The rabbi of an Upper West Side synagogue, which funded a billboard in the heart of Times Square in memory of three murdered Israeli teens, said publicity from the sign has prompted a flood of support for the families of the youths.
“Obviously we’re all davening (praying)… but we wanted to do something concrete and this kind of gave people a little bit of something that they can feel like they are making some sort of impact… and I think it did serve a purpose that was positive,” Rabbi Dovid Cohen from Young Israel of the West Side told The Algemeiner recently.
The Times Square sign shows the images of Naftali Frankel, 16, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, who were kidnapped on June 12 while hitchhiking home from school and subsequently murdered. Their bodies were found after an 18-day frantic search.
Under their pictures the banner reads: “We join the families and all of Israel in mourning the tragic loss of these innocent boys.”
The billboard, which will be up for another two weeks, appears for 15 seconds at the 7-minute mark and the 51-minute mark of every hour.
Cohen would not say how much he paid for the billboard but said renting a month’s worth of space in Times Square, for 30 seconds every hour, typically costs $15,000. He credited the idea to one of his congregants, Evan Hakalir, and said that since going up, the sign has sparked only positive interest.
Cohen said he believes his recent invitation to lead an opening prayer in the House of Representatives was a direct result of the publicity garnered by the billboard. He added that his synagogue has become somewhat of a “central point” for others who want to act in memory of the murdered teens.
“I didn’t hear anything negative from anybody, only positive. Only like ‘amazing idea,’ ‘great idea,’ ‘this is so great,’ ‘how else can we get involved,’ ‘what else can we do?'” Cohen said. “There was a woman who wanted to take out an ad in The Wall Street Journal, like a full page ad, [and] she called us for consult. It motivated people… We all wanna do something.'”
The synagogue originally funded the sign to call for the safe return of the missing boys after they were abducted but once their bodies were found on June 30, the synagogue changed the message displayed to honor the memory of the teens.
“I know for a fact that one of the families themselves, the Frankel family, was informed about the billboard and got a tremendous amount of strength from it and encouraged us and thanked us,” Cohen said.
“People reached out to me from all over the world, literally, the day that it went up,” he added. “The former Governor of Hawaii, Linda Lingle…we got an email from her in Hawaii that said how she heard about this in Hawaii and she was praising our efforts.”
The Young Israel also raised $30,000 from congregants and private donors that it later donated to the Koby Mandell Foundation, created in memory of the 13-year-old Jewish boy who was murdered by terrorists while hiking near his home in Israel. The foundation provides support to those who have lost relatives to terrorism. The synagogue hopes to support one of the siblings of the murdered Israeli teens.