Two weeks after Israeli teenagers Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, were kidnapped from the West Bank on their way home from school, local demonstrations of solidarity continue apace as “Bring Back Our Boys” efforts resonate throughout the community.
On Tuesday, a rally for the kidnapped teens in front of the Israeli consulate attracted more than 1,000 participants from over 100 organizations. On Second Avenue, the block between 42nd and 43rd street was packed with supporters, Israeli flags and posters bearing the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys. The rally, organized by Strength to Strength and StandWithUs, an international, nonprofit Israel education organization with chapters across North America, featured several speakers including Israeli victim of terror Sarri Singer, Manny Halberstam, an American cousin of Frenkel’s and Israeli Consul General, Ido Aharoni.
Halberstam, 25, warned the cheering crowd “not to let time weaken our faith that the boys will come home, or weaken our fervor in supporting their families.
“The more time that passes, the more the incident fades from our consciousness,” he said. “But it is specifically at this moment, at the two-week point, that it’s most important to keep showing support, because this is the point when the families might start losing hope.”
The rally came on the heels of another gathering Sunday that took place across from the Israeli consulate. The New York region of the Orthodox Union’s NCSY, along with several other Jewish youth organizations, organized the rally, which drew 350 teens out of the 500 people who turned out. Publicity for the event was spread mainly via social media: teens tweeting at one another to come and spread the word.
New York Sen. Charles Schumer addressed the crowd, as did Lade Adeyemi, an adviser to the president of Nigeria. He expressed his strong identification with Israel’s missing boys in light of the kidnapped girls still missing from his native Nigeria. Yet another rally in Staten Island is scheduled for Sunday, June 29.
“For teens, this hit very close to home,” said Jon Ackerman, associate regional director of New York NCSY. “From a lot of my teens I kept hearing ‘That could have been me.’ It’s that closeness that continues driving teens to get involved.”
Tuesday’s rally also attracted a large number of young adults. Ramah Day Camp in Nyack bussed in all of its more than 300 staff members (the campers had not yet arrived). The counselors, the first to arrive at the rally, carried flags, posters and ribbons.
“Coming to a rally like this, I feel a part of something bigger,” said Miles Greenspoon, 19-year-old counselor from Ramah. “As young people, we have to show we care. The three teens we’re representing are our age or younger,” he said.
Yonah Wolf, from White Plains, brought his sons, Mitch, 12, Mikey, 10, and Jake, 6, to the rally.
“Bringing my children here today is part of their education,” Wolf said. “I’m showing them the importance of standing up for Jews around the world. When I was young, my father brought me to rallies for Soviet Jewry, and that’s how I learned to care.” Wolf spoke about the prayer groups that continue to take place in his community synagogue. “It’s one thing to pray, but an event like this take awareness to the next level. For my kids, it makes the situation much more tangible.”
Organizers were happy with the turnout.
“The diversity in the crowd demonstrated that this is not just an ‘Israel’ issue — this is global, humanitarian issue, said StandWithUs regional coordinator, Avi Posnick. “When kids are kidnapped on their way home from school, the world needs to respond.”
Joshua Lookstein, principal of Westchester Day School, who accompanied a group of 75 parents and students from his school, used the event as a teaching moment.
“When Gilad Shalit [the kidnapped Israeli soldier] was returned home, the world saw that rallies like this really work,” Lookstein said. The principal said he is “not going to let this go until the teens are safely home. My students will continue hearing about this and praying for their safe return, just like we did for Shalit.”