JUF Chairman David T. Brown addresses hundreds gathered downtown at the Thompson Center for a vigil for the kidnapped teens.
The mood at Chicago’s Thompson center downtown on Monday was solemn, as over 500 Chicagoans gathered to show their support for the kidnapped Israeli teens and their families and to pray for their safe return. The peaceful vigil—organized by the Jewish United Fund and held at the James R. Thompson Center—gave members of the community, saddened by the shocking abduction of the three teens, an opportunity to join together in prayer and to show their sympathy for the teens’ families. The JUF Lewis Summer Interns, most of whom are only a few years older than the three kidnapped teens, helped organize the vigil.
Three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped on Thursday, June 12 by Palestinian terrorists near Gush Etzion. The three youths—Gilad Shaar (16), Naftali Frenkel (16), and Eyal Yifrach (19)—were on their way home from Mekor Chaim, a yeshiva high school in Kfar Etzion when they were abducted. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Hamas of kidnapping the teens and holds the Palestinian Authority responsible for the kidnappings. Netanyahu has also called for the disbandment of the Palestinian Authority’s unity government with Hamas, according to the JTA.
The Israeli military has exercised extensive resources in their effort to locate the boys, while the boys’ families pray for their safe return home. Among American Jews, the focus has been on supporting the teens’ families, largely through prayer (JTA). A media campaign, #BringBackOurBoys—inspired by the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls that was sparked by the abduction of over 200 Nigerian girls by an Islamist terrorist group—has gained momentum as Jews around the globe show their solidarity with the boys and their families.
Opening remarks at the vigil were delivered by David T. Brown, chairman of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. Brown expressed his and the Federation’s solidarity with Israel and cited the kidnapping as an example of “the obstacles that remain to achieving the peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians that we all seek.” He also welcomed public officials in attendance—Julie Hamos, director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services; Ill. State Sen. Ira Silverstein; Ill. Rep. Scott Drury; and Ald. Debra Silverstein.
Statements of support for Israel, the teens and the vigil came from U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, as well as Illinois Congressmen Rep. Cheri Bustos, Rep. Rodney Davis, Rep. Bill Foster, Rep. Dan Lipinski, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Rep. Brad Schneider, and Rep. Aaron Schock. On Wednesday, Rep. Schneider introduced a resolution calling for the immediate, unconditional release of the captured teens.
Other speakers included Rabbi Yona Reiss, Av Beth Din (chief of rabbinic court) of the Chicago Rabbinical Council; Presbyterian Reverend Robert Cathey, Professor of Theology at the McCormick Seminary; Roey Gilad, Consul General of Israel to the Midwest; and Endy Zemenides, executive director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council.
In a letter written by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and read at the vigil, the mayor condemned the kidnapping and stated: “I see my children in the faces of these three Israeli boys, and like any parent, my heart goes out to their families. No child should have to live in fear that one day they may not return home and I offer my full support to Israel and its search for these missing teens.”
Lewis Summer Interns read short biographies of each of the kidnapped boys. The interns also shared their own sentiments regarding the kidnapping of their Israeli peers. They asked the audience to think of their own children, their own friends and siblings, and to imagine if they were the families of Eyal, Naftali, and Gilad. “I came as a mother. I came as a Jew. I came as an Israeli. I came to support the families and to let the kids know that they have not been forgotten,” attendee Hadassa Dekalo said emotionally.
Many members of the Israeli community also attended the vigil, including a group of Israeli Defense Forces veterans who had been wounded in combat. Ishay Halen, a former soldier, said, “I came to support our brothers here. We are a big family in Israel, [although not literally]. Everyone around the world, every Jewish person, every Israeli person, we all support each other.” He also voiced Israel’s desire for peace and considered the vigil a sign of this desire to the Palestinians. “We don’t want a war…we just want to speak to [the Palestinians],” he said.
The families of Gilad, Eyal, and Naftali ask that you continue to pray for the safe return of their sons. To further show your support, you can like the #BringOurBoysBack Facebook page or sign a national letter addressed to the families of the teens at www.bringbackourboys.net.