By Harriet P. Gross
Members of Congregation Beth Torah in Richardson have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of their new rabbi, Elana Zelony, who is scheduled to lead her first Shabbat service July 12. They did not expect her first “appearance” to be almost two weeks earlier, on paper rather than in person.
“Rabbi Z,” as Beth Torah’s members have already decided to call her, sent them a message to be read from the bima on the evening of July 1, when they assembled to honor the memories of Israel’s three lost boys. Her participation from afar was unexpected, and especially poignant coming from a young spiritual leader who is mother to young children herself.
When Alan Hoffman, Beth Torah’s president, alerted her to congregational plans for this memorial Maariv service, she immediately responded with these thoughts, which she asked him to share for her. She began with a question, and a quote:
“Who were Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Fraenkel? The following words were written by Liat Collins, a Jerusalem Post reporter, shortly before we learned of their deaths: ‘They are not “settlers” — some sort of subhuman species in international parlance; neither are they soldiers. They are three adolescents who look like many of my friends’ kids. Gilad is a counselor in a youth movement and apparently enjoys baking; Naftali likes basketball and playing guitar, while Eyal, another youth counselor, is a keen tennis player and amateur musician…’
Then Rabbi Z continued with these words of her own: “I want to live in a world where boys bake, play basketball, and sing with friends on YouTube. I want to live in a world where parents send their children to school, and they come home safely. I want to live in a world where people don’t kill each other — especially children.
“Rabbono shel Olam, may it be Your will that this memorial tonight, and the hundreds like it around the world, offer comfort to those who knew and loved Gilad, Eyal and Naftali best and mourn them the most. Let our gathering be a symbol of the unity that Jews feel with one another, and a sign of our support for the State of Israel. Most importantly, may it be Your will that all Your creation comes to know the blessing of peace and security.”
For all of us, this has been a time even beyond prayer, of contemplating what those three snuffed-out lives might have been, of looking at our own children through a clearer lens, forgiving them their annoying little “sins” and hugging them closer — as I’m sure Rabbi Z and her husband Adiv must have done with Nesya and Magen.
Dallas’s Tiferet Israel already has its own “Rabbi Z,” and the beloved Shawn Zell delivered his message in person to his congregation on that same evening. According to Dallas Morning News coverage of this memorial, he concentrated on Jewish response to the situation, reminding his flock that revenge is not the way of our religion.
Instead, he told Tiferet’s members that “After a horrific act such as this, the response is what do we do, what do we say, how do we react…We can’t go visit the families of the three murdered teenagers, but we can be here together in solidarity…” And he urged the planting of trees in Israel as living memorials for those boys.
On the evening of July 1, I wished I could be in two places at one time. But Maariv comes at sundown, and the sun goes down at the same time in Richardson and Dallas both. So reality made me hear one Rabbi Z’s words read by someone else, and read another Rabbi Z’s words by myself, in a newspaper. I can only hope that our whole Jewish community will take the words of these rabbis, mother and this grandfather, to heart: Together, pray for peace, and plant living trees to remember our precious dead.