Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

Prayer and Unity: The Quintessentially Jewish Response to a Kidnapping

For most Israelis, personally redeeming the three abducted teens is a distant dream. Instead, they support the boys and their families with an unofficial formula of prayer and unity.

By: Deborah Fineblum

Published: June 27th, 2014 in News » Israel

With their pictures posted on countless Facebook pages, and widely published in newspapers and on websites, the faces of the three missing Israeli teens have been etched deep into the global Jewish consciousness and individual Jewish hearts. But is there something quintessentially Jewish about the response to the crime of kidnapping?

Especially in Israel, where parents now watch their teens with equal parts gratitude and concern, the kidnapping is highly personal. Life-size pictures hang from storefronts, the boys’ features fly by on the sides of buses, and an increasing percentage of the passengers inside those buses have their Tehillim (Psalms) books out. They are reading certain psalms such as No. 121, which centuries of Jews have turned to as an appeal for divine intervention in times of crisis. Indeed, it appears that the Israeli public’s focus on prayer might be at an all-time high.

In Jewish tradition, the crime of kidnapping is considered a violation of the eighth commandment, “Thou shalt not steal” (Ex. 20:13). But when what has been stolen is one’s son, the threat is of course personal than when one’s ox disappears. Untold thousands of Jews have been captured throughout Jewish history and often held for ransom, their captors well aware that Jewish communities will go to extraordinary lengths to redeem captives.

“Redeeming the captive is among our most treasured 613 mitzvot,” says Rabbi Michael Beals of Congregation Beth Shalom in Wilmington, Del., who was in Israel co-leading a community tour amid the kidnapping crisis. Whether it’s Abraham redeeming his nephew, Lot, or Lord Rothschild redeeming the Jews of Syria in the 1800s, “Jews have gathered their resources to free other Jews,” Beals says.

But for most Israelis, personally redeeming the three boys is a distant dream. Instead, they support the boys and their families with an unofficial formula of prayer and unity.

Prayer

When Jews need to engage in very serious prayer, the Kotel (Western Wall) is often their destination. That is exactly where 17-year-old Hodaya Wienberg of Jerusalem went on one recent evening. Her brother is a soldier stationed in the West Bank. “I’m here so he will come back fast and safety,” she says.

Does Wienberg have a hunch that God is listening? “Of course he’s listening,” she says with a grin. “But maybe he’s looking for a better time to answer.”

On June 26, some 200 men, women, and children gathered in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Baka to hear musicians including Yehuda Katz and Shira Golan sing psalms designed to petition for the safe return of the boys. “I don’t know how powerful my prayer is alone,” Katz says as he tunes his guitar in preparation for going onstage. “But when we send up our prayers together, we are banging on the gates of Heaven and insisting that He opens up and lets our prayers in.”

“People are praying now who haven’t prayed in years,” says Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth of Ohel Ari Congregation in the Israeli city of Ra’anana. “And, as we plead for the boys’ safe return, others who already pray are finding their prayers are coming alive in new ways.”

For Rachel Klein of Jerusalem, carrying a picture of the boys in her bag and keeping another on her refrigerator keep them at the front of her mind. “That way I can never forget that they need our prayers,” she says.

“When you are a Jew, prayer is an obligation to cry out to God in times of need,” says Sarah Yehudit Schneider, author of the 2009 book “You Are What You Hate.”

Prayer, explains Schneider, “fills in the hole which creates a conscious channel of partnership with Hashem, and this pulls down blessing from above.” Especially in times of crisis, people “are stretched and grow as a result of our prayer,” she adds.

“And when we begin to lapse into cynicism or despair, prayer can pull us right out of it… it stretches us so we can receive blessing. This is the purpose of every mitzvah, including the mitzvah of prayer,” says Schneider.

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