JERUSALEM (JTA) — More than 1 million people in Israel and around the world are participating in Unity Day events, marking one year since the kidnap and murder of three Israeli teenagers.
Events were scheduled to take place in Jewish communities in 24 countries on Wednesday in hundreds of schools, community centers and public venues. They include text-based study, social justice initiatives and community art projects.
The commemoration on the day after the yahrtzeit, or date of death on the Hebrew calendar, of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shear and Eyal Yifrach was developed by their parents under the auspices of the Memorial Foundation for the Three Boys, in conjunction with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and the Gesher organization.
“The kidnappings of our boys marks one of the more difficult moments in Israel’s modern history. But the reality is that out of this bitter tragedy came a spirit of unprecedented unity amongst the Jewish people,” the parents said in a joint statement. “Our commitment is to ensure that this sense of unity remains alive. This was the mission of Unity Day and we are so moved and encouraged by the global response.”
A conference of Israeli and Diaspora thought leaders was held in Jerusalem on Wednesday to discuss issues that emerged from the events of the summer of 2014. The conference was addressed by the former British chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks.
The first Jerusalem Unity Prize in memory of the teens was awarded Wednesday in a private ceremony at the president’s residence in Jerusalem by President Reuven Rivlin. A special committee of communal leaders from across Israel and the Diaspora was chosen to work with Barkat and the three families to identify worthy recipients.
The winners are the Chabad House of Bangkok, Thailand, in the Israel-Diaspora category; Nifgashim BeShvil Yisrael, an annual hike along the Israel Trail that aims to reinforce and deepen the sense of unity in Israeli society through engaging conversation among people who come from diverse sectors and backgrounds, in the Social Initiative category; and in the Individual category, retired Brig-Gen. Ram Shmueli, founder of Meetchabrim, a network of hundreds of social and educational organizations and groups in the business and public sectors, and singer-composer Rabbi David Menachem.
The teens were abducted from a West Bank bus stop on June 12, 2014, and their bodies were discovered 18 days later following a massive search in a shallow grave in a field near Hebron. They were killed shortly after being abducted.
Also beginning Wednesday, an electronic billboard advertisement in New York’s Times Square will memorialize the three teens with a 15-second advertisement four times an hour. The ad, which will run through Sunday, is sponsored by the Young Israel of the West Side, which last year sponsored an ad calling for the safe return of the teens.