TORONTO — Days after the heartbreaking news that the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped by Hamas in June were found dead, more than 1,000 people gathered at the Toronto’s Shaarei Shomayim Congregation to pay their respects and memorialize the boys.
For nearly three weeks, the kidnapping of Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrach gripped Jewish communities around the world, who collectively hoped and prayed for their welfare, Howard English, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ senior vice-president for the Greater Toronto Area told The CJN as hundreds of people filed into the sanctuary.
“We prayed for their safe return, and it didn’t turn out that way, so it’s really only fitting as a tribute to the boys that we memorialize them and honour their memory,” English said.
“In life, these boys unified the community and in death they unified the community, possibly even more.”
Discussing why this tragedy seems to have resonated more deeply with the Jewish community than others have in the past, English suggested “that they were model kids. They were close to their families, they were close to Jewish values… They could have been anybody’s kids… they were the epitome of hope for the future,” he said.
During the memorial service, co-sponsored by CIJA and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, CIJA’s GTA co-chair Berl Nadler said the event was an opportunity for the Toronto Jewish community to express grief and come together to hope and pray for a better tomorrow.
Nadler was also adamant in his condemnation of the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the Palestinian teen who was kidnapped and burned to death by three Israelis in retaliation for the murder of Shaar, Frenkel and Yifrach.
“There can be no justification of such acts of inhumanity. These crimes violate all norms of morality and law, and if and when they are committed by Jews, they violate the most fundamental principles of Jewish law and values and must be condemned,” Nadler said.
Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver also addressed the gathering and offered his support to the Jewish and pro-Israel community.
“The government of Canada and Canadians are one with Israel as its people mourn. We hope the murderers are brought to justice… We pray for peace, even as we support Israel’s defence of its land, its citizens and its very existence as a free, democratic Jewish state,” Oliver said.
“There is no right time for moral equivalency, for double standards, for going along to get along, but especially not now. This is a moment that cries out for clarity rather than ambivalence… Canada will stand with Israel through fire and water,” he added, eliciting a standing ovation from the capacity crowd.
Irit Stopper, Israel’s deputy consul general for Ontario and Western Canada, said she was proud to be serving in Canada, “in a country with a leadership that takes a principled stand in support of the state of Israel,” and urged the Jewish community to continue to focus on what unites it rather that what divides it.
Nadler said that when news broke about the three boys’ kidnapping, the entire Jewish world mobilized as one.
“When their bodies were found, our deepest collective hopes turned to deep collective mourning. In the wake of this tragedy, I think all of us sensed an emergence of a welcomed sense of unity, a sense of common concern and purpose among Jews worldwide,” he said.
“As people, for once, we disregarded our differences and focused on the common factors that united us. We hoped and prayed as one that these three yeshiva boys would be saved and now we mourn as one for their loss.”
Representing three denominations of Toronto’s Jewish community, the memorial included speeches by Holy Blossom Temple’s Rabbi Yael Splansky, Beth Tzedec Congregation’s Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, and Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto Congregation’s Rabbi Daniel Korobkin.
Rabbi Frydman-Kohl said that while Jewish communities gather in sadness to memorialize the slain teens, “we must not allow ourselves to be swallowed by a culture of death and destruction.
“We must remind ourselves and the rest of the world that these murders were not the first. We have been witness to hijackings and hostage-takings, drive-by shootings, the slaughter of children in their beds. We have seen the bombings of buses, nightclubs, hotels, restaurants, kindergartens and senior centres, as well as the blood-stained hands celebrating the lynching of Jews. We have every right to anger and rage, but we must not succumb to those feelings.”