Israel marked the first anniversary of the murder by Palestinian Arab terrorists of three Israeli teenagers Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Sha'ar, and Naftali Frankel on Wednesday, also named as Israel's first Unity Day.
As part of the commemoration, President Reuven and First Lady Nechama Rivlin presented the first Jerusalem Unity Prize award ceremony, a joint initiative by the families of the three Israeli boys kidnapped and murdered last year in partnership with the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, and the Gesher organization.
The purpose of the award is to celebrate organizations and individuals who contribute to the unity of the people of Israel and the Diaspora.
Also speaking at the ceremony, which included moving musical performances, was Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat, and Racheli Frankel, mother of Naftali.
The winners of the prizes were: (Best Initiative) Raya and Yossi Afner for the ‘Meeting for Israel’ initiative; (Israel and the Diaspora) Rabbi Nehemia and Mrs. Nechama Wilhelm of the Bangkok Chabbad House; (Individuals) Gen. (Res.) Ram Shmueli, and Rabbi Chacham David Menachem.
“There are many rifts and tears which need repair, many pains and insults, old and new, but we saw this people at its best, and we know what we are capable of," Racheli Frankel, mother of Naftali, said.
“Unity is an issue of national security, but also of national hope. As different as we may be, we have a shared future, and together, it is a good one.”
The President opened his address by noting the effect the boys and their families had on Israeli society during the difficult summer.
“During those difficult days last summer, when so much was unknown, until the point when the awful truth was revealed, we merited to come to know the boys, and to know you, the dear families, family Yifrach, family Sha'er, family Frankel," Rivlin stated. "We met you, and drew from your extraordinary faith, and spiritual strength."
"Amidst the terrible pain, we saw how the people in Israel as a whole came together as one in times of sorrow – in joint prayer, and hope for the families. For a moment, we were all one family, anxious for the safety of our sons," he added. "Since then, and throughout the year, in the quick tempo in which events occur in the State of Israel, we managed to undergo a stormy election period, in which like a pendulum, we all swung from the peaks of responsibility and unity, to a lack of tolerance, and at times even violence."
The President highlighted the tremendous ability of the Israeli people to unite at times of crisis and sorrow, and that sadly such unity had faded with the return of normal life.
“'The Jerusalem Unity Prize', awarded this year in memory of Naftali, Eyal, and Gil-ad, comes to remind us, through those inspirational and fitting recipients of the award, that the unity and solidarity which we display at times of grief, can be part of the fabric of our daily lives," he continued. "Through the winners of the award, we are reminded that mutual responsibility, unity and solidarity, are a challenge at times of difficulty as they are at times of routine.”
The President said to the award recipients, “When I look at you, prize recipients, I see what is best and most beautiful of our people, the important key to national, and civilian partnership. Rabbi Nehemia Wilhelm, the head of Chabad in Bangkok whose door is always open – like the biblical forefather Abraham – and whose hands are immersed in spiritual aid, redeeming captives, and acts of true kindness."
"Raya and Yossi Afner, who memorialized their son Sergeant Avi Afner, with the beautiful 'Meeting for Israel' initiative: a wonderful group which does so much to embolden the internal discussion within Israeli society, and whom I already met five years ago in the office of the Speaker of the Knesset."
"Gen. (Res.) Ram Shmueli, who initiated the 'Connecting' project, which seeks to promote a deeper, and important debate between the wider Israeli public, a discussion which is crucial to our shared future."
"And last but by no means least, 'HaChacham' Rabbi David Menachem, who has succeeded through music and poetry, Jewish studies and legends, to mend complex rifts, and whose love for Jewish tradition, culture and the Hebrew language, has enabled him to build bridges between peoples and nations."
"I am convinced that together with them, it is possible to take the unity of those difficult days and instill it in our day to day lives too," Rivlin declared.
"'Unity' is not 'uniformity'," he continued. "Gaps and different world views will continue to exist amongst Israelis. Differences of opinion are the corner stone of democratic societies, and of Jewish culture."
"Our challenge is to succeed in preserving unity, and to engage in 'debates for the sake of Heaven, debates which yield something that endures'. May He give, and may we cherish, this lesson in our hearts, in memory of Eyal, Gil-ad, and Naftali.”
Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat said that, “We decided not to wait, not for a future crisis nor for wars, nor for mourning, and nor for loss, in order to be wise, to join hands, and to walk together."
"In order to strengthen and to nurture mutual responsibility in the Israeli people, in memory of Gil-ad, Eyal, and Naftali, we are marking the first day of unity in the State of Israel, and from Jerusalem to the corner of the globe, we send out a message of unconditional love for the people and the land," Barkat continued.