Iris Yifrach, Bat-Galim Shaer, and Racheli Fraenkel, the mothers of three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped and murdered in 2014, will light a torch together at Israel’s 71st Independence Day ceremonies, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev announced Sunday.
The bereaved mothers will light together to “elevate the unity of our people,” Regev said in her announcement.
Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gil-ad Shaer, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, were kidnapped by Hamas-linked terrorists on the night of June 12, 2014, at a hitchhiking post south of Jerusalem and killed soon afterwards. Their bodies were discovered June 30, in Halhul, near Hebron in the West Bank, after an 18-day search.
The kidnapping was later seen as a turning point in Operation Protective Edge, the Israel-Gaza conflict of summer 2014. The three mothers became unofficial spokespeople for unity during the conflict and afterwards.
“The mothers, the heroes of our spirit, chose — despite their bereavement, from their broken hearts — to unify the people and open the gates towards a love of Israel in honor of their loved ones, our loved ones. I am proud to choose them, the mothers, to light a torch together,” Regev said in her announcement.
Regev is responsible for selecting the people who are honored with lighting the 12 torches that traditionally launch Independence Day, which begins this year on May 8. This year’s Independence day theme is The Israeli Spirit.
“I’m crying, I can’t believe it… what an honor,” Yifrach said in a phone conversation with Regev following the announcement. “This is an honorable and brave mission, and I hope we can merit to honor their names, and to truly, truly continue the story of this wonderful nation and of our wonderful boys,” she said.
Following the teens’ deaths, a prize was established in their names to promote national unity and memorialize the teens. The prize, called the Jerusalem Prize for National Unity, awards NIS 100,000 ($28,000) annually, on the anniversary of their deaths, to initiatives dedicated to strengthening the sense of collective identity in Israel.