As we were about to light our Shabbat candles, the news broke. There were three young boys who would not be home to spend Shabbat dinner with their families. We knew their names: Gilad, Eyal and Naftali. And that they had been stolen from us.

We were in Tzfat, the quiet, mystical city in northern Israel. I was there as scholar-in-residence for the first women’s-only IsraeLinks program—thirty young women from thirty universities, all connected through Chabad on Campus. Though from different schools, different backgrounds and with very different personalities, we stood together, united, as we lit our candles. We stood together, united, as we lit our candlesWe were all in Israel for the same main reason. To experience. To learn. To grow.

Following the blessing, we recited the names of the three missing boys. The details were scarce, as the statement had only just been given, but “kidnapped” and “Hebron” was all we needed to know to realize how grave the situation was. Along with us was a group of young soldiers. They were just beginning their service, and were spending Shabbat in the Ascent youth hostel alongside us. For the most part, these soldiers did not come from religious backgrounds or homes. I heard many whispering that they hadn’t lit Shabbat candles in some time. Yet that Friday night, as we passed the match and one flame after another illuminated, we all shared the same thought, the same prayer, the same purpose. We asked, we cried, we begged . . . bring our boys home.

Following Shabbat we heard that there was a request from the families of the kidnapped boys that groups gather and recite prayers for their sons at holy places throughout Israel. As we were in Tzfat, the resting place of the holy Arizal, it was only appropriate that prayers be recited there. But it was late. Very late. I doubted if any students would want to join me on the long and dark walk into the ancient cemetery. To my surprise and amazement, a group immediately appeared. Most could not read Hebrew. Most had never recited formal prayers before. But together we gave charity in their honor, recited the psalms corresponding to the ages of the kidnapped boys, and prayed for their safe and immediate return.

Every day of our two-week trip we mentioned the boys by name. They were part of our IsraeLinks family. They were part of each and every one of us. The entire country felt it. There was a unity, a connection that was palpable. By the time our second Shabbat had arrived, it was heartbreaking to think that they were still not home. That Friday, as we walked through the busy marketplace, women passed out Shabbat candles with the names and pictures of the boys. They asked other women to light Shabbat candles in the merit of their safe return. As soon as that request was made, there was no hesitation. Who would turn down an opportunity to bring more light into the darkness?

Perhaps most powerful was the reaction of one of our IsraeLinks students. She had taken the candles, as did many of our other students. As I knew we were going to be lighting candles together that night at the Kotel, the Western Wall, I had told them these candles would not be needed. I mentioned, without really thinking it through, that they should hold on to those candles so that the following Shabbat, when they would be back home in their respective areas, they could light those candles for the boys. Without missing a beat, she looked at me completely shocked and responded: “By next week our boys will be home with their families! We will not need to be lighting for their return!”

That night, after we lit, we sang and danced together at the Kotel. Arm in arm, eyes closed, we swayed and sang about unity, about the end of war, about our wish for peace and goodness. When we first started singing, there were a number of groups each in their own circles. But within minutes, something amazing happened. Something transformative. Our group circle began to expand and blend into one huge circle. Together were our students, tourists, soldiers, Israeli youth groups and everyone in between. We didn’t speak the same language, but we were all saying the same thing. And we all knew it.

Today is one week since our IsraeLinks program ended. This Three lives have been taken. There is a gaping holetime last week, we were at our farewell banquet saying our goodbyes. We have since gone our separate ways, with some remaining in Israel and others back home. But we are not the same people we were two weeks ago. Our time together changed us. Gilad, Eyal and Naftali changed us.

And today we received the devastating news. Their bodies have been found. Our worst nightmare has come true. We are a people in mourning. But we are also a stronger people. We are a people who have increased in our goodness. In our awareness. In our actions. We had taken on positive deeds in the merit of their safe return, deeds that will now continue in their blessed memory. We have witnessed the power of our unity, and we now need it more than ever in dealing with our tragic loss.

Three lives have been taken. There is a gaping hole. But we can and must fill it by living for them. Their memory should be our motivation to learn more, give more and do more. Their families have been steadfast in their faith. Steadfast in their belief. And they should inspire us to do the same. We fight evil with goodness. Darkness with light. Death with life. Our unity is our most powerful weapon and our greatest strength. May we use it to bring comfort to the families of Gilad, Eyal and Naftali, and may all the mitzvot we do in their memory bring peace to their souls.