble. It asks G-d to protect our people, to bring them from darkness to light, from captivity to redemption. Those who are accustomed to prayer sang. But the host of the evening, a Jew who did not know this prayer, expressed his sorrow that he did not know the words. He was asking us to teach him how to pray! There is a thirst to connect in this way that we are feeling in so many places!
But the next evening we learned that the three boys had been murdered just minutes after being kidnapped, their bodies tossed into a shallow grave in the middle of an empty field not far from Hevron. I remembered the tears that I had shed the night before as I identified with the parents of these boys and I recalled the tears of hope that I shed as I drew inspiration from the faith of their mothers. But last night I shed tears of sorrow and prayed that the three families would be able to draw comfort from the knowledge that so many people in the country were standing with them and crying with them.
These past few weeks of waiting and hoping became weeks of prayer and unity among the nation. For 18 days, we set aside our disagreements and we became one. I have never waivered in my belief that the heart of the nation beats as one, but there are many who forget that, especially when fed by an often cynical media which thrives on political intrigue and controversy. But these weeks reminded us of who we really were. A nation united against our enemies and in support of one another.
I heard the news of the discovery of the bodies as I stood at a wedding ceremony of the daughter of a close friend of mine. As the ceremony progressed, you could see people glancing at their cell phones as messages came in reporting the tragedy. There was unspoken agreement among everyone there — we would carry our pain silently and not mar the joy of the bride and groom and their families on this special day. So we danced and sang with smiles on our faces, holding the pain within.
But I realized, as we celebrated that this very special wedding really represented so much of what these few weeks were about. My friend’s daughter grew up in Judea and her parents are Ashkenazi Jews, of European Jewish descent. The groom was born in Ethiopia and had come to Israel as a young boy. Today he is a rabbi! His parents were there in traditional Ethiopian dress and the Kes, the traditional Ethiopian spiritual leader offered prayers and song in Amharic. Rabbis and guests of European, North African, Yemenite and Ethiopian descent offered blessings. It was an amazing demonstration of the ingathering of the exiles.
One of the greatest miracles of all time is the creation of the State of Israel and the return of our people to our land from the far corners of the earth. But beyond the physical miracle was the amazing fact that we were still and always will be one people. As we celebrated this wonderful wedding I knew that our enemies would never defeat us. Because we are one.
Director, Israel Office
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