From left: Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Sha’er and Naftali Frenkel (MFA)

The kidnapping and murder of three teenagers by Arab terrorists in 2014 brought an outpouring of unity around the world that continues today.

On the fifth anniversary of the murder of “the three boys,” their memories are commemorated through activities that unite people all over the world.

In June 2014, Naftali Fraenkel (16), Gilad Shaer (16) and Eyal Yifrach (19) were hitchhiking home for Shabbat in Gush Etzion, outside of Jerusalem. They entered a car and quickly realized that they had been kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists.

For 18 days, the world united with the Nation of Israel and prayed that the boys would be found alive. On June 30, their bodies were found in a shallow grave near an Arab area northwest of Hebron.

Reflecting back to the time when the news broke that three boys had been kidnapped, Michael Gerbitz, CEO of United With Israel, said, “United With Israel staff went to visit the Fraenkel family when the fate of the boys was still uncertain. We offered to help in any way that we could.

“We were overwhelmed by the strength Racheli Fraenkel displayed throughout this difficult time.” Gerbitz continued. “Everyone was hoping and praying for the best.”

Gerbitz pointed out that, after the horrific news of the boys murders, United With Israel staff attended the funerals and paid a shiva call to the Fraenkel family. He said that Fraenkel, as well as the other two mothers, became a symbol for the entire world of how faith can keep one strong even during the most difficult of times.

That strength, and the enormous display of unity at the time, led to the creation of “Global Jewish Unity Day,” where millions of people all over the world take steps towards bringing a greater connection among people.

Additionally, the Jerusalem Unity Prize was inaugurated in September 2014 by the families of the three boys, along with then-mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat and Gesher, an organization building respect and communication among various factions in Israel.

The annual award is given to organizations and individuals, both in Israel and the Jewish world at large, who actively advance unity as a way to “nurture the flames of unity that so engulfed the Jewish people during that time, and keep them burning,” as per the award’s website. “The Jerusalem Unity Prize and Unity Day honor that sense of togetherness and hope that was so tangible during those 18 days from when the boys were kidnapped and until their bodies were found.”

Fraenkel plants trees at memorial event (Gershon Ellinson)

Racheli Fraenkel plants trees at memorial event (Gershon Ellinson)

Marking the fifth anniversary of the murders, Oz VeGaon, founded by Women in Green (WIG), an organization that seeks sovereignty over the Land of Israel, held an event on Friday that included speeches by the boys’ mothers, Gush Etzion Mayor Shlomo Ne’eman and WIG leaders Yehudit Katzover and Nadia Matar.

Recognizing the importance of the location of Oz VeGaon, a press release by WIG reported that Ne’eman said, “Five years ago we stood here during the time we were searching [for the boys], which instilled in us the feeling of what sacrifice and closeness arouse within the Jewish people. Sacrifice gives rise to feelings that until a moment ago weren’t there. It’s not the tragedy but the sense of shared responsibility – that all of the Jewish people are responsible for each other. This responsibility transforms us into who we are.”

Eighteen trees were planted at the commemoration, representing the 18 days when heartfelt prayers worldwide were said during the search for the boys. Eighteen, in Hebrew, also stands for life.

In a moving description of the tree planting, which expressed hope for the future of the Land of Israel, Fraenkel said, “When we saw the movement of the hoe in the ground and how each one left the hoe to the next one in line, it’s easy to think what comes to mind … from the movement of the hoe, covering the grave at the cemetery, we come to this place to plant and build.”

Memorial stones (Gershon Ellinson)

Memorial stones (Gershon Ellinson)

Three large memorial stones were also erected in memory of the boys. A fourth was added in memory of Ezra Schwartz, a student from Boston who was murdered in 2015, near the reserve, in a terrorist attack while on his way to Oz VeGaon.

Former Knesset member Shuli Mualem-Refaeli said at the event, “I listen and learn and try to implement both of them – true unity and cooperation and connection to the land, the people and the Torah, and on the other hand, to act to advance Israel’s sovereignty over the land, which is the task of this generation.”