As Israeli security forces conduct searches for three Israeli teens Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says were kidnapped by Hamas, the Baltimore Jewish community is standing in solidarity with the Jewish state.
“Everybody is concerned,” said Beth Tfiloh Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg. “If you’re Jewish, you feel connected. These are our boys.”
Three Israeli Yeshiva students — Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16 — were kidnapped June 12 from Gush Etzion in the West Bank.
Netanyahu said that he holds the Palestinian Authority, which recently formed a government with Hamas, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas responsible for attacks against Israel from Palestinian-controlled territory and that the danger of the Hamas-Fatah unity pact should now be clear to all. The United States and Israel, as well as other countries, consider Hamas a terrorist organization.
“We have seen Hamas strengthen its presence there, and this increases the likelihood that Hamas will take control of the Palestinian Authority, precisely as it did in Gaza,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “This will not advance peace; it will advance terror.”
As the Israel Defense Forces and Israel Police continue a widespread hunt for the teens, worldwide Jewry is showing its support through prayer and social media, with the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys going viral. The hashtag, modeled after #BringBack OurGirls, which went viral after 230 Nigerian girls were kidnapped by the Islamist Boko Haram group in April, has received as many as 4,600 tweets per hour, according to social media analytics site hashtags.org. A Facebook page with the same name had more than 93,000 likes as of Tuesday, and a companion Instagram account had more than 1,800 followers.
Israeli Economic Minister Naftali Bennett, who was scheduled to speak at Beth Tfiloh Tuesday night, was forced by the recent events to cancel his appearance. In lieu of that program, the congregation is holding a group recitation of Psalms in merit of the kidnapped teens.
“Prayer, signing petitions, does it serve any purpose?” asked Wohlberg. “If nothing else, it makes you feel like you’re doing something about it.”
The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and Jewish Federation of Howard County released statements sending thoughts and prayers to the families of the missing teens and denouncing the kidnappings.
“At a time when Hamas has become part of the Palestinian Authority, the kidnapping is a tragic paradox,” the statement from The Associated read. “Seizing Israeli teenagers is neither a path to legitimacy nor peace.”
Michael Hoffman, chief planning and strategy officer at The Associated, said that the best thing the community can do is express its solidarity with the family and the entire State of Israel. The online posts do help, he said, noting that several people from Baltimore’s sister city of Ashkelon who are in town this week said they feel the support from social media posts.
“To see the number of posts on the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership Facebook page or to see the hashtag ‘Bring BackOurBoys,’ to see thousands of posts means something, that the people of Israel are not alone in these tragic times,” said Hoffman.
Chana Siff, associate director of Israel and government relations at the Baltimore Jewish Council, said the council and The Associated are in constant contact with the Israeli Embassy and are providing the embassy with what they need. Siff, who oversees the Baltimore Israel Coalition, said the embassy asked for certain information to be distributed and promoted on social media, including use of the hashtag.
The JCC of Greater Baltimore posted to social media a photo of employees holding letters that spelled out “Bring Back Our Boys” in front of the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC on Monday.
The online support has spread worldwide with Bring Back Our Boys billboards and bus ads in Israel, social media support from Paris, Barcelona and the United Kingdom and a song, “Bring Back Our Boys,” by popular
Israeli singers Naftali Kalfa and Gad Elbaz.
“It does make a difference,” said Hoffman.
This story is developing. For updates, visit jewishtimes.com.