This is the number of Gilads that the Shaer family knows have been named in memory of Gil-ad Shaer since his murder along with Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Frenkel in June of 2014. On Friday, Gil-ad’s parents, Ofir and Bat-Galim, joined with the families of these young Gilads in Gush Etzion to plant trees on the new Gush promenade constructed in memory of the three boys. My husband and I have been watching the construction of the promenade each week and enjoying the beautiful path created by the Gush Etzion Foundation, the Jewish National Fund — USA, the Gush Etzion Regional Council, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Jewish Federation of Clifton/Passaic, NJ and private donors.
When we saw the advertisement for the tree planting for Tu B’shvat, I knew we had to be there. I was overwhelmed by the idea that so many people had named their sons (and one daughter!) in memory of Gil-ad and I thought it was a beautiful idea to plant trees in his memory, and in their honor.
When we arrived, the ceremony was bursting with energy and joy. There were little babies and toddlers playing in the dirt, planting trees, munching on snacks, and enjoying the unusually warm Friday morning. I spoke with one family who had come from Raanana and said that they simply had to come, even though it was a short Friday and a long drive.
Speaking before the group after unveiling the lovely new sign, Ofir said how touched they have been to learn about the many children named in their son’s memory. The trees that they planted, he explained, were just like all of these new children; they are new, fresh, and full of potential; they will need nurturing and love to grow, and are works in progress.
We were rocked by those 18 long, torturous days, when the boys went missing and the country held its collective breath during the search. We were there each night, offering food and drinks to the soldiers in Neve Daniel, as they set out, yet again, to search in the hills near our home. Over three years later, each time that I go to see my high school boys at their yeshiva, learning just as Gil-ad, Eyal and Naftali were at the exact same age, I drive on the road where they spent those last horrible minutes. And I always, always think about them and their families.
It was a joy to make new memories on Friday, to meet the Shaers and to meet the many families who have named their children in Gil-ad’s memory. It is no small thing to name your child, your own precious future, after someone else’s legacy; what an incredible gift these families have offered to the Shaers and to those of us sharing a small piece of their journey and their story.
May the 21 Gilads and the one Gili grow and blossom as the trees they planted do. And may we always have the three boys, their memory and their story in our hearts.
This article first appeared on the Times of Israel website.