Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaar will not be forgotten. In so many ways, the worldwide Jewish community has made it a point over the last six months to remember the names and the lives of these three Israeli teenagers kidnapped and murdered by terrorists in June.
The tributes have run the gamut—from the Jewish National Fund dedicating a forest of trees and creating gardens in memory of the boys to a family in Brooklyn, N.Y., naming their newborn son after them.
Also in Brooklyn, the Beis Yisroel Torah Gemach—a project of Merkos Suite 302 at Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters in New York—immediately got to work getting three Torahs named in honor of the teens and deployed on loan to different Chabad Houses.
“In Jewish tradition, dedicating a Sefer Torahin memory of the deceased is a most fitting tribute,” said Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, executive director of Merkos Suite 302.“The Torah is called ‘a Tree of Life,’ and through gathering communities and reading these Torahs dedicated in their names, the lives of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali will carry on, sharing holiness and unity amongst the Jewish people.”
A small Torah went to Chabad of the Big Island in Kailua Kona, Hawaii, co-directed by Rabbi Avremal and Rivka Chazanow. Two larger Torahs have been sent to Chabad of Olney in Maryland, co-directed by Rabbi Bentzy and Devorah Stolik; and to Chabad-Lubavitch of Solano County in Vacaville, Calif., co-directed by Rabbi Chaim and Aidel Zaklos. The black-velvet covers edged in gold fringe include the names of all three boys (and their fathers’ first names), as they would have been called to the Torah: Eyal ben Uri, Naftali ben Avraham and Gilad ben Ofir.
Rabbi Zaklos says his Torah arrived shortly before Rosh Hashanah, and that “it was very, very meaningful” when he presented it to the community. He says he saw tears in some people’s eyes when they heard that it honored the three Israeli teens.
A congregant also told him: “I feel like this is the children’s lives coming alive through this Torah and in this community.”
The Chabad House—about a half-hour from Sacramento in northern California—serves a few hundred Jews, according to the rabbi, who had been using a borrowed Torah for services. When a regular attendee researched the possibilities of getting a Torah on loan and discovered the Torah Gemach online, he says “at first, I couldn’t believe it. It was too good to be true.”
“We are a young Chabad House,” he explains, “and we weren’t in the position to purchase a Torah. Plus, we were in the midst of a campaign to buy a building,” which, in fact, they did just last week. This past Shabbat was the first time the Torah was used in the new building.
Plans are underway for the writing of Chabad of Solano’s own permanent Sefer Torah.
‘Special and Meaningful’
Another Torah—in honor of the 66 Israel Defense Forces soldiers who lost their lives in Israel’s summer war with Hamas in Gaza—was commissioned and sent to Chabad Lubavitch of Missoula, Mont., co-directed by Rabbi Berry and Shayna Nash. They serve students at the University of Montana and the local Jewish community.
The rabbi’s father, Leibish Nash, traveled from New York to Montana with the Torah in tow, literally, in a backpack. It came in time for the brit milah of the Nashes’ baby son, Mendel, on Aug. 21 (they also have a 2-year-old daughter, Riva), which was the first minyan they had since establishing the Chabad center in May.
The war ended five days later, with a cease-fire on Aug. 26.
“To us, the Torah is very special and meaningful,” says Rabbi Berry Nash. “It makes us feel like we aren’t missing out on the special brachos [blessings] that we can elicit from on high. Someone from here was so excited he even prepared Maftir [the Haftorah portion] to read one week.
“We try to arrange a minyan once monthly,” he notes. “We don’t get one every time, but it’s coming along. We’ll get there soon.”
The donor of the above four Torahs, who would like to remain anonymous, is from New York’s Upper West Side.
According to Bentzion Chanowitz, who runs the Torah Gemach, four more Torahs are getting ready to be sent to Chabad centers that need them. These are in honor of the rabbis murdered in mid-November by Palestinian terrorists in a synagogue in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Nof: Rabbi Moshe Twersky, 59; Rabbi Kalman Levine, 55; Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, 68; and Rabbi Aryeh Kupinsky, 43.
“The lives lost in Israel in the second half of 2014 were beyond tragic,” says Chanowitz, “but their names have been connected to Torahs now being used and read by Jews in different parts of the world on a regular basis. We thank the donors and honor the families.”