Father of Murdered Teen Shares Message of Strength in Wake of Har Nof Attack
Ori Yifrach, father of teenager Eyal Yifrach - whose murder, along with those of fellow teenagers Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar, sparked the intense conflict that spanned the summer - addressed the men of Yeshiva University on Tuesday, November 19. Speaking before a full Lamport Auditorium, Mr. Yifrach emphasized that Israel is a courageous nation that can overcome the challenges it faces. "We have the power to be strong," Mr. Yifrach urged. "We are not afraid."
The event gathered Roshei Yeshiva, faculty, RIETS Semikha candidates, students from YU’s four undergraduate Torah programs, and the high school students of MTA. After student Gedalia Penner led Hatikva, Dean of RIETS Rabbi Menachem Penner introduced Mr. Yifrach. "We are moved by the strength of the parents and their tremendous kiddush Hashem," Rabbi Penner remarked, referring to the parents of the teens who were kidnapped and murdered by Palestinian terrorists in Judea this summer.
Mr. Yifrach was visiting the United States for the annual Yeshiva of Sderot dinner, where he would be the featured speaker the evening of his address at YU. SOY President Jacob Bernstein (YC ’15) received word that Mr. Yifrach would be available on November 19 and planned the event a week in advance, assisted by Gabi Novick (YC ’15).
Unforeseeably, Mr. Yifrach’s address came the day after an attack on a Jerusalem synagogue left four worshippers and one police officer dead. His message resonated with particular significance in light of that tragedy.
“Being able to see someone who went through the worst and is still so strong, as well as being able to hear his account of Israel’s response of love and unity [made Mr. Yifrach] the right person to hear from at this tragic time," Bernstein remarked.
YC freshman David Mandelbaum had similar thoughts. While it is impossible for him “to recover fully from the tragedy in Har Nof,” after hearing from Ori Yifrach, Mandelbaum feels “more optimistic and proud of the Jewish nation's resilience and unity.”
Tzvi Goldstein (YC ’18) thought that Mr. Yifrach addressed a different type of response than the one displayed by Rabbi Mayer Twersky, Leib Merkin Distinguished Professorial Chair in Talmud and Jewish Philosophy. Rabbi Mayer Twersky’s brother Moshe was among the victims in the Har Nof attack.
“Mr. Yifrach spoke about not letting the tragedies break us, about physical response,” Goldstein reflected. “That was different than Rav Mayer Twersky’s message, which advocated emuna and personal strength, reflected when Rav Mayer Twersky came back after the shiva and gave shiur as he always had.” Goldstein attends Rabbi Mayer Twersky’s Mazer Yeshiva Program shiur.
A native of Israel, Mr. Yifrach began his address in English and then transitioned into Hebrew. Describing his son Eyal, Mr. Yirach spoke of his willingness to help and love for Jews. “Eyal always thought of others. He helped everywhere he could; he really loved each person whom he came across.”
Mr. Yifrach expressed that Eyal’s amiability had national consequences. “Because Eyal loved, Am Yisrael loved him in return. God took us all on a journey of love, a journey that gave us strength and faith that allowed us afterwards to cope with the war in Gaza.” Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s war with Gaza this summer, was a response to thousands of rockets fired from the Palestinian enclave at Israeli settlements and towns; it also became a mission to search and destroy tens of terror tunnels. The war started shortly after the discovery of the three murdered teens’ bodies, including Eyal’s.
Switching to speak in his native Hebrew, Mr. Yifrach drew a call for action from the weekly Parsha corresponding to the time of his address. “When Jacob comes to be blessed by Isaac, Isaac says, ‘The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau’ before blessing him. This is what we need now: we need the voice of Jacob in our Torah study, but we need the strong hands of Esau in order to fight as well.”
Mr. Yifrach continued his inspirational message: “Throughout Jewish history, which we are living now as well, we have always been struggling. But we are a strong nation, and we only continue to blossom and grow. This is our answer to all the terrorists.”
An excerpt from Eyal's diary concluded Mr. Yifrach’s words: “If you've fallen a thousand times, it means you have gotten up a thousand times. You can stand up.”
The event ended with a communal recitation of Psalms for the recovery of those injured in the Har Nof attack. Rabbi Michael Taubes, YU High School for Boys Rosh Yeshiva, led the recitation of Psalm 121, and Rabbi Meir Goldwicht, Joel and Maria Finkle Visiting Israeli Rosh Yeshiva, led Psalm 130.
Rabbi Penner spoke for many with the program’s closing remarks. Addressing Mr. Yifrach, he said, “We are stronger because of you, Eyal, and his friends.”
Asked what his goal was in addressing YU, Mr. Yifrach responded with one word in Hebrew, meaning in English, “to give strength.”