Last Wednesday night I addressed a packed event at the Saban Theater in Los Angeles, to mark the end of the 30-day mourning period for the 3 teenagers who were kidnapped and murdered in Israel last month. As I put together my remarks, I reflected on the fact that the kidnap and frantic 18 days of searching until their bodies were discovered already seemed to be in the distant past. So much has happened since then. We have been so very distracted by the events that have unfolded in Israel and Gaza, that the horror we all felt for those 18 days has been almost entirely swamped by our absorbed concern for Israel under threat, and IDF soldiers at war. But we must not forget, and for that reason I would like to share with you my remarks of Wednesday night. This is what I said:
“We are currently in the midst of 3 weeks of mourning, a period in the Jewish calendar during which we mourn the destruction of our Temples, the holy sanctuaries which were the center of Jewish religious life for hundreds of years, and whose destruction almost spelt the end of the Jewish nation, and of the Jewish faith. And tonight we are here to reflect on the horrific loss of three young boys – Naftali Fraenkel – Gilad Shaer – Eyal Yifrah – holy souls, whose kidnap and murder horrified all of us. We have a confluence of mourning.
“This mourning is augmented by the dreadful situation that has unfolded in Israel over these past weeks since the boys were killed. Rockets raining down on our brethren, aimed at the indiscriminate slaughter of Israeli civilians. A daily toll of dead IDF soldiers, deployed to root out the threat from the Gaza Strip. The pain is un-bearable.
“I want to focus on this confluence. It is reflected in the blessing we say when visiting mourners during a shiva: ‘Hamakom Yanachem Etchem Betoch Aveilei Tziyon ViYerushalayim’ – ‘May God comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.’ It seems strange to offer this as a comforting line as we leave the mourners who have just lost their loved one. When someone has lost a father, a mother, a brother, a sister, a child – why would they care about Zion and Jerusalem?
“The answer is simple. We are only Jews because of the legacy of Zion and Jerusalem. No Jew is a Jew if he rejects the essence of Judaism as represented by the holiest shrine of our faith. The Temple site represents our relationship with God, our relationship with the Torah, and our relationship with the piece of land – the tiny piece of land – that is a portal to God Himself.
“When a Jew dies, we mourn his or her loss, but we are comforted in the knowledge that our tradition contin-ues, that our love for God, for our faith, for our Holy Land, for our people, continues, even as one link in that chain is taken from us. That is why we bring up Zion and Jerusalem as comfort when we mourn for an individ-ual Jew.
“Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah – your names will forever be etched in our memories. You reminded us that although we have returned back to our Promised Land, and we see that Jewish life and Jewish pride has increased and thrived as never before over the past 2,000 years, the quest for Zion and Jerusalem is far from over. Your families need comfort, but we too are mourners – together we all mourn – and that is a great comfort. Families Fraenkel, Shaer and Yifrach. We mourn with you. We mourn for Naftali. We mourn for Gilad. We mourn for Eyal. And we mourn for Zion and Jerusalem.
“Next Tuesday, on Tisha B’Av we will remind ourselves that the struggle is far from over. Even as we sit and pray for the reinstatement of our Temples, our brethren in Israel, and the holy soldiers in Gaza and beyond, find themselves in the crosshairs of evil beasts, beasts who would delight in not just the death of every Jew and in the destruction of Israel, God forbid, but also in the death of the dream and the message of Zion and Jerusalem.
“I don’t want to end on such a sour note, so let me add one more thing. Our greatest monarch, the extraordi-nary King David, wrote as follows in Tehillim, chapter 30, and we recite it each morning: ‘Hafachta Mispedi Lemachol Lee, Pitachta Saki VaTeazreini Simcha’ – ’You turned my mourning into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.’ Even as we mourn Naftali, Gilad and Eyal, we must acknowledge the extraordinary unity that has resulted from them having been taken from us. This unity has continued these past weeks, and long may it continue. The boys are surely dancing, as they watch us – old and young, religious and secular, left and right – coming together as one united group of Jews, to remember them, and to dedicate ourselves to the future of Judaism and to the continuity and safety of Jewish life.
“My friends, we will continue. We will prevail. And as a united force, we are invincible. May their memory be a blessing, and may God bless us, and all of Israel. Amen.”