By Samantha Rose Mandeles
As I sit curled at my desk writing these words, my eyes are full of tears. The little pools of saline grow, obscuring my vision. Finally, the dam breaks and water spills from beneath my lids, cascading down my cheeks to form tiny puddles on my keyboard.
There is a horribly familiar ache in my chest. It’s the same ache I felt when I heard the news of the brutal slaughter of a beautiful, young family in Itamar. It’s the same ache that plagued me the day I read about the cold-blooded murder of a little girl in France, who had been chased and grabbed by her hair before being shot in the head at point-blank range. It’s the ache that surfaces when I think about the IDF soldier, barely a few weeks into his service, who was stabbed to death while taking a nap on a bus.
This is the type of ache that lingers. The type that always throbs just beneath the skin and is so heavy, it threatens to crush me under its weight. The type that leaves an eternal bruise and sometimes makes it hard to breathe.
This is an ache we Jews know well. And it is one we experienced again on Monday, when the story broke: the bodies had been found.
I scan the news online, searching for more information. My Facebook feed is inundated with expressions of sorrow and prayers to God for justice. Jewish and Israeli newspapers are peppered with the now famous photos of the boys, all three of them smiling and lively.
When Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel first disappeared on June 12, I hoped against hope that they had simply gotten lost and would be home with their families soon. When the IDF all but confirmed that they had, indeed, been kidnapped by Islamic terrorists, I prayed daily that they would be rescued. Now, when the search has ended in grief and Israel cries for her sons’ murders, I cry too.
I have a little brother called Harry. He is loving, and funny, and generous, and he telephones me every few days just to say hello. Though he is now a grown man, with a long-term girlfriend and near-constant stubble, he, at nearly five years my junior, will always be my baby sibling.
When I think of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali, I think of my own sweet brother. These boys were no different than he is, except that they were, tragically, even younger. Had my Harry been at that bus stop with them, he would have been taken too.
I think of the life my brother has in front of him—bright, energetic, rich with love, and full of potential. Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali’s lives were the same. Their crime is Harry’s crime. They were Jews.
To their murderers, these young boys were not innocent children. They were not humans with gleaming futures and friends who loved them. They were simply Jewish bait, most likely meant to be used to extort the release of other terrorists and murderers from Israeli prison.
Eyal, Gil-ad, and Naftali. Their lives, and the lives of their families and friends, have forever been dented by evil. The Islamo-fascist forces that would commit this crime, the same forces that murdered the Fogels, Miriam Monsonego, and Eden Atias, are forces that would just as soon take the life of my precious little brother. They are forces that hate, in the deepest, most profound sense of the word, and they especially hate the Jews.
I have never been a mother. I cannot begin to fathom the loss and the darkness that one feels as a result of the murder of one’s own beloved son.
Yet, to the boys’ mothers, Racheli, Bat-Galim, and Iris, I have this to offer: On Pesach, a holiday that we Jews consider one of the year’s new beginnings, our people conscientiously remind one another to say that “we,” not “they,” were slaves in Egypt. Millenia after Moshe led the Israelites out of bondage, we Jews insist on remembering that persecution—year after year—as our own shared, living experience.
Despite the evil in the world, despite the forces that attempt to cleanse us from the planet, despite the hatred and violence directed at us simply because of who and what we are, we Jews do not forget. Ours is a culture based on remembrance, and on togetherness, and on kinship. Ours is a strength borne of suffering and survival. Monday night, Jews and Israelis all over the world demonstrated that strength. We rose together and mourned a loss we each felt profoundly- the loss of three of our own.
Dearest Racheli, Bat-Galim, and Iris: I, of course, never had the joy of meeting your sons. But their faces, like the face of my own sibling, are etched forever in my mind. I know that I cannot numb your pain, but at least I can say that we, your brothers and sisters- the Children of Israel- stand with you.
Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali. May their memories be for a blessing, and may the Almighty grant us strength.
Samantha Rose Mandeles is the senior campus coordinator for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). You can find her on Twitter at @ZionistLioness.