Seattle rallies for kidnapped teens

Seattle rallies for kidnapped teens

By Boris Kurbanov, Special to the Jewish Sound

Members of Seattle’s Jewish community gathered Wednesday, June 18 at the Stroum Jewish Community Center on Mercer Island to express solidarity, love, and support for the three Israeli teenagers kidnapped in the West Bank on June 12.

Jews around the world have been galvanized by the incident in which Eyal Yifrach, 19, and 16-year-olds Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel — all students at yeshivas in Jewish settlements in the West Bank — vanished while hitchhiking in the Gush Etzion Junction in the West Bank, a Jewish settlement bloc that is under direct Israeli control.

Rabbi Chaim Levine, whose organization Hope for Heroism helped organized the rally, was contemplative and somber after the event.

“The Jewish people are one. This is not an issue that affects just Israel — it affects every Jewish person in the world, and it’s more than just showing our complete support and solidarity,” Levine said. “We are all part of this — these are our children. Every Jewish parent feels that way. The very least we could do for them is to come together and pray.”

In addition to Hope for Heroism, which helps injured Israeli soldiers put their lives back together, the rally was organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, StandWithUs Northwest, and the Stroum JCC. On Tuesday night, Congregation Ezra Bessaroth held a well-attended special prayer service for the teens, too.

During the rally, Levine spoke via Skype with Aralah Wattenstain, who is serving as a commander in the field in Hebron, where the boys attend yeshiva. Wattenstain asked the crowd in attendance for prayers for the teenagers to come home safely.

The boys’ disappearance has gripped Israel, setting off a large Israeli security operation dubbed the “Brother’s Keeper” in the West Bank, and especially in Hebron in the southern West Bank to Nablus in the north. Israeli troops have conducted a large-scale, door-to-door search for the teens, and have detained more than 280 Palestinians since the kidnapping — including high-ranking members of the Islamic militant group Hamas — while confiscating its cash and weapons.

The kidnappings have also sparked the Twitter campaign #BringBackOurBoys, a hashtag used to mobilize support for Israel and modeled after May’s viral #BringBackOurGirls movement led by Michelle Obama that brought international attention to the mass kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls by terrorist group Boko Haram. A petition on the White House website was created June 14 demanding the release of Frenkel, who is a dual Israeli-American citizen.

While the boys’ kidnapping has sparked nonstop coverage in Israeli media, the incident has received scarce journalistic attention in the West, said Keith Dvorchik, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation. For him, the young age of the victims also conjured strong emotions.

“It’s really a shame,” Dvorchik said. “These were boys — they weren’t soldiers, they weren’t in uniform. That should be unacceptable.”

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blamed Hamas for the abductions and said he was holding the Palestinian Authority accountable, calling it “a serious incident [that] will have grave consequences.” Hamas has since denied responsibility while celebrating the kidnapping.

The kidnapping revives memories of Gilad Shalit’s abduction by Hamas in 2006. Shalit, a young soldier with the IDF, was detained for five years and released in exchange for 10,000 Palestinian prisoners. With the recent Fatah-Hamas unity deal, Israel is in a precarious position to act.

“It’s very important that this took place today,” Levine said of the rally. “This is beyond any Jewish organization, and this is way beyond politics. This is about each one of us doing what we can individually to do anything we can. We are an interconnected people, and we had to come together. We had to.”