As Jews all over the world grieve and reflect on the murder of Israeli teenagers Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel, an overflow crowd of more than 700 Chicagoans gathered at Chicago Loop Synagogue Wednesday afternoon for a memorial service to pray for the boys and their families. (Watch a video of the full service here.)
Organized by the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, the service came just nine days after Chicago supporters of Israel rallied together and prayed for the boys’ safe return at a community vigil held June 23 at the Thompson Center. Although decidedly more somber in tone, the memorial still carried a message of fortitude and hope.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of these young victims of heinous terrorism and to all our brothers and sisters in Israel who share our outrage and sorrow,” said Skip Schrayer, chair of JUF’s Jewish Community Relations Council, who led the service. “But we come together again today as a united community amidst tremendous diversity. That unity binds us.”
Joining Schrayer were clergy from the Chicago area sharing words and leading the community in prayer, including Rabbi Stanley Kroll of Chicago Loop Synagogue, Rabbi Michael Schwab of North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park; Rabbi Andrea London of Beth Emet in Evanston; and Cantor Ross Wolman of Congregation BJBE in Deerfield.
“It is with deep pain, searing anguish, stunning disbelief that we gather as one people, as am echad, linked to our fellow Jews throughout the world as we gather to mourn and remember the lives of three of our children, whose lives were tragically and brutally ended by terrorists,” Kroll said.
Congressmen from the Illinois delegation in attendance, Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Rep. Robin Kelly, likened this act of hate-driven violence to the kidnapping and murder of three Mississippi Civil Rights workers, which occurred almost 50 years ago to the day that Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were taken and killed.
Statements from other elected officials condemning the violence and expressing sympathy for the teens and their families were read aloud from Governor Pat Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk and Representatives Cheri Bustos, Danny Davis, Rodney Davis, Tammy Duckworth, Bill Enyart, Luis Gutierrez, Dan Lipinski, Mike Quigley, Peter Roskam, Bobby Rush, Aaron Schock and Brad Schneider.
JUF/Jewish Federation President Steven B. Nasatir also shared his reflections.
“After 66 years of Israel’s statehood, our people still face the scourge of hatred and terror,” he said. “It will never deter us. It could not deter Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal or any of Israel’s youth from living vibrant lives filled with joy and hope.”
In addition to prayers and remarks, JCRC Vice Chair Ellen Hattenbach read a poem and Alex Goldman-Shayman, Deputy Consul General of Israel to the Midwest, shared lyrics. Instrumentalist Shmulik Bassin also performed two songs in Hebrew that captured the emotions words alone could not convey.
Although their connection to the young men is distant, community members still had personal reasons for attending the service. Cynthia Levin of West Rogers Park said she came both as a religious Zionist and as a mother who knows the pain of losing a child.
“In Hebrew they say kol Yisrael areivim zeh bazeh (all Jews are responsible for each other), so I feel these three teenagers were members of my family just as if they were my own flesh and blood,” she said.
Mazel Kohanziadeh and her 21-month-old son, Aviram Israel, had just returned to Chicago from a trip to Israel. They were tired and jet-lagged, but Mazel said she felt compelled to attend the memorial service with her toddler. “I felt that he had to be here,” she said. “I felt he had to be here to see the beauty of his people and how they come together in tragedy.”
Those wishing to express their sympathies to the families of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali may sign a national letter of condolence.