By Larry Gordon
It was just a few days ago that we were sitting at a dining-room table with Rachel Frenkel in Nof Ayalon here in Israel. It was two hours before she would sadly learn that the Hamas terrorists that kidnapped her son 18 days ago had murdered him and his two friends, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach. Throughout the ordeal, she displayed faith and hope that the boys would be okay and that they would be home soon.
But that was not to be, as we learned with the announcement that the bodies were found in an empty field near Hebron. Preliminary reports are saying that the boys were killed almost immediately after they were taken.
Ms. Frenkel is poised and articulate. As we sat and talked about the ordeal that had catapulted her into the limelight and I speculated about her becoming a national personality, she shook her head and said that all she wanted was to get back to her profession of teaching Torah to young women in Israel.
I asked her what she imagined the conditions were that the boys were being held in. She said she really did not want to go there, but she was hoping that they were together. It was somewhat of a prophetic thought.
The night before our meeting, there was a huge rally in Tel Aviv where she and the other two mothers spoke. Police say that over 50,000 people were in attendance.
Rachel Frenkel is puzzled by the sudden thrust of these families into the limelight. She emphasizes that the only positive thing she can point to is that the events of the last three weeks have brought Israel together in an unprecedented fashion.
We met with her for half an hour, with her cell phone ringing every minute or so. Now that it has been conclusively revealed that the boys were murdered, probably minutes after being abducted, I cannot help but wonder about the nature of those calls. The terrorists apparently knew that one of the young men managed a phone call to the police and feared that they were most likely being tracked. They did not know that the police would bungle the call and that the IDF search for the boys would not even begin until eight hours later.
But what else can I tell you about Rachel Frenkel and her husband, whom we did not meet, other than that they are yet another set of parents of a child killed by terrorists in Israel? What distinguishes the Frenkels from the other two families is that Rachel is an American citizen, as are her children. She told us the American ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, had been out to see the family a few times since the kidnapping, including a visit earlier on that day that we were in Nof Ayalon. Rachel said that she has repeatedly expressed frustration to the ambassador about the virtual silence of President Obama on the abductions and particularly that of her son, who was an American citizen.
She was reluctant to be critical of anyone, especially the president of the United States, who she felt could have been helpful at some point, particularly if this turned into a hostage and negotiating situation.
Rachel Frenkel is a popular lecturer here in Israel and addresses seminary students and women’s groups on a regular basis. Her parents made aliyah before she was born and she points out that her grandfather was known as the Bircha Rebbe and had a shul on 16th Avenue in Boro Park. She has relatives in Brooklyn and in the Five Towns as well.
In retrospect, I am puzzled about the optimism she displayed when we met on Monday. After the bodies were discovered in a field, it became known that on the frantic call that one of the boys made to the police, gunshots were heard. When the vehicle that was used in the abduction was discovered, there were shell casings and blood discovered in the car. So it seems clear now that the authorities here in Israel understood well that there was little likelihood that the boys would be found alive.
Tuesday, the day of the funerals, was an extremely difficult day. There is a heaviness in the air, a dejectedness, and a feeling of colossal disappointment with the outcome of this nearly three-week ordeal. I had my doubts from the start that this was going to have a happy ending, but when I read and saw the news that the best intelligence efforts said that the boys were alive, I tried desperately to believe them and hoped for good news with each passing day.
But the tragedy that we were hit with Monday night just seemed more realistic and in line with what has occurred way too often over the decades since terrorism has become part of the reality here. On Tuesday afternoon, at the same time that the funeral was taking place in Modiin, there was a spontaneous march down Jaffa Road toward the Jerusalem city hall. The mostly young men and women held signs that said “Revenge” and “Kahane Was Right.” The 300 or 400 people refused to move off the light-rail tracks at the bottom of Jaffa Road and the police moved in after a half hour or so and started hauling the kids who refused to move on their own into police vehicles.
On Monday, Mrs. Frenkel was aware of a story that would appear on the front page of the New York Times earlier this week, which equated her plight of longing for her kidnapped and now murdered son, Naftali, and that of an Arab mother in Hebron whose son was killed fleeing arrest on suspicion of involvement in Hamas and terror during the IDF search for the boys. The comparison or suggestion of moral equivalency between the two situations is repugnant to all fair-minded people. Rachel said that she was made aware by the Times reporter, Jodi Rudoren, that the Arab angle was going to be incorporated into the story, but that it would not be done here in Jerusalem by the reporter herself. The Arab “balance” to the story was added by editors in New York. That approach contributes significantly to the problems here on multiple levels.
Rachel Frenkel is stoic. She is a woman of deep and unshakable faith. She and her family and the other two families have been chosen at this time and place in history to make this ultimate sacrifice of burying their children. In Bnei Brak, Rav Chaim Kanievsky said that, despite the outcome, the prayers uttered in the boys’ merit were not in vain. “They had a great merit to spiritually strengthen thousands of Jews, and it is a great merit for their souls,” he said.
In his remarks, Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “We were charmed by the magic of their smiles, their kindness, their joy of youth. Today became a day of national mourning.”
In her eulogy for her son, Rachel said, “Rest in peace, my child. We will learn to sing without you. We will always hear your voice in our hearts.” She thanked the soldiers who worked day and night to find the boys. “You promised you would bring them home, and you did.”
Today the gut feeling of the average Israeli on the street is that the government should take definitive steps that once and for all will deal terrorism and terrorists a fatal blow. But the bombing runs over Gaza are mostly over empty buildings and open fields–doing little damage and creating minimal deterrence. Israeli officials live in fear of being accused internationally of a disproportionate response or of administering collective punishment. Being subservient to these international community concepts is nothing but a slippery slope for Israel. Israel needs the courage to defend herself as she once did decades ago.
As we left her home on Monday, Rachel Frenkel and my wife, Esta, embraced and wept, feeling the pain and anguish of the moment. Just outside her home, a tent was erected after the abduction where about a dozen young men sit and study Torah and recite Tehillim around the clock. Though the funerals are over, the young men are still there, swaying in a Talmudic and prayerful rhythm, trying to connect with the neshamos of their friends, Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali. Inside, the family is sitting shivah. v
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