TEL AVIV — Tens of thousands of people crowded in Rabin Square on Sunday night to show support for the families of three kidnapped teenagers on the seventeenth day of their ordeal, under the banner “Singing Together for Their Return.”
“We’re here because we didn’t lose hope,” president-elect Reuven Rivlin told the crowd, who held aloft signs bearing with the teens’ portraits and the slogan “Together.” “We came to pray in all the languages and with all the religions. Our prayer tonight is not just Jewish, it’s not just Hebrew, it’s a personal prayer, an ancient prayer, a prayer from a mother to son,” he said. “This prayer doesn’t need to just come from synagogues, it should come out of every doorway, out of churches, yes, even out of mosques, especially on this holiday of Ramadan.”
Ramadan, a holy month for Muslims, began Sunday at sundown.
The three teens, Eyal Yifrach, 19, Naftali Fraenkel, 16, and Gil-ad Shaar, 16, were kidnapped on June 12 from a hitchhiking stop near the settlement of Alon Shvut in the Etzion bloc. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Israel has proof that Gaza terrorist organization Hamas is responsible for the abduction, and over the past 17 days, the IDF has embarked on a massive security operation to try to locate the teens and weaken Hamas.
Sunday’s rally was an attempt to bring together all streams of Israeli society, right and left, religious and secular, in support of the boys and their family.
“When was the last time we gathered in this square and put our exhausting differences aside?” asked emcee Avri Gilad, a popular talk radio host.
“This is a rally of togetherness,” he added. “Speak with the people standing next to you, who look different from you, and you’ll see that the differences aren’t so great.”
Despite the message, the crowd was overwhelmingly religious, a fact that gave pause to some participants.
“It’s a shame more secular people don’t come; they [the kidnapped boys] are all of our children,” said Tzipi Adler, the director of the Rishon Lezion chapter of Emunah, a religious women’s group. “It’s a little less of a nice feeling,” she said. Still, she was heartened by the large turnout, which nearly filled the square. “I came here to identify with them. It’s better than crying.”
Thomas, a student from Germany who has been studying in Israel for a year, said he came because he strongly opposed the kidnappings, and also to try to understand how the country deals with such traumas as a community. “It’s a very nice idea, a way to show support,” he said of the decision to make it a night of singing. “There is not much that people can do as individuals but it’s affecting them, so here they can just be together and give attention to the case.”
Six-year-old Uriya Noy, sitting on top of her father’s shoulders, said that her kindergarten had said psalms for the kidnapped youths every day.
Singers at the event included Miri Mesika, Rami Kleinstein, the Israeli Army chorus, Kobi Oz, Zvika Pik, Dudu Fisher and Lior Narkis. The rawness and surprise of the first week of the kidnappings has already given way to the grim determination of the kind the country knows so well from previous campaigns for kidnapped victims. Once again, activists sold t-shirts with the teens’ names and pictures to raise money, and gave away bumper stickers, balloons, and posters, evoking a distressing sense of deja-vu.
All three mothers addressed the crowd as well. Iris Yifrach, mother of Eyal, noted the families had just ended their third Shabbat without their sons. “The nation of Israel returns its love to you,” she said, addressing Eyal. “The whole nation has united and worries about you and is waiting to embrace you with warmth.”
Rachelle Fraenkel thanked the soldiers who have been spending long hours looking for the teens, as well as politicians who condemned the kidnapping, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, leading Gilad, the emcee, to remark that it was probably the first time Abbas had received applause at a rally at Rabin Square.
“Thank you for those who understand children are on the outside of this conflict, who know we can’t turn kids into a weapon of war,” said Fraenkel.
“Our boys — they have a lot of plans for this summer,” she added. “This summer, Naftali wants to learn to drive.”