Commemorating Four Boys and Unveiling a Symbol of Enduring Hope
By: Rachel Kontorovich
Boys’ Promenade and Ezra Schwartz Lookout unveiling with the four boys’ families, Israeli dignitaries, and JNF staff
Four years ago, the world waited with baited breath to learn the fate of three Israeli boys, Gil-ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrach, after they were kidnapped just outside the Gush Etzion community of Kfar Etzion. After a three week search, news broke that their bodies had been found. The abduction and murder of the innocent boys set off a chain reaction, which led to Operation Protective Edge.
One year later, Ezra Schwartz, an American student from the Boston area, was volunteering in Israel on a gap year when the unthinkable happened. Ezra was shot and killed by terrorists on the side of the road in Gush Etzion, near the same location where the three boys were kidnapped.
These events shook Gush Etzion, Israel, and the international Jewish community to their core. No one should fear that their child’s trip to the bus stop will be their last, or that taking public transportation on a major highway could subject them to terrorist sniper fire.
“We needed to build a safe road for the communities,” said Shani Abrams Simkovitz, director of the Gush Etzion Foundation. “There was really nothing here. Now people can bicycle, walk freely on Shabbat and during the week, and play, and all on a well-lit recreational space.”
On July 24, standing side by side with the families of the four boys, Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF), the Gush Etzion Regional Council, and Gush Etzion Foundation came together along the road where the events took place, to unveil a memorial site commemorating Gil-ad, Naftali, Eyal, and Ezra. The sites are called the “Boys’ Promenade” and the “Ezra Schwartz Lookout,” and connect a 1.4 km (approximately 1 mile) promenade to the bus stop that was the site of the kidnapping, as well as Kibbutz Kfar Etzion and Kibbutz Rosh Tzurim, creating a safer junction between these neighboring communities.
Along the promenade, beautiful mosaics and stories of the boys will entwine their legacy to the future of the community. “The promenade is a sign of continuing life,” said MK Yehuda Glick during the ceremony. “It allows people to live and provides accessibility to the community. We are showing the world that we are here to bring life.”
“The Boys’ Promenade is a testament and message to the world that we will continue to build the Jewish homeland by creating a more secure means of traveling,” said JNF Chief Israel Officer Eric Michaelson. “The Ezra Schwartz Lookout serves as an invitation to others to see what we have built, and to stop and appreciate the beauty of this land—a reminder of what we fight for each and every day.” Racheli Fraenkel and Ruth Schwartz, mothers of Naftali and Ezra, could not agree more.
“People are starting to feel safe here in Gush Etzion,” said Fraenkel. “There’s so much life here, and for us that’s the ultimate memorial. Physical health and mental health; for us, this is amazing.”
For Ruth Schwartz, Gush Etzion has become a family, one that will continue to honor Ezra for generations. “It’s one of the most true, personal, and happiest memorials of the boys and of my son,” said Schwartz. “It’s really a living testament to them, their lives, and loves. It shows the heart of Gush Etzion, the resilience, the love, the loyalty. The most terrible thing happened to my family, to my son, here. All the ongoing memorialization of him are so special and so heartwarming. Ezra is now part of this heart that’s on full display in Gush Etzion.”
The promenade runs parallel to Derech HaAvot, or the Path of the Patriarchs, an unpaved road winding through Gush Etzion’s communities. The symbolism of a promenade dedicated to four modern Jewish sons running alongside one of Israel’s ancient paths, once forged by its most revered biblical forefathers, deepened the emotion of the day and placed the boys’ memory into the context of Jewish legacy, continuity, and unity.