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Hundreds mourn slain Israeli teens at service in Wellesley

Kfir Mizrahi listened during a memorial service at Temple Beth Elohim Wednesday in Wellesley.

Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe

Kfir Mizrahi listened during a service for three slain Israeli teens at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley.

WELLESLEY — In the lofty, wood-paneled sanctuary of Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, hundreds of voices murmured prayers Wednesday night for three teenage Israeli boys killed thousands of miles away in the West Bank.

More than 600 people, many clutching small Israeli and American flags, filled the sanctuary and overflowed into an adjacent room for the service. They came to honor Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16, whose bodies were found Monday after they were kidnapped June 12 near Hebron.

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“It was a beautiful service under terrible circumstances,” Woody Tanger said after the ceremony. “It would be so much better for people to come together in peace and joy, but it seems too often we come together this way.”

Tanger attended the ceremony with his fiancee Tara DiIulio and her daughter Sophia.

“We brought [Sophia] to get acquainted with some of the realities of life, the good and the evil,” he said.

The service was especially poignant for members of the Shaarei Tefillah temple in Newton, where Fraenkel’s mother had served as a scholar in residence until several months ago, Rabbi Benjamin Samuels of that temple said.

Even in the wooded enclave of Bethel Road in Wellesley, reminders of the violence that has scarred Israel for years were close at hand.

Before mourners were allowed through a metal detector and into the temple, a bomb-sniffing dog searched the building. A dozen Wellesley police officers and members of a private security agency stood guard throughout the ceremony.

A litany of Jewish community leaders and politicians spoke during the hour-long service, and three recent college graduates briefly eulogized each of the three victims beneath two large projections of the boys’ smiling faces.

“We are not a people who sit idly by when blood is spilled,” said Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston. “Their murderers silenced them, but we can let their voices live. Let their memories be a blessing.”

The solemn service was interspersed at times with fervent warnings from speakers that political and religious violence may be on the rise as an increasingly volatile Middle East threatens Israel.

Wednesday morning, Israeli authorities in Jerusalem found the body of Mohammad Abu Khedair, a 17-year-old Palestinian who was kidnapped and killed in what many fear was retaliation for the murder of the Israeli boys.

Barry Shrage, president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, condemned the murder.

“It’s abhorrent,” he said. “It’s abhorrent to all of our human sensibilities, it’s abhorrent to all of our Jewish sensibilities.”

Schrage’s passionate speech near the end of the ceremony, during which he called on the assembly to speak out in support of Israel, drew amens from the crowd.

“We don’t believe that tragedy is inevitable, we don’t believe that we’re trapped in endless cycles of violence,” he said. “After today, our mourning period is over, we just can’t afford to mourn any longer. Now is the time for action.”

Todd Feathers can be reached at todd.feathers@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @ToddFeathers.
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