Every year for the past seven years on Yom Hazikaron, the 11th grade students of the Mateh Binyamin Yeshiva High School (MBYHS) in Beit El walk out of school, past the 8 foot high protective wall surrounding their building to a modest memorial plaque on the old road into the community.
Here the boys commemorate the life of David Boim, an American-born MBYHS student who was murdered by Hamas terrorists as he stood waiting for the bus at this spot with two fellow students on May 13, 1996. David was 17, an 11th grader.
David's father, Stanley, always attends the ceremony. His mother, Joyce finds it too difficult, and this year she is in Chicago attending to the family's legal efforts to bring down Hamas front groups in the US.
The students, with blue Yizkor (Remember) stickers stuck on their white shirts, carry full size Israeli flags as they gather quietly around the stone plaque. A few hundred yards away are the newly-built spacious villas on the edge of Ramallah. Three jeeps of IDF soldiers, barely two years older than their charges, stand by scanning the horizon.
After a few words from their teacher, the boys recite Psalms together and link arms to sing the ancient song of Jewish resolve and faith: Ani Ma'amin (I believe in the coming of the Messiah)
Stanley Boim turns toward Jerusalem to recite kaddish for his son, and Moshe Eyal, director of the school, explains to the boys that "David will be with us forever as part of the 11th grade."
The boys have to leave to make it back to the courtyard of the school in time for the 11 a.m. siren that marks the commencement of the main Yom Hazikaron ceremony in Beit El.
MBYHS hosts a unique memorial event that brings hundreds of kindergarten, elementary, middle school and high school students together with dozens of IDF soldiers and police stationed in the community.
On the steps leading to the courtyard, MBYHS students have erected displays with photos and text about each fallen soldier and terror victim in the community.
Dozens of Israeli flags flutter alongside flags of the IDF brigades and police represented, as the white shirted students stand to attention for the two minute siren.
As the siren winds down, two teenage boys light the memorial torch. Impassively, the MC announces that the brother of one of the boys was killed while serving in the IDF, and the other torch lighter is Dor Hershkowitz,14, whose father Arye was killed by terrorists in January 2001. For four months Dor said kaddish for his father together with his brother, Assaf,30, until Assaf too was murdered at the same spot on May 1, 2001.
With all his pain, Dor is grateful to MBYHS. "At Mateh Binyamin I have good teachers. They know what I'm going through and because they know me and my family so well, they know how to help me," says the freckle-faced teenager.
Addressing the crowd, one of the rabbis points out that Israel is not only a place to escape the galut when things get bad. "We're building a state that will be a light unto the nations," he says, "and all of you have a role in it. More than 21,000 people paid a heavy price, but in the end, our job is not to just remember their names, but to ask 'why--what is the significance of their sacrifice?'"
Geula Hershkowitz, the widow and bereaved mother of Arye and Assaf rises to address the students. Geula is totally composed and exudes strength. The kids have been sitting in the sun for some time, but they're still attentive as Geula recites a poem composed by her daughter-in-law. Several male teachers, a few with pistols tucked in to their belts next to their tzitzit, bring water around.
At the close of the ceremony, after the recitation of Kel Mole Rachamim and the Hatikva, the MBYHS students quickly and efficiently dismantle the stage and chairs. A few of the adults linger to shmooze, and the level to which terror has touched our lives is evident. Along with Geula Hershkowitz in this small group of people is Yoel Tzur, Beit El leader and father of Ita and Ephraim Tzur, murdered in December, 1996, as well as the father of one of the young men murdered in Wadi Kelt.
Current security concerns have severly impacted the operations of MBYHS on many levels. Originally built to grace the main entrance to Beit El, the school now sits secluded at the back of the community since the main gate had to be moved due to incessant Arab gunfire. The 8 foot wall was erected to allow students to use the outside basketball court in relative safety.
When the violence started in 2000, construction of the dining hall was just getting underway. MBYHS students and staff took their meals in a series of large pre-fab buildings on school grounds. After a few months of eating under fire, administrators had no choice but to move the students into the half-finished dining hall. Their new premises have no heat or air conditioning, and exposed concrete and wires are still in evidence.
Bulletproof windows, an internal security system and a strong perimeter fence have all been added in the past three years, but there are still strict restrictions on student's outside activities causing some tension for the naturally active teenagers.
One outlet is the radio studio for students enrolled in the communications course. In a state-of-the-art studio, some twenty students learn and practise their media skills, leading to the hope that they will one day take their place as sorely needed Torah observant media professionals.
Another focus at MBYHS is instilling a love and respect for the land. One large classroom dedicated to this project is filled with the inspiring landscape and flora photography of MBYHS graduate Ovad Pedahel, who died in a traffic accident.
The sandbags have been taken down from the Beit Midrash, but many challenges still remain for the 11th graders who started their day by remembering David Boim.
Foremost among them is living up to the expectations of a school that is struggling to continue to produce Israel's future defenders and leaders.