The Jewish communities in Sydney and Melbourne on Sunday rallied in a show of solidarity with the families of the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers. Organized by the local Zionist youth movements, the events brought hundreds from various backgrounds together.
News of the kidnapping of Eyal Yifrach (19), Gil-ad Shaar (16) and Naftali Frenkel (16) reached Australia Saturday morning and within hours, many of the synagogues prayed and recited psalms for their wellbeing. Some felt, however, that spontaneous prayers weren’t enough, and organized a cross-community gathering.
Jewish community members “felt something needed to be done and were looking for ways to help,” Rafi Lawrence, the head of Sydney’s Bnei Akiva branch, told the Times of Israel. “While it’s hard to bridge the physical gap between us, we can still try and help on a spiritual level.”
“All movements, madrichim [leaders] and chanichim [participants], as the active face of Zionism in Australia, are invited to attend and participate. This issue is very close to home — the people kidnapped are the same age as our chanichim,” he wrote in an email. The movements’ plight didn’t fall on deaf ears.
“As madrichim we feel the responsibility of keeping the community connected to Israel, and that feeling is magnified a hundred fold at a time like this,” Dana Slonim, the head of the Hineni youth movement, told the Times of Israel.
“Talking to my sixteen year old chanichim about the boys their age was so hard, but as they said to us, a Jew is Jew. It doesn’t matter how far away from Israel we are, we came together tonight to pray for our boys because as Jews and as Zionists who are hurting that is the only thing we can do,” said Slonim.
In Sydney, former Sephardi chief rabbi Shlomo Amar, who was in town for other reasons, addressed the overflowing room. After thousands of years of Jewish exile, he said, “We thought that in Israel we could live securely and rest. But it turns out that in our land we need the help of God even more.”
“These prayers unite with all the prayers of Am Israel [the people of Israel], both in Israel and overseas,” Amar said after leading the community in psalms and other prayers for the safety of the teens and Israel’s security forces.
The rabbi said he sensed the sincere caring of the people in the room, and emphasized that the beauty of Judaism was the fact that people cared for each other.
“The more we unite, the more we feel the pain of others, the more our prayers will matter,” said Amar.
In an email to the city’s movements, Lawrence said the initiative was meant to bring Jews “together during this troubled time in support of the youths and their families.” For one hour, he explained, people should gather and show that at the end of the day we are “one people, one nation.”