LOS ANGELES — Leehy Shaar is in her Los Angeles home preparing to speak in front of thousands of people who in a few hours will descend upon the Beth Jacob Synagogue – an Orthodox shul in West Los Angeles. They will come for a memorial ceremony honoring Gil-ad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Fraenkel, kidnapped and killed on June 12.
Shaar is Gil-ad’s aunt. Speaking to The Times of Israel by telephone she said, “I wasn’t planning to be a speaker, I’m not a speaker, but ever since [the teens] were kidnapped, I’ve been talking to the press and talking to Congress. [Although] my English isn’t that good and I have a patch over my eye.” (Shaar is currently undergoing a series of surgeries for a detached retina.)
“I’m just speaking from my heart, to show everybody from a personal perspective that none of us want to be victims of terror. We want peace, and I’m trying to be strong for my brother, for my family, to show that we can’t give up,” she said.
Shaar had been living and working in New York as a dormitory mother for Jewish girls who had fallen on hard times and only recently moved to Los Angeles. However, she said her newly found community at Beth Jacob — as well as the greater Jewish community — quickly embraced her when news of the kidnapping came to light on June 12.
“[The outpouring of support] has been amazing,” she said. “When we heard the news [of the kidnapping], so many people came forward and I haven’t felt like I was alone. Not for one moment.”
And while Shaar desperately wants to return to Israel to be with her brother Ofir, his wife Bat-Galim and their five daughters, she cannot leave until her eye surgeries are completed.
“It’s very hard for me to be alone right now,” she says, “but everyone has been so supportive, not just the religious community but also the non-religious community too. They all understand that to kidnap and murder innocent children is not acceptable, but that we also have to be united now that the terrorism is over.”
And while there was a lot of public outcry regarding the Obama administration’s refusal to publicly condemn the kidnapping during the 18 days the teens were missing, Shaar says she cannot think about the political machinations.
“Honestly, I’m more focused on Am Yisrael right now. The Israeli government and the IDF did everything to try and find the boys and save them. Now I just hope that all the world leaders will come together against the terror that attacked all of us, everywhere. We all suffer from this terror and we all need to stop it no matter where we live.”
Details continue to emerge, piecing together exactly what happened to the teens. One of the latest developments has been the release of the call to Israeli police by one of the teens stating he had been kidnapped. Ofir Shaar has identified the voice as that of his son Gil-ad, and based on the recording it appears that the teenagers were shot and killed during that call.
Shaar told The Times of Israel that she too listened to the recording and that yes, it’s Gil-ad’s voice. She says it doesn’t surprise her at all that he made the call.
“Gil-ad was always very responsible and very mature. He was only 16, but he was also very brave that day. He thought [the phone call] could help to find him as soon as possible but it didn’t work. I’m sure [all three of them] were horrified but he thought bravely. When I heard his voice [on the tape] I just wanted to cry.”
Despite the tape and the grim discoveries of the teens’ bodies, Shaar is still in shock and disbelief. “I see the flag covering Gil-ad’s body and I still say, ‘That can’t be Gil-ad. He’s such a fine boy. He’s so cool.’”
“Cool” is a word she repeats often while describing her nephew.
“Right now I’m standing next to a big picture of him and he’s smiling,” she says, her voice choking up.
“He was such a lovely boy. He was a genius. He loves to learn,” she adds, subconsciously switching to the present tense of the recently bereaved. “He is so close to his five sisters, he’s a counselor with Bnei Akiva.”
Returning to the past tense she says, “He was a happy person, full of life and good values. They were such a close family. It’s like there’s a hole in the family now. I can’t even think that he’s in the past.”
The ache of being away from her family in Israel and not attending Gil-ad’s funeral weighs heavily on her but she says, “The whole family are in my soul and in my heart. I talk with them every day. Technology makes the distance easier.”
And while she’s happy to share her memories of her beloved nephew with the media, she admits she cannot even “begin to describe my pain.” Nevertheless at Tuesday’s memorial she says she just wants to thank everyone for their support and call on people to try and make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.
“They were such sweet, innocent boys,” she says, choking up again. “We just want to live in peace in this world. We need to win this fight and make people understand that the value of life – not death – is the most important thing. I pray that these three boys will be the last victims of terrorism.”