Yesterday, I went on two hikes with my daughter, Elisheva. The first hike was about two and a half hours long as we walked through different parts of Ein Gedi. The second hike was an hour and a half long, 45 minutes to one spot and after being in that spot for an hour and fifteen minutes, we hiked back 45 minutes. During the first hike, I wore a T-shirt and shorts, as the temperature reached into the 90's, but during the second hike, which took place later in the day, I dressed more formally. The second hike was to the Modi'in cemetery, where I gathered with tens of thousands of other Jews to attend the joint funeral service of Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Sha'ar and Naftali Frenkel. I call it a hike because we had to park so far away from the cemetery because of the sheer number of people coming in cars and buses from all across the country that few had to walk from where we parked for 45 minutes just to reach the area where everyone was assembled, at the entrance of the cemetery. Most of the attendees were from the religious Zionist community, but many Charedi Jews and some secular Jews were also in attendance. (I must admit that it was probably difficult to tell who was a secular Jew because I imagine that many of them may have worn akippah to the funeral.)
The entrance to the Modiin cemetery was so packed that I and many others could not even see the speakers or the coffins of the boys, wrapped in Israeli flags, on the podium. We were only able to hear the speeches and I think that that may have affected the mood in the crowd. When one sees a coffin or a crying mother live or on TV, it is different than simply hearing it, even though you are hearing it live. Therefore, I would assume that the crowd in Modi'in was not as visibly emotional as the crowds were at the smaller funerals earlier in the day for each of the boys individually in their various hometowns. That being said, the feeling that I had yesterday evening was that the tens of thousands of Jews who attended felt that they had to come, because these three boys were their children, or their brothers - that we are all one large family, that these boys were killed simply because they were Jewish and that connects us all.
The two themes that constantly repeated themselves during the eulogies revolved around emunah, faith and achdut, unity. Rabbi David Lau, Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, said that this is one of those times when we have questions for which there are no answers. We had so much hope that our prayers would lead to a safe return of the boys, and theologically, we all had to come to terms with how ineffective our prayers seemed to be. In response to this theological challenge, we can perhaps explain that prayer works, but it may not work as we expect it to work. However, ultimately, in my view, the greatest response to the emunah question and the tefillah question in the wake of this tragedy is the mothers of the three boys and the fathers of the three boys, who are steadfast in their faith even as they grieve, who will continue to pray even as they continue to mourn. Many of the speakers praised the parents for their unshakeable commitment to Torah and to Am Yisrael.
The first individual to deliver a eulogy was Rabbi Dov Zinger, Rosh Yeshiva of M'kor Chayim, where two of the three boys studied. He urged that we commit ourselves in the wake of this great tragedy and beyond this tragedy to increase our love for our fellow Jew, as he had the entire audience repeat after him the line that the Magen Avraham writes that we should say every morning when we wake up,hareini mekabel al atzmi l'kayeim mitzvat asei shelv'ahavta l'rei'akha kamokha - behold I accept upon myself to fulfill the positive mitzvah of love your neighbor as yourself. In my mind, he shared with us the most powerful line of the evening when he added to the famous expression of "two Jews, three opinions" the phrase, b'lev echad - but with one heart. Two Jews, three opinions, but with one heart. That is why tens of thousands of Jews were at this funeral last night and that is why so many vigils throughout the country took place the previous night, because we may have multiple opinions and we may argue with each other about religion or politics or other topics, but ultimately, the feeling at the funeral was that we all have a lev echad - one heart.
But the achdut, the unity, was not only felt with our national community that night, but it also was felt with our historical community. All of the speakers, and there were four of them, Rabbi Zinger, Rabbi Lau, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres, cited verses of Tehillim and verses from the prophets and liturgical poems that our Sages composed that expressed our anguish, that expressed our pain. Avinu malkeinu nkom nikmat l'ainainu nikmatdam avadekha hashafukh - God, avenge the blood that has been spilled! Habet mishamayim ur'ay ki hayinu l'la'agu'l'keles bagoyim - God, look upon us from the Heavens and see how we have become ridiculed among the nations! We grieve, but we know how to grieve. We grieve with the same formula that our ancestors have grieved throughout the ages, and that historical achdut also is a tremendous source of strength.
In his eulogy, Prime Minister Netanyahu explained that a kever, a burial plot, is not only a source of death, but it can be a source of life. For example, we have kever avot and kever Rachel, the burial places of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs that are places from which Jews from across the world visit and are spiritually nourished from the lives that our ancestors lived. Similarly, the kevarim of Eyal, Giladand Naftali will be places which will give us life, as they represent the best that Israel has to offer, their parents are role models for real strength, spiritual strength and emunah, faith, and they brought us together with each other and with our ancestors in a bond of Torah, Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael.