WILKES-BARRE — Amid the busy lunch hour in Public Square, members of many faiths in the community gathered Tuesday to mourn the recent deaths of three Jewish teenagers near the West Bank city of Hebron.
The Jewish Community Alliance of Northeastern Pennsylvania and about 50 members of the public gathered with religious officials to mourn Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship.
The three teens disappeared June 12 while hitchhiking home from the Jewish seminaries where they were studying near the West Bank city of Hebron. The Israeli military found the bodies of the trio on June 30.
The deaths sparked a revenge killing of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was burned alive.
David Schwager, a former leader of Jewish Community Center, said the local JCA expresses its deepest condolences for the loss of life. He said the service was thought of once the fate of the three teenagers was discovered.
“We join the people of Israel, and the entire worldwide Jewish community, in mourning the three Jewish teenagers who were abducted and struck down for no reason,” Schwager said. He also expressed outrage at the killing of Khdeir.
Other organizations present at the service included the Wyoming Valley Interfaith Council, Temple Israel of Wilkes-Barre, Temple B’nai B’rith and Congregation Ohav Zedek. The officials and members of the public joined together in prayer and song, calling for peace and an end to the violence.
Rabbi Larry Kaplan of Temple Israel noted the community’s solidarity, despite different religious views, made it special.
“There’s a lot of different religions, there’s a lot of different theologies, and we’re all standing her together,” Kaplan said. “There aren’t too many places where you look around and you see the diversity that we have right here in Wilkes-Barre, which you don’t think of as being such a diverse place.”
Sue Strassman, a member of the public in attendance, also noted the solidarity in the crowd. Strassman is a member of the board for JCA.
“I thought the service today was very meaningful,” she said. “Everybody, no matter what your denomination is, no matter what church you go to or synagogue, we’re here together in solidarity.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.