White Plains mourns slain Israeli students.
The three yahrtzeit candles — one for each of the murdered Israeli teens — stood mute, silhouetted against the serene backdrop of trees visible through the picture windows of Bet Am Shalom Synagogue’s sanctuary, as a poignant reminder of why nearly every one of the 500 seats was occupied.
What had originally been intended as a gathering of communal support and hope for Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel and their families on July 8, through the Israel Action Committee of the Five Synagogues of White Plains, became a memorial service July 1, organized swiftly by the synagogues’ clergy.
As community members filtered in, several wore dark glasses and hugged one another, pain and distress clearly visible on their faces.
“We tried to pull together a service of comfort, and what I hope, is a powerful service,” said Rabbi Lester B. Bronstein, of Bet Am Shalom. “We welcome you all here to one of our synagogue’s faces; we share them all. We will again, God willing, be together for simchas [celebrations]. We come together in the face of evil. We mourn, we cry, we hold each other’s hands in the face of evil to find a place of comfort. We’re all together in support of Israel.”
The service included Psalm 23, Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah, El Maleh Rahamim ( chanted by Cantor Jacob Ben-Zion Mendelson of Temple Israel Center of White Plains with sobs in his voice), Oseh Shalom, and Kaddish, interspersed with minor key niggunim (wordless songs) chanted by Cantor Benjie-Ellen Schiller of Bet Am Shalom, along with readings and reflections from the participating rabbis and cantors.
Acknowledging the somber mood, Rabbi Shmuel Greenberg of Young Israel of White Plains said, “All of us are grieving here today. The grief is so overwhelming. One idea that gives us a bit of comfort is that we are really one. If one Jew hurts, we are so one that we will feel it.”
Speaker after speaker returned to that theme of unity and connection.
“Even in their death, they brought out something powerful,” said Rabbi Chaim Marder of the Hebrew Institute of White Plains. “Something changed in the Jewish people. There’s a sense of connectedness, a sense of oneness to the land of Israel.”
As Rabbi Gordon Tucker of Temple Israel Center said, “They merit a special measure of love from God, and from us. We owe them our familial love. We owe Israel the loving commitment of unflagging involvement.”
Those who had come to the service had sought a connection with one another, as well as with the larger community, as they confronted an unfathomable tragedy.
“It’s a horror, these three young men whose lives were snuffed out like that,” said Ruth Handel. “I need to find hope. I was feeling very hopeless. I can’t go on feeling hopeless.”
“I find strength in the community,” she added. “I can think of God more.”
And that was very much the point, said John Lightstone, co-chair of the Israel Action Committee of the Five Synagogues of White Plains. “We want to bring our community in White Plains together,” he said. “Jews belong to the community as much as to their individual synagogues.”
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