In his first letter to the United with Israel community, Executive Director David Zeit discusses the strength of the People of Israel based on unity and compassion.
Dear United with Israel community:
I had imagined that as the new executive director of United with Israel, my first communication to UWI’s membership would be filled with excitement, anticipation and my vision for the future. While these emotions have not changed, now is not the time to discuss my vision. Like the rest of the world, for the past several weeks my vision has been completely refocused: first on our beloved boys – Gilad Sha’ar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Frankel – and now on the constant barrage of rockets throughout Israel and Israel’s determined war against the terrorist regime in Gaza.
The Jewish reaction to the tragic abduction of three innocent schoolboys was that of prayer, good deeds, hospitality, self-reflection and improvement – all for the sake of their safe and speedy return. Prayer vigils were held en masse. It did not matter to which sect of Judaism one belonged – Religious Zionist, ultra-Orthodox, Secular or Traditional – because we are all Jews and three of our sons were in harm’s way. The religious devoted extra time to prayer and Torah study. Secular Jews who had not picked up a prayer book in years found themselves donning tefillin (phylacteries) in the boys’ merit. And everyone opened their hearts, wallets and homes for whatever was necessary.
‘We Searched for You and Found Ourselves’
The Jewish Nation, nay Family, was on a journey of self-discovery. Ironically, the amount of time that elapsed from the onset until the tragic end of the search totaled 18 days. The numeric value of 18 in Hebrew letters spells the word “Life.” For 18 days we hoped for life. We prayed for life. We celebrated life. We valued our own lives and the lives of our families, immediate and extended. Our own lives changed. As so many have said in speaking to the souls of Gilad, Eyal and Naftali: “We searched for you and found ourselves.”
At the center of it all, those paving the road of leadership were the Frankel, Sha’ar and Yifrach families. They are symbols of life, courage, integrity and humility. Their moments of weakness were in truth manifested as moments of strength. And they empowered not only themselves, but all of us as well, the Family of Israel.
For the final 10 days of the search, my hometown of Efrat hosted several hundred soldiers from various battalions of the IDF. Our municipal and youth group buildings became miniature army barracks. Our residents were transformed into hospitality professionals. Round-the-clock meals, laundry service, gifts and ice-cream were donated, all at our own personal expense. Our children could be found running around the “barracks” playing with their “older brothers and sisters.” Most of these soldiers had not been home in weeks, but according to their thank-you letters, they did not mind– not only because it was their duty to be in Efrat, but also because Efrat felt like home. They were treated like family, and in our eyes, they were family.
The IDF was There to Comfort Us
When the news – which we had all hoped and prayed would never come – ultimately did arrive, it was one of those moments that the entire Jewish People will forever remember where they were when they heard it. Virtually every city in Israel held an impromptu memorial service for our lost sons. In Efrat, we gathered together, prayed, sang Psalms in their memory and cried oceans of tears. Who was there to console us? Who was there to pass out a cup of water to a sobbing teenager? Our soldiers! The very soldiers we had hosted! They returned a good deed for a good deed. We, the Jewish People, always manage to find ways to elevate ourselves and to rise in the face of the depths of despair.
“Who is like Your Nation, Israel?”
The day before the tragic news broke, the UWI staff visited the Frankel family to offer support and solidarity. We also tried to give words of encouragement. If there was any silver lining to this tragedy, it was how the effort to bring back our three boys reunited and galvanized the Jewish People.
But what was the silver lining once we learned that the boys had been murdered?
According to a Talmudic teaching: “Those that share in the pain and distress of Israel will merit to see its consolation.” For three weeks there was not one member of the Jewish People that did not share the families’ pain. I believe that was the silver lining. Because the entire Jewish Family shared in the pain, shared in the anguish and cried the same tears, we will also share the same consolation.
The People of Israel are United
The People of Israel, now under fire from Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza, are united in support of the IDF’s mission in Gaza. If the words of our great sages were ever filled with hope – it is now. We owe it to our three sons and to each other to remain one family as we try to move forward. If we do, we will surely merit to witness the consolation. May it come speedily in our days.
With best wishes,
David E. Zeit
Executive Director, United with Israel