Four years have passed since much of the Jewish world held its breath, united in prayer, performed much chesed and hoped that our three boys would be found alive and well. The IDF launched a search mission called Operation Brother’s Keeper. But our hope that Naftali Frankael, Gil Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach would be found alive was dashed, when, on June 30, the bodies of the boys were found in a field northwest of Chevron.
This past Shabbat, Ori Shechter, who serves as a Deputy Brigade Commander when he is in the army reserves, gave a shiur about Yehoshua, Calev and the other ten spies. Towards the end of his Torah shiur, Uri started telling his audience about the searches for the three teens who had been kidnapped and murdered on June 12, 2014.
The army had gone house-to-house in its search for the boys, and it left no stone unturned in its quest to find the three teens. Along the way, some terrorists were killed, hundreds were arrested, caches of weapons were found, but there was no trace of the whereabouts of the three young men.
In fact, Ori told about how army intelligence would scramble at any possible lead. Ori told us that a rabbi told the army that a woman in Jerusalem had received information in a dream and she knew where the boys were located. Intelligence officers traveled to this woman at 2:00 am to hear her story. When they reached her home, she asked for a map and she pointed to a certain area. She said that the boys were to be found at that spot. This turned out to be false, but it showed how clueless the army was in its search.
Ori is a doer and his batteries are re-charged by his tremendous acts of chesed. He and five other talented and hardworking citizens gathered in his home in Gush Etzion so that they could formulate a plan that would hopefully actualize into finding the boys. One of the men at this meeting was Moshe Weinstock. His late father Dubek had founded the unit for searching for lost people in the Judean Desert. Moshe’s brother, Yitzchak Weinstock, may HaShem avenge his blood, was murdered about twenty-four years ago by Arab terrorists.
With the permission of the IDF, these dedicated people began a civilian search party. Word spread and the six turned into about thirty civilians, including geologists, archeologists, former soldiers who had served in field units, cave experts, etc. They reasoned that the kidnappers had not traveled more than fifteen minutes from the place of the abduction. The Arabs knew that one of their victims had made a call for help, so that the Arabs figured that roads would be blocked, and they would need to dispose of the bodies quickly, before even getting to Chevron or an Arab village on the way.
Ori and his companions plotted out the area where they felt the boys might be. Lines were drawn on the map to show how they would comb the area. They requested that they not be given any army information. That would just confuse them. Their painstaking work began, but for a few days, they did not meet success.
On June 30, Ori, who was in his car at the Gush Etzion Junction, received a call from Arelah, the “spiritual” search team member who shouted out, “Bingo! They have been found!” A member of the volunteer search team, Yaron Rosenthal who runs the Kfar Etzion Field School, had noticed an overturned bush which aroused suspicion. He and some other volunteers came to examine the spot. They discovered a mound of dirt under the overturned bush. They removed the dirt and a plastic sheet that was there and found the three lifeless bodies of Naftali, Eyal and Gil Ad.
Regarding the search, Moshe Weinstock related, “There was a civilian initiative and an attentive ear from the establishment. There was unending investment of the army and cooperation between fantastic people from all segments of society, and there were prayers. Countless beautiful people appeared who were willing to sacrifice large amounts of their time, to leave their homes and endanger themselves for other people’s children. Moreover, the beautiful and hurting face of our state was revealed.”
Although the searchers experienced a deep and stinging pain at finding the murdered boys, they also felt relief. “We felt a deep appreciation to all of the friends, led by Avital and Roi (two of the people who had initially gathered in Ori Shechter’s home), and also, with all of the great pain, gratitude to the Creator of the world that finally helped us to bring them home.”
When some of the volunteers went to each of the families to tell them the bitter news, each family said the same thing—they were happy that at least that there was closure. They now knew that their sons were not being tortured, and they would have a Jewish burial.
Ori connected this story to Parshat Shelach. Yehoshua and Calev were brave to challenge the ten spies. They went against the tide. Yehoshua and Calev went against the majority opinion, which was similar to the search for the three kidnapped boys. A small group of civilians decided to go against the majority opinion of how to go about searching for the boys, and they went ahead with what they felt was correct (with the help and backing of the army).
Numerous projects have come to fruition in memory of Naftali, Gil Ad and Eyal, h”yd. Almost immediately after the news broke, Nadia Matar and Yehudit Katzover of Women in Green, in conjunction with the local council, declared that an area near the Gush Etzion Junction, only minutes from the spot where the boys were kidnapped, would be developed in their memory.
When Nadia was asked in an interview what it would be called, she had to think fast. The location is near the ancient hill called Givat Oz. She replied that it would be called Oz Ve’Gaon. Gaon incorporates the first letter of each of the murdered boys’ names.
Since the government did not allow the site to become a new community, it became a nature reserve. Thousands of people, mostly youth, helped clear the site of stones, built pathways, constructed tables and benches, built camping sites, playgrounds, etc. There are many activities: lectures, Shabbat minyanim, minyanim on chagim, concerts, family activities, bar and bat mitzva parties, graduations, etc. There is one family who lives there and takes care of Oz Ve’Gaon and there is a constant army presence.
Oz Ve’Gaon has a special place in my heart. In memory of my mother, who loved nature, I raised funds to dedicate a picnic table there in her memory. A year after her demise, I organized a family gathering there.
But the cherry on the sundae for me is the Beit Midrash Chevruta in Oz Ve’Gaon which was established two years ago. For the past two years, women from Gush Etzion and its environs, Yerushalayim, Kiryat Arba and Chevron gather together on Tuesdays to learn Torah in a temporary structure (no permanent structures are allowed to be built) situated amidst pine trees and wild and cultivated flowers.
We have been blessed with some truly excellent teachers who taught subjects like The Relationship between Kings and Prophets and Building the Marital Relationship According to Torah. Each teacher taught us Torah with a backdrop of a banner with a scene from Oz Ve’Gaon and a sign with the names and pictures of the three beloved and sorely missed young men printed upon it.
Another major undertaking in memory of the three boys is a beautiful pedestrian walkway starting at Rosh Tzurim in the Etzion Bloc. It currently leads to Alon Shevut, but the plan is to extend it to Kfar Etzion. It will pass the spot where the three boys were abducted, and end at the community which houses Yeshivat Makor Chaim, where Naftali and Gil Ad learned.
May Hashem bless the families of Naftali, Gil Ad and Eyal, h”yd, and may the excruciating pain of the families and of friends be lessened with time and with the knowledge that diverse projects have been established in the boys’ memories which benefit so many.
Adina Hershberg is a freelance writer who made aliyah in 1981; she has been living in Gush Etzion for almost sixteen years.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.