As Israeli forces continued the search for three kidnapped Israeli teenagers taken on June 12 from a West Bank bus stop where they were hitchhiking, hundreds of Los Angeles Jews gathered Thursday evening at Pan Pacific Park for an emotional candlelight vigil and prayer service.
With the sun setting below the horizon and local residents playing Frisbee and basketball in the background, more than 500 people, both secular and religious, filled the outdoor amphitheater and spread up onto the hill behind the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, coming together to show concern for the safety of the teenagers, whom Israel says were captured by Hamas.
Dozens of children and adults held signs reading “Bring Back Our Boys,” with photos of the three teens — Gilad Shaar, 16, Naftali Frenkel, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19 — who were abducted as they tried to return home from their Alon Shvut high school for Shabbat.
Former mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa speaks at the candlelight vigil on June 20.
Local Jewish and Christian clergy joined political leaders — including former mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa — together called for condemnation of the kidnappings and the swift return of the three teens. Lihi Shaar, the aunt of Gilad, held back tears as she spoke, asking God to protect her nephew and his two friends in captivity.
“I desperately miss your smile on Skype and on Facebook,” said Shaar, who moved to Los Angeles three months ago. “The world needs you and the world needs your smile.”
After the vigil, Shaar approached a poster of her nephew and, for one minute, simply rested her head on it.
Lihi Shaar rests her head on a poster of her nephew, Gilad. Photo by Marvin Steindler.
The event, which was organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, was deeply moving at times, with the crowd breaking into chants of, “Bring back our boys” and a public reading from the Book of Psalms.
Israeli Consul General David Siegel. Photo by Marvin Steindler.
Rabbi Kalman Topp, senior rabbi at Beth Jacob Congregation, asked parents to imagine the anticipation they feel whenever they wait for their children to return home from school.
“Their parents are still waiting,” Topp said. “We are all here waiting.”
David Siegel, Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles, forcefully denounced the three-fingered celebratory gesture — referring to the three Israeli boys — now used by some Palestinians in the West Bank in Gaza.
“The sickening images of celebration and taunting in the Palestinian and Arab press and in the streets of Gaza and the West Bank should be condemned loudly and clearly,” Siegel said. “Where are the international champions of human rights who are always so eager to denounce Israel?”
Masked Palestinians supporting Hamas gesture "three" as a reference to Israeli teenagers who went missing. Photo by Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters