The disappearance of three Israeli teens in the West Bank last week is being taken as a call to action uniting many disparate elements of the American Jewish community.
At synagogues across America spanning the major denominations, Jews recited psalms or offered special prayers for the safe return of the teens, echoing a prayer rally held Sunday at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. On Monday, demonstrators held a rally in New York opposite the Israeli Consulate.
“I have a 16-year-old myself,” Steven Levine of Brooklyn told JTA at the rally. “It could have been any of us. They’re my brothers, they’re my children. That’s why I’m here.”
The missing teens — Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel, both 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19 — were last seen at a hitchhiking post near Gush Etzion, a Jewish settlement bloc in the West Bank. Shaar and Frenkel were on their way home from Mekor Chaim, an in-residence yeshiva high school in Kfar Etzion run by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. Yifrach, who met up with them at the hitchhiking post, was on his way home from a pre-army yeshiva program near Hebron.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blamed Hamas for kidnapping the teens and said he was holding the Palestinian Authority responsible.
Among American Jews, the focus has been on supporting the teens’ families, largely through prayer.
On New York’s Upper West Side on Monday evening, the Manhattan Day School organized a prayer vigil that drew hundreds of people representing multiple Orthodox synagogues and organizations.
Chavie Kahn, the school parent and board member who organized the event, praised Rachel Frenkel, the mother of one of the missing teens, for the grace she has displayed under the international media spotlight as well as for her pioneering work as a “yoetzet halachah” — an Orthodox Jewish religious adviser.
Kahn said a video of the service would be shared with the teens’ families and hoped it would provide them with some measure of comfort and strength.
The Orthodox Union organized a round-the-clock “virtual vigil” for members of O.U.-affiliated programs to sign up for 30-minute slots to learn Torah, pray and perform mitzvahs to merit the safe return of the boys.
The Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly released a prayer for the welfare of the teens composed by Rabbi Tamar Elad Appelbaum of Jerusalem’s Zion congregation.
“Do all that must be done so that relief, rescue, and life may be the lot of the young men, Ya’akov Naftali ben Rahel (Frenkel), Gil-ad Micha’el ben Bat-Galim (Shaar) and Eyal ben Iris Teshura (Yifrach),” the prayer says. “Act on their behalf, Lord, take up their cause without delay, and may You grant them life and blessing forevermore.”