Israelis departing Ben-Gurion International Airport last week delivered 2,500 Purim gift bags to Jews around the world as part of a project in memory of Gil-ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrach. The three Israeli teenage boys were kidnapped and murdered by Palestinian terrorists as they headed home from their West Bank yeshiva in June 2014.
The project, The Jewish Connection, is an initiative of a non-profit organization founded by the boys’ parents to further and strengthen the international Jewish solidarity demonstrated during the weeks between the boys’ kidnapping and discovery of their bodies.
Ofir Shaer, father of Gil-ad, told The Times of Israel the families tracked deliveries of the gifts to destinations in 80 different countries. The figure is based on where travelers’ flights were headed, as well as social media reports by Israelis who had successfully delivered the packages.
Photos and messages posted to the “Gil-ad’s Kitchen” Facebook page showed the Purim bags ended up in the hands of recipients varying from a businessman at a conference in Madrid, to a group of Holocaust survivors in Krakow, to worshippers gathered to hear the Megillah read at the Great Synagogue of Paris.
High school students at the Yachad School in Modiin packed the Purim gift bags, or mishloach manot as they are called in Hebrew. Each contained treats, as well as a copy of the Scroll of Esther and a special letter from the families of the three boys.
The letter provides some background on the Purim holiday, as well as its attendant customs of giving gifts to friends and charity to the poor.
“Then and now, throughout the generations, and in every country where they have lived, the Jewish people were sustained by their exceptional unity, their obligation of mutual responsibility, their love, their concern for the weak and the defenseless,” the letter said.
“Mishloach manot are an expression of a shared destiny, a legacy throughout the generation of unity, or the imperative to be there for one another, for the promise of ‘Am Yisrael chai,'” the families wrote.
Volunteers, wearing shirts bearing the likenesses of the three boys, joined the Shaer, Fraenkel and Yifrach families for round-the clock shifts handing out the gift bags to Israelis waiting for their flights in the departure lounges and duty-free areas at the Tel Aviv airport last week.
“We sent the misloach manot to Jews outside Israel out of a desire to connect hearts and strengthen connections with Israel and Jews around the world,” said Bat Galim Shaer, Gil-ad’s mother.
Ofir Shaer said the experience handing out the gift bags and asking the Israeli travelers to help connect Israel with Jews outside the country was uplifting and energizing.
An interaction he had with one young woman was particularly resonant. She had two hours to go until her flight was to depart, and she offered to not only take some gift bags with her, but to also help distribute them to fellow travelers in the departure area.
“So we gave her a volunteer’s t-shirt and she helped us out for a couple of hours,” Shaer said.
“As she was about to board her flight, I realized I didn’t even know her name, so I asked her. She said it was Esther Hadassah,” he said.
Esther and Hadassah are the alternate names of the heroine of the Purim holiday, which Shaer took to be an auspicious sign.