The kidnapping of three teenage boys at the entrance to the community of Alon Shvut, in the heart of Gush Etzion, struck when summer vacation was just around the corner and spirits were high.
The location, an area with a cluster of Jewish communities and a military base just a few feet away, was traumatic.
All-too familiar voices criticized hitchhiking and the excessive self-confidence exhibited despite the region's dangers – and in general, the “imprudence” of living in Gush Etzion.
These voices turned into the whisperings of a handful of extremists when it was realized that Arab terrorism knows no boundaries in its attempts to harm Jews.
Operation "Return Our Boys" which began immediately after the kidnapping placed us in a unique situation. The concern for the safety of the hostages enveloped the entire nation of Israel, the media coverage from the area was daily and intensive and together with the families of the boys, we became a showcase for portraying Jewish life in Judea and Samaria.
What was seen by all through this window was pioneering Zionism in its splendor.
The thousands of soldiers dispatched to Gush Etzion to take part in the search efforts for the three boys became everyone's precious sons, and the entire city of Efrat became an open house whose residents hosted the soldiers, providing moral and material assistance to those spending sleepless nights searching for the boys.
It was amazing! Every evening, Efrat parks became gathering places for the soldiers where residents overwhelmed them with fresh and warm food coupled with loving hugs. Dozens set up barbecues and the tables were laden with treats. Private homes were opened, while Efrat community centers and public facilities provided the dusty soldiers with hot showers and a decent place to sleep at the end of each exhausting day of searching.
The display of love for our Israel Defense Forces was exhilarating and a true lesson in Zionism.
Dozens of volunteers from Efrat spent the first days of the vacation traveling to the areas near Gaza where the IDF was deployed before entering the war zone, to cheer up the troops and provide them with food, clothing and toiletries.
And the gratitude expressed by hundreds of soldiers, their commanders – and mothers – filled us with joy.
Finding the bodies of the three boys caused deep sorrow, but did not perforate the unprecedented unity that accompanied the weeks spent searching for them – and it continued when the war against Hamas terror in Gaza was launched as part of "Operation Protective Edge".
The prevalent feeling was that these innocent and beautiful teenagers had unified the entire nation in favor of the defensive war in the south. With their murders, they bequeathed us national fortitude. All disputes were laid aside. Scenes of thousands of Israelis who made special efforts to attend the funerals of soldiers who had no close family living in Israel were heartwarming. The people of Israel did not want to extinguish the flame of brightly glowing solidarity in these troubling times.
Hospitals were crowded with visitors that came to encourage the wounded soldiers, provide for their worried families, host them so they could be near the hospital, and fulfill all their needs. The family of a fallen soldier sat shiva and was visited by thousands of Israelis who came to comfort and express their condolences when it was publicized that the family itself was not large and didn't have a large circle of acquaintances. With the notification that a soldier had been abducted, hundreds of people gathered on the street near the family's home and sang uplifting songs to give the family hope.
The cruel murder of the boys and the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Jewish cities and towns convinced a majority of Israelis that Hamas terrorism does not need an excuse to attack Jews and that there is no other choice but that of coming together and caring for one another if we are to achieve security.
The nations of the world will not subjugate us, nor will Hamas terrorism or modern-day anti-Semitism. The inner strength of the people of Israel reappears every time the nation is called to the test – and I am proud of who we are.
The writer is Mayor of Efrat, Gush Etzion and a former partner in a leading law firm.