The murdered victims of last month’s terrorist abduction in Israel were laid to rest Tuesday in a moving funeral. The families of the three boys, Naftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaar, both 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, agreed to bury their sons side by side in a Modiin cemetery in central Israel. All three boys lived within a 15 km radius of their final resting place.
The funerals began in each boy’s hometown, with Eyal’s funeral beginning at 3:30 pm in Elad, Gilad’s funeral at the same time in Talmon and Naftali’s funeral at 4:00 pm in Nof Ayalon.
The shroud-draped bodies, covered in Israeli flags, were then transported to the cemetery, where the burial was delayed about an hour due to the complicated security arrangements required for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to attend.
Netanyahu spoke at the funeral, attended by thousands of mourners from all walks of life.
“In the last 18 days the figures of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were carved on our hearts. We were charmed by the magic of their smile, their kindness, their joy of youth. Today became a day of national mourning,” Netanyahu said. “The moral chasm that separates us from our enemies is deep and wide. They revere death and we life. They revere cruelty and we, pity. This is the secret of our strength, it is also the base of our unification.”
“Life has its own strength, like a river that drags us forward, and gives us hope,” concluded the Prime Minister. “An entire nation cries and embraces you…they will be a source of comfort.”
Outgoing President Shimon Peres addressed the crowd, as well. He spoke of the nation’s shared hope that the three boys would return safe, and shared devastation that countless prayers were negatively answered. He thanked the IDF for their efforts and expressed his conviction that the perpetrators would be caught and punished.
“Gilad, Naftali, Eyal,” Peres concluded. “Wonderful boys, sons of the whole nation. Rest in peace. We will bow our heads but our spirit will not break. Dear families, I know your suffering and I also know how you dealt with, you turned your grief into a source of hope for the whole nation. May you find comfort in in the building of Zion and Jerusalem. May you know no more grief. May their memories be blessed for eternity.”
Other political leaders spoke at the private funerals of each young man. At Eyal’s funeral, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said, “Three mothers and three fathers are burying their son today. The sadness and grief that has surrounded you since you received the bitter news, has surrounded the entire country as well.
“You, who raised your sons and made them who they are, will not carry their memory everywhere you go. In the 18 days that have passed since the kidnapping, we learned, every day that passed by, more and more about their personalities, their hobbies, the little things that show that they were teenagers in the beginning of the journey of life that was cut short.
“Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were kidnapped and murdered by wrongdoers, just because they were Jews. They were abducted and murdered in cold blood by those whose mission is to hurt the citizens of Israel and fight a daily war of attrition. They can’t defeat us,” Ya’alon added.
The defense minister also vowed: “We will not rest until we lay a hand on the kidnappers, and bring them to justice.”
Finance Minister Yair Lapid spoke at Gilad’s funeral. “We’re not burying a settler today, we’re not burying a soldier. We’re not burying just anyone. We need each other on this day. We need each other, not anger, we don’t need another divide. We need love, a common language.” He vowed to catch and punish those responsible, adding, “The true revenge is the ability to bridge the gaps between us.”
Most moving, however, were the eulogies of the bereaved family members. “How can your life be concentrated into a few words,” remarked Gilad’s father, adding, “Great strength was required from me and your mother, which we drew on from the nation of Israel.” Gilad’s mother spoke of her disbelief, while his sister, Shirel, recalled “the arguments when I tried to wake you up, but even when you got upset you did it respectfully.”
Eyal’s father Uri spoke of “a special love” his son had “for all people.”
Turning to his deceased child, he said, “your mother said you’d whisper in God’s ear, ask him to give us strength. It will be hard without you, we need strength, ask him to give us strength. You are holy, you were holy in your life; you gave strength to so many people, now give us strength here at home.” To his boy’s killers, he said, “You scoundrels, your day will come.”
His brother Asaf recollected Eyal’s love of music. “I remember you wanted to sit with me and Elhanan, all the family, to sit and talk and play guitar.”
Naftali’s father Avraham remarked that he had named his son for his own grandfather, Yaakov (Naftali went by his middle name). Avraham recalled his own bar mitzvah (thirteenth birthday), when his grandfather urged him to be a good person and a good Jew. He praised Naftali for living up to his great-grandfather’s legacy.
“Mom and me and the rest of the family, we don’t forget not even for a moment, you’re our child, and you always will be, rest in peace my dear son,” he added.
Naftali’s mother, Rachelle, who quickly became the face of the teens’ families throughout the tense search, again showed her great strength and grace. She thanked the troops for bringing home her son, even if things did not end the way everyone had hoped.
“From the first day, we told ourselves that even if it ends badly, God has rewarded us,” she said, citing a loving family and supportive community as His gifts. “Rest in peace my child. We’ll learn to sing without you. Your voice will also be heard in our souls,” she concluded.
The joint portion of the funeral began with the boys’ fathers reciting the mourner’s prayer together, and then Rabbi Dov Zinger, Dean of Yeshiva Makor Chaim in Kfar Etzion where Naftali and Gilad studied, spoke. He discussed how this tragedy succeeded in bringing the nation together, saying, “Let us remember that saying ‘two Jews, three opinions’ – but one heart.”
Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi David Lau spoke next, explaining how “you see the nation with so much empathy…we saw what a strong nation there is here…no one could ever harm this nation…because it’s one nation with one heart.
“Even if you cut off these three flowers you never will succeed, because there’s a continuation. There’s Gilad, Naftali and Eyal in all the people of Israel and the whole world,” added Rabbi Lau.
Addressing God, he added “No one can defeat this people, even in hard moments they stand before You in prayer. …They don’t give up on an eternal tradition.”
Gilad’s grandfather Ezra spoke to reporters at the funeral. He explained that initially the families wanted the boys buried on Mount Herzl, the country’s national military cemetery.
“All day, I’ve been asking for them to be buried on Mount Herzl, as is appropriate for teens who were murdered by miscreants, but they told us we can’t because they’re not soldiers,” the grandfather said.
“I only have one request: Please build a monument on Mount Herzl in memory of the three teens, so everyone who visits the cemetery sees what the murderous miscreants did to three flowers who only wanted to come home for Shabbat.”