Peres: We Will Bow Our Heads But Our Spirit Won't Break
The bodies of Eyal Yifrah, 19, from Elad; Gilad Sha'ar, 16, from Talmon; and Naftali Frenkel, also 16, from Nof Ayalon - who were murdered nearly three weeks ago by terrorists after being abducted on their way home from school - were laid to rest this afternoon in Modi'in cemetery.
The roads in the area are packed with buses and private vehicles bringing reportedly hundreds of thousands hoping to pay their respects, to the point that the entrance to the city was partially blocked, with heavy traffic on Highway 443.
Thousands upon thousands parked their cars on the side of the highway due to the blocked traffic, with people abandoning their cars and making their way by foot to the location of the funeral, a distance of well over half an hour in many cases.
The great number of participants sat waiting for the funeral to begin, singing songs appropriate to the somber mood including words from the Psalms and other Jewish texts, and the prayer for the redemption of captives which includes a call for national redemption.
The funeral ceremony began at roughly 6:40 p.m., with slightly over an hour delay apparently due to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's late arrival amid the complicated arrangements of coordinating the hundreds of thousands of participants.
The three bodies, wrapped in Israeli flags, were laid beside the podium.
At the start of the ceremony, the fathers of the three murdered teens recited kaddish (the prayer for the dead) together, facing the flag-draped bodies of their sons.
Then spoke Rabbi Dov Zinger, Dean of Yeshiva Makor Chaim in Kfar Etzion where Naftali and Gilad studied, and from where they were returning from when they were abducted and murdered.
"You were abducted at the start, the very start of your lives," said the rabbi, describing the boys and their personalities.
Addressing the families, the rabbi commented "you opened your hearts and your doors to us in recent days," noting how through bringing all of Israel together in sorrow - from across the religious and political spectrum - they succeeded in unifying the nation.
"Let us remember that saying 'two Jews, three opinions' - but one heart," remarked Rabbi Zinger.
Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi David Lau in his passionate speech described how "you see the nation with so much empathy...we saw what a strong nation there is here...no one could ever harm this nation...because it's one nation with one heart."
"Even if you cut off these three flowers you never will succeed, because there's a continuation. There's Gilad, Naftali and Eyal in all the people of Israel and the whole world," added Rabbi Lau. Addressing G-d, he added "No one can defeat this people, even in hard moments they stand before You in prayer. ...They don't give up on an eternal tradition."
"Rest in peace, our holy brothers, rest in peace on the the land...whose many children accompany you today with a promise that we are continuing," concluded the rabbi. "The sons continues in the land that is an inheritance of their fathers, which became an inheritance of the sons."
"A spontaneous day of national mourning"
A visibly emotional Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu then took to the podium.
"In the last 18 days the figures of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were carved on our hearts. ...This day spontaneously became a national day of mourning.
"The whole nation prayed for the return of the boys, and the whole nation saw the nobility of spirit, and inner strength of you, the parents," added the prime minister.
"The nation understood immediately the depth of the roots and the strength of spirit you possess," continued Netanyahu, turning to the parents. "We learned a lesson that will not be forgotten, of faith and firmness, of unity and sensitivity, of Judaism and humanity."
Netanyahu continued "a whole nation stood together and received a reminder: who are we? why are we here?"
Addressing the mothers Racheli, Bat-Galim and Iris, Netanyahu remarked "you gave the whole world a lesson about the cry of a mother," likely referencing their speech at the UN.
"These are despicable murderers of children, whose brothers rejoice over the spilled blood of the innocent. A deep moral abyss separates between us and our enemies. They sanctify death, we sanctify life. They sanctify cruelty, and we sanctify mercy. That's the secret to our strength, and also the basis for our unity," noted Netanyahu.
"Life has it's own strength, like a river that drags us forward, and gives us hope," concluded the Prime Minister. "An entire nation cries and embraces you...they will be a source of comfort."
President Shimon Peres also addressed the gathering to mourn "three outstanding boys from the nation of Israel... sons of the entire nation."
Peres said that he, "like everyone else", waited anxiously for 18 days in the hope that the boys would be found alive.
"We prayed, each of us alone and all of us together, for a miracle. We prayed that that we will seem them return in peace to the families, to their homes and to us all. Sadly we were hit by the tragedy of their murder and a deep grief enveloped our people."
But he said that despite the pain felt by the entire nation, the murderers' objectives would ultimately backfire.
"Terror is a boomerang," he declared. "It is aimed at us but it will harm those who send it."
The President also echoed sentiments shared by previous speakers, praising the strength of the grieving parents amid all the tragedy.
"A nation blessed with mothers like Rachel, Bat Galim and Iris - dear mothers, your voices united a nation and educated a generation.
"You, the mothers and fathers, raised children that Israel can be proud of. You inspired in them a love of their people. A love of Torah and a love of the land. You instilled in them devotion and a love of mankind."
"Naftali, Gilad, Eyal: Many of us saw only small snapshots of your personalities, of who you were," he added. "From those snapshots a beautiful picture developed of confident young boys, sure of their way, in service of their people."
"Youngsters with radiant faces, who stood tall. With a thirst for knowledge and a knowledge of prayers. Sure of their purpose and fulfilling the commandments. You showed the face of our people with a bright and painful light, our unity and its morality.
"Gilad, Naftali, Eyal. Wonderful boys, sons of the whole nation. Rest in peace. We will bow our heads but our spirit will not break."
Before the funeral ceremony began, MK Eli Yishai (Shas) spoke to Walla!, noting that the Jewish people must maintain the unity that was established in the public outcry over the abduction.
When asked what Israel intends to do in response, Yishai emphasized the need to capture the murderers, and to act against the terror infrastructure in Judea and Samaria so as to reduce their ability to harm Israel.
The MK concluded by praising the bereaved families, remarking on their strong faith in G-d "that we all need to learn from."
"Ask G-d to give us strength"
Earlier, the families conducted separate services and eulogies in their respective hometowns.
Eyal's tearful father Uri spoke in Elad, noting that his son "had a special love for all people."
Addressing his murdered son, Uri said "you mother said you'd whisper in G-d's ear, ask him to give us strength. It will be hard without you, we need strength, ask him to give us strength. You are holy, you were holy in your life; you gave strength to so many people, now give us strength here at home."
Uri noted the reports of the teens putting up a brave struggle against the armed terrorists roughly twice their age who abducted them, related that "they said that he fought them."
"Our tears are just because we're human, we have hearts of flesh and blood, we love people and we have love, we have love and it will win," said Uri. Addressing the terrorist murderers, the bereaved father added "you scoundrels, your day will come."
Meanwhile in Talmon, where over 1,000 were present, Gilad's sister Shirel recalled "the arguments when I tried to wake you up, but even when you got upset you did it respectfully."
"May you be the last on the list. Gilad I'll always remember you," concluded the young sister tearfully.
Gilad's father Ofir then spoke, movingly relating how "I sit in your room, I look at your bar mitzvah photo album, and refuse to digest it."
"How can your life be concentrated into a few words," remarked the bereaved father, adding "great strength was required from me and your mother, which we drew on from the nation of Israel."
Ofir spoke about how he used to hold his tallit (prayer shawl) over himself and Gilad during birkat hakohanim (the priestly blessing) in the prayer services, as is customary, at which point he choked up and was joined by his wife.
Gathering strength, Ofir went on to praise his son, as well as Eyal and Naftali, over how amid the tragedy they succeeded in unifying the nation, hailing him as "a hero of Israel while still in your youth."
"You will always be our son"
In Sha'alvim, the hometown of the Frenkel family located near Modi'in, Naftali's father Avraham spoke, praising his son and the other two terror victims for "paving the way for us to learn to be better people".
Remarking on Naftali's late grandfather Ya'akov, with whom Naftali shares his middle name, Avraham recalled how he told his grandson at his own bar mitzvah to be a good person and a good Jew. He honored his son for having lived up to his grandfather's words.
"Mom and me and the rest of the family, we don't forget not even for a moment, you're our child, and you always will be, rest in peace my dear son," concluded the bereaved father.
Naftali's mother Racheli then spoke up, condemning the terrorists who murdered her son as being out on a "hunting drive."
She praised her son and the other two teens as being "poster children" to show the heights of human nature in complete opposition to their depraved murderers.
"From the first day, we told ourselves that even if it ends badly, G-d has rewarded us," said Racheli, noting their strong and caring family, and wonderful community.
"Rest in peace my child. We'll learn to sing without you. Your voice will also be heard in our souls," she concluded.
Aviezri Frenkel, Naftali's grandfather, addressed the government in his eulogy, calling on it to take a strategic and not a tactical move in responding to terrorism with a strong hand.
"We need to let our neighbors and enemies know we are here to stay," declared Aviezri.
"G-d willing we'll sit and talk next week"
Back in Elad, Eyal's brother Asaf spoke, addressing his murdered brother.
"I remember you wanted to sit with me and Elhanan, all the family, to sit and talk and play guitar.
"G-d willing we'll do it next week, I believe you'll be with us," stated Asaf.
Assaf added "you're a tzadik (righteous person), you were born in (the Jewish month of) Tamuz and you were taken in Tamuz," referencing the Jewish tradition that the righteous pass away on the same month they were born in.
Earlier, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef spoke in Elad, noting that many question where all the prayers asking for the three to be rescued safely went to.
The rabbi noted how in the last 100 years Israel has seen a miraculous "in-gathering of the exiles" as the Jewish people returned to their land, remarking how the crying out and praying to God over thousands of years brought the prophetic promise to fruition.
Rabbi Yosef noted how the three murdered teens provided a model of unity among the Jewish people.
"How can we comfort the families?" asked the rabbi. "God will comfort you." Rabbi Yosef explained that according to Jewish tradition, there are seven rows in gan eden (Paradise), and the first row is for those murdered sanctifying G-d's name.
"We won't stop until we find the murderers"
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon also spoke in Elad, noting "three mothers and three fathers bury their sons today."
"The sorrow and grief that wraps around you since you got the bitter message has wrapped around the whole country," commented Ya'alon in his eulogy.
Ya'alon emphasized that the teens were murdered by Hamas terrorists in cold blood, noting how even now the widespread effort to crack down on the Hamas infrastructure in Judea and Samaria and arrive at the murderers continues, promising "we won't stop until we find the murderers."
Ya'alon promised Hamas "a heavy blow," remarking "their blood is on their own heads."
"Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were kidnapped and murdered by scoundrels, simply because they were Jews. They were abducted and murdered in cold blood by those who inscribed on their flag to harm Israeli citizens and work against the state of Israel in a daily war of attrition. They won't be able to," added Ya'alon.
Meanwhile in Sha'alvim, Education Minister Shai Piron (Yesh Atid) remarked that in the "moment of truth," in a time of trial, "true Israelism and Judaism are revealed."
"The many memorial candles that were lit yesterday and today are to light up the darkness and expel the hatred. We will continue in your mission to burn up the evil from the world and we will not be silenced until we punish your murderers and their partners," remarked Piron.