More than a thousand people -- some Jewish, some not -- gathered in a Beverly Hills synagogue Tuesday night with several purposes: to mourn, to remember and to come together for strength.
The memorial was held at the Beth Jacob Congregation in honor of three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped and killed while hitchhiking home from school last month. Their bodies were found in a West Bank field Monday, 18 days after the teens went missing, and they were buried the following day.
“As we grieve, we must remember: We are people of light, people of hope,” said Israeli Consul General David Siegel.
Behind Siegel, photographs of the victims -- 16-year-old Naftali Frenkel, 16-year-old Eyal Yifrah and 19-year-old Gil-Ad Shaer -- were both printed and projected on a screen. Three lighted candles, one for each victim, rested on a table.
Shaer’s aunt, Leehy Shaer, lives in Los Angeles and spoke at the memorial.
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” she began, acknowledging the shock and grief she and her family are experiencing.
“When I found out it was true, the horror of the terrorists shook my entire body,” she said. Israel has accused the Palestinian militant group Hamas of the killings and is seeking two of its activists who disappeared the same day as the three teens.
But Leehy Shaer also emphasized the strength of the Jewish people and their determination to fight against terrorism.
Terrorists “don’t realize life is our strength, and we will not be broken,” she said, the rest of her words drowned out by applause.
Each speaker emphasized how tragedy had brought people together, creating solidarity both among Jews and non-Jews.
This solidarity was the reason Walter Hulkower, 79, said he attended the memorial service. He has 12 grandchildren in Israel, one of whom lived on the same street and attended the same synagogue as Frenkel. His granddaughter called him in tears Monday, the day the boys’ bodies were found.
“All people have to stand together,” Hulkower said. “We’re all God’s children, no matter the faith.”
The memorial ended with both tradition and inspiration as those in attendance together sang “Hatikva,” a Jewish song of hope.
“I’m glad this place was crowded because it shows people care, and people need to care,” Hulkower said.