As three abducted Israeli teens ended their first week of captivity, communities from across Canada and around the world held vigils, gathered in solidarity and said prayers for their safe return; prayers that continue.
From Halifax to Vancouver, Jews gathered in support of Gilad Shaar, 16, Naftali Frenkel, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, who were kidnapped by suspected Hamas terrorists while hitchhiking near Hebron June 12.
The largest of the events was held June 19 in the Toronto area, where as many as 1,000 people came together at the Schwartz/Reisman Centre at the Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Jewish Community Campus. The rally was sponsored by UJA Federation of Greater Toronto in conjunction with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).
MP and former justice minister Irwin Cotler spoke. He was in Israel when news of the teens’ abduction broke. Reports in Israeli newspapers were dominated “by a sense of angst and anguish,” he said.
Cotler attributed the kidnapping to Hamas, pointing out that the Islamic terrorist group is pledged to destroy Israel and kill Jews. He noted that, even before the kidnappings, Israeli media had reported that security forces had foiled 44 attempts to kidnap Israelis in the last year alone.
He said former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, whom he met during his visit, stressed how important it was for his family and for him to know that Jews from around the world were rallying to his cause when he was in a Soviet prison.
Cotler said the operation to locate the teens is code-named “Brother’s Keeper,” and Israelis of all denominations are united in praying for the boys’ safe return.
Demonstrating support for the families of the three victims was a key motivation for many of those at the rally. “Those kids could have been any of ours,” Roz Lofsky said. “We all feel for those boys and we want to show solidarity with them.”
“We’re here to say that we are in support of those parents so they know they are not alone,” added Gladys Isenberg.
Conservative MP Mark Adler brought a message from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and drew a loud round of applause when he said, “Canada will stand with Israel through fire and water.” He called on the Palestinian Authority to disarm Hamas, take control of smuggling tunnels in Gaza and demonstrate its commitment to peace by reuniting the boys with their families.
Consul General D.J. Schneeweiss spoke and, in addition to members of the Jewish community, the event was attended by Prabmeet Singh Sarkaria, vice-president of the World Sikh Organization of Canada, Ontario Region. Messages of support were received from the United Macedonians Organization of Canada and from Dominic Campione, past national president of the National Congress of Italian Canadians.
In Halifax, Rabbi Ari Isenberg, spiritual leader of Shaar Shalom Congregation, in conjunction with CIJA, officiated at a community-wide vigil of hope for the boys’ safe return. At the same time, Rabbi Amram Maccabi of Beth Israel Synagogue said special prayers for the teens.
In Montreal, about 400 people attended a June 15 prayer vigil at Congregation Beth Israel-Beth Aaron in Côte St. Luc. The vigil was sponsored by Israeli Consul General Joel Lion in cooperation with CIJA. Chana Landau, a relative living in Montreal, relayed the thanks of the Frenkel family to Jews around the world for their expressions of solidarity. Chaviva Lifson read a message of gratitude from the Shaar family, who live a block from her sister in Israel.
In Hamilton, Temple Anshe Sholom, in conjunction with the Hamilton Jewish Federation, hosted a community gathering “in solidarity with the families of the three Israeli students.”
In Winnipeg, congregations Shaarey Zedek, Etz Chayim, Herzlia-Adas Yeshurun, Chevra Mishnayes and Temple Shalom co-sponsored a prayer vigil in conjunction with the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg.
The vigil, held at the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue, included a candlelighting ceremony, the recitation of psalms, a prayer for captives, the singing of Hatikvah and cantorial renditions of “Acheinu Kol Beit Yisrael ” (“All Israel are Brothers”) and “Bring Back our Boys,” a song written in the last two weeks in Israel.
Rena Elbaze, Jewish engagement specialist at the Winnipeg Federation, said the participation of a range of community organizations spanning a variety of denominations shows “we pray as a community and we’re united as a community when faced with these problems.
“We prayed for the sake of the boys, but also to make people present feel they are not alone and to show the families of the people who were kidnapped that people care about them.”
The Rabbinical Association of Vancouver, with support from the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and other community organizations, sponsored a community prayer service at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver.
Valder Belgrave, a spokesperson for JFGV, said, “Our sympathies are with the families, and it’s sad that they are drawn into the larger issue. They’re innocent victims in the larger scheme of things.”
– With files from Janice Arnold in Montreal. A longer version of this article can be found at cjnews.com/node/126049.