Had she remained silent, no one would have blamed her. Had she been bitter, angry or any other emotion, no one would have wondered. And yet, the response to tragedy of Racheli Fraenkel—mother of Naftali הי’’ד, one of the three teens killed by Hamas last summer—astounds anyone who encounters her. She uplifts those around her, inspires them and leaves them to wonder how they too can confront personal challenges to become better individuals.
And all of this she does through her words and the emuna peshuta—pure faith—that she exudes without even knowing she’s doing it.
Speaking to ICJA students, staff, parents and community members, Rabbanit Fraenkel opened with two videos bringing the audience back in time to the terrible tragedy of losing the three boys—Gilad, Naftali and Eyal—and reminding everyone of the unprecedented unity among the Jewish people at that time. How a mother can revisit those weeks in front of a large audience of strangers a mere 10 months later is a wonder, and yet Rachaeli Fraenkel was able to have what she called “a conversation” with both poise and emotion.
She opened saying, “I’d like to take the opportunity to thank you for being with us through the whole ordeal… I can’t imagine this experience without all the support and solidarity and love that we felt. In a world where thousands of people are murdered every day and no one even blinks, it’s a miracle that thousands of miles away no one could sleep because three teens didn’t return home.”
Then, for nearly an hour, students had the opportunity to ask questions with the understanding that “no question is too personal.”
On how she managed to carry on, Rabbanit Fraenkel says, “I never presumed to know what HaShem plans in the world. People sometimes stop me in the street to say, ‘Your son was a tzadik and because of you the Rosh HaShanah tunnel terror attack was prevented. ‘ That is one narrative. I don’t know if that is true. I would never presume בגלל זה קרה זה—that because of this that happened.”
“For most people, emuna is dynamic. Sometimes we feel really close, sometimes far. It’s a relationship. This is part of the relationship. I feel that HaShem doesn’t owe me anything. We’re in a time and age that we think with enough technology and medicine we will all live happily ever after. But Hashem never promised me a rose garden.”
On her connection to the other families of the victims, Rabbanit Fraenkel says they share a lot in common, with similar family sizes and ages of kids. “We also have similar goals in terms of commemoration—anything that can perpetuate that summer. It was a terrible summer, but it also was a glorious summer.”
On what it is like to meet with other families who have faced loss, Rabbanit Fraenkel says, “I’ve met with many families who have dealt with tragedy in so many ways. Personally, I don’t want to wear a mask. I cry when I cry, and I laugh when I laugh. I try to live the whole spectrum. I can feel pain; I don’t have to become my pain. In my inner landscapes there are so many emotions and colors. The worst thing I could do is to take a bucket of black paint and pour it all over it. My life is full of blessings, and there is a wound, there is a pain. In a way it’s a choice. “
On how we maintain the unity of last summer, Rabbanit Fraenkel says, “I remember asking myself in the summer, is this an illusion? Is this real? Is it going to last? It taught us something real about who we are.”
And while that achdut now is not the same as it was at the time of the search for the boys, Fraenkel says, “We are changed now.”
The three families are involved with the Jersualem Jewish Unity Prize, and in no time, there were 200 candidates doing amazing work. “There is so much good going on… It’s not the job of the politicians and media. It’s grassroots, it’s local, it’s real, it’s sincere.
You look at the Jews on the left and right of you, and say, ‘This is my brother.’”
Incredibly, Rabbanit Fraenkel was able to candidly answer questions, revisiting the pain as well as the joy that she somehow managed to find in that time as well. Speaking for all three mothers of the boys*, she says, “It is our profession now to take the sweet from the bitter. And there is so much sweet.”
She also continues to draw strength from the word of others. “Everyone gave us a piece of their heart.”
A lone soldier recently told them that when he was looking for the boys, it was as if he was looking for his own brother. Rabbanit Fraenkel responded, “You know what I learned? I learned that he really is your brother.”
A total stranger at the airport checking their passports started crying, saying, “I’m sorry, you lived in my home for the summer.”
We at ICJA are so grateful for the opportunity to witness firsthand the strength of Rachaeli Fraenkel. As Rabbi Matanky said in his introduction, “There aren’t too many voices in klal yisrael that have brought us together like Rachaeli Fraenkel.”
All three families of the boys murdered last summer managed to uplift the Jewish nation with their words and strength, yet because of her English language and her wisdom as a teacher, Rabbanit Fraenkel was the woman that we heard from the most.