I don’t think there’s been a similar experience to the one we just endured as a people. In recent memory, we’ve been through bombings, shootings, rocket fire, wars, and a kidnapping of a soldier. Other than Gilad Shalit, we’ve been shocked by the death and destruction imposed on our brothers and sisters, but those moments are fleeting. The bomb explodes, people are killed or injured, and then we recover. Shalit was missing for a long time, but as a soldier, we always knew that he was subject to the consequences of war.
The kidnapping of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali and the ensuing search was the first time that the anxiety and pain for a victim of terror became more intense as time wore on. We are not accustomed to this kind of emotional torture. Unfortunately, we have become accustomed to the kind of pain we feel after an attack, the kind that dissipates. This was a new kind of torment, the kind that balloons.
I think this is part of why it resonated with people in such a deep way. Because it resonated so intensely, people did so much to express solidarity and include Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali in thoughts, prayers, and action.
Some, like our community at The Shul on the Beach, set aside three empty chairs for the three missing boys. It was comforting to us and it was a constant reminder of their plight. Others, like our family, lit extra candles for Shabbat to add some light to the darkness of our hearts. Others set aside seats at their Shabbat tables and others added psalms or other prayers to their daily routine. These new rituals helped a lot of us. They were important and they meant so much to so many of us.
The search is over. The funerals are over. The mourning is underway.
What do we do now? What do we do about those extra chairs? What do we do about those extra candles? What do we do about all the other things we wanted to do to #bringbackourboys? If we just abandon them, it might feel a bit like a betrayal. If we continue them, it will probably feel sacrilegious. And what of the enthusiasm and empathy expressed by our youth and teens? We should seek opportunities to engage them further, not ask them to stop what they were doing. For all of us, the moments in time that we dedicated to #bringbackourboys is embedded in our souls. We cannot just abandon that spark. But what then?
I’ve been grappling with this all week. I know that I am not the only one. What do we do about the three empty seats? What do we do about our Shabbat candles?
I think that unceremoniously ending the reminders and symbols we’ve created would be an injustice to ourselves. The things we did the last couple of weeks have become part of our individual and collective psyche. We can’t simply discard everything. So I propose that we continue what we did the last couple weeks but we do it in a different way to show that things have changed. The small change will be instituted with a very specific intent. This way, we don’t end the ritual suddenly, rather we continue the basic ritual, but we change it to show that things are different. When we were doing a ritual for people we believed to be a live, it could last forever. But things that we do for those who are no longer living have a finite lifespan, and so we do it for just this week. So that we might bring closure to ourselves while keeping that emotional flame flickering for another week.
In our shul, we will set aside the same three seats for Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali. But this time we will place a yartzeit candle on their chair. In my home we will not light three Shabbat candles. Instead we will light three yartzeit candles in their memory. If you set a seat at your Shabbat table the last two weeks, do it again. But this time put a yartzeit candle at their place setting. If you were saying tehillim or adding other extra prayers, continue to say them this week, but this week you say them “l’zecher nishmat.”
In this way, we allow the things we did for their merit to have a natural ending. The candle burns slowly. When the flame is extinguished, we move on. This way, we avoid a crash landing in a pile of smoke. Instead, we gain closure because we transition from praying for them in life to praying for their souls in death. The following week we won’t do anything out of the ordinary. But we will remember them dearly and we will mark their yartzeit next year. Hopefully, we will have grown and learned from this arduous journey and the memories of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali will live on in our hearts and minds.
We will never be able to #bringbackourboys, but I am fairly certain that “our boys” were able to “bring” some us “back” to greater care and pride in our mitzvah observance and prayer. Let’s try to keep that going too. Let’s strive to be diligent in our Avodat Hashem in memory of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali. Kindle a flame in yourself that will burn for a very long time.