HEBRON — The boys of the Shavei Hevron Yeshiva in the heart of Hebron have a scripted day of study: they wake up at seven, pray, eat and then study Talmud until noon. Then they eat lunch, rest, pray, and return to the study hall, at 3 p.m., for a more conversational hour of study.
That class is called Faith and the learning is done in pairs. They are currently studying a text called “The Building of Faith” by Rabbi Moshe Bleicher, the head of their yeshiva seminary, but last Thursday, hours before Eyal Yifrach was kidnapped from a bus stop due west of Alon Shvut, he and his study partner did not open the book.
“Eyal asked – if you have a dilemma in life, should you decide based on emotion or logic?” his roommate and study partner Or Turjeman recalled on Wednesday. “And that was strange, that question, because generally we focus on the book.”
After an hour’s worth of debate the two decided that it is proper to go “with what the truth says” and that, they concluded, is best attainable by logic.
Several hours later, Yifrach left the yeshiva, hitchhiking his way north to his home in Elad. The facts of what happened next are known only in part and best not discussed at this point but Yifrach and the two boys he met at the Gush Junction that Thursday night, Gil-ad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel, were last heard from during a desperate phone call in which one of them whispered that he had been kidnapped – an SOS that, tragically, was swept aside for hours.
Dovi Weiss, the director of the yeshiva, said that the enduring uncertainty about Yifrach’s fate – all of the speakers slipped occasionally into the past tense when speaking of him – has created “a very difficult time for the students” but that the boys are “very, very strong.”
And in fact two of his friends who volunteered to speak to an assembled group of reporters came across as earnest and honest about both their grief and ideology.
The boys seemed resolutely incurious about the controversy surrounding the location of the yeshiva, in the West Bank’s biggest Arab city
Micky Zivan, 20, who immigrated to Israel from New York as a child, said that when his parents ask him what Eyal is like as a person, he tells them, “Eyal is the type of person everybody would want as a brother.” He described a young man who came to the yeshiva recently, in March, and promptly began placing a jar of cookies outside the study hall with a sign that read ‘Please take.’
He said that Yifrach has “a big personality,” and that, even before the abduction, he “didn’t go unnoticed.”
As for hitchhiking, yes, Zivan continues to use that method of travel. He said it had little to do with the frequency of buses but rather with his feeling toward the land. “This is my home,” he said. “This is where I live.” Like crossing the street, he added, he would be careful “to look both ways” before taking the plunge into a car with a stranger but would not stop traveling in that manner.
Or Turjeman spoke slowly. “It’s very difficult for me to speak,” he said. “This all happened a moment ago.” Referring to Yifrach, his roommate, as “my friend, my brother,” he said that there was nothing in their room that that Yifrach felt belonged solely to him and that, like everyone else in the yeshiva, he was “seeking the truth, and [looking] for his role as a Jew in the world.”
The boys seemed resolutely incurious about the controversy surrounding the location of the yeshiva, which is situated on Hebron’s Shuhada Street, in a five-story home built by a Turkish Jew, Avraham Ramano, in 1879. It is guarded like a fortress by army troops and is one of the reasons that the IDF decided to close off the route to Palestinian traffic of all sorts.
Nor did they weigh in on the matter of prisoner exchanges, tilting their heads instead to the yeshiva director, who said that although the redemption of hostages and prisoners of war is a sacred value in the Jewish tradition, “to our great dismay, every hostage exchange, and there have been many…only brought more and greater terror.”
At this time, he said, “it is not on the table.”
Instead, their focus was on Yifrach and the way his plight has, from their perspective, unified the country. Zivan spoke of a 19-year-old so strong in body and mind that he could not call him a boy and said that “whatever message those who took him and Gil-ad and Naftali [wanted to convey] it’s obvious that they failed, and are failing, because of that strength, all around Israel. The unity. The love. From the left, from the right, from the religious, from the not-religious.”
Zivan, also a roommate of Yifrach’s, said that the gap left in their seven-person room by his absence is especially painful. “Between the guys, though, it’s like a brotherhood. Everybody looks out for each other,” he said.
Summing up his feelings in the face of the ongoing uncertainty and still fruitless search for the teens, Zivan, speaking slowly, said, “So: pain. We miss him. It’s hard not to see him around. His smile. He’s a funny guy. He has a great voice. He loves to sing. At the same time, we’re strong. We help each other.”