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100 days in Gaza

People attend 24-hour rally for hostages marking 100 days since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, at "Hostage Square" in Tel Aviv, on Jan. 14, 2024. (Photo: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Today marks 100 days since the inhumane Oct. 7 Hamas massacre of more than 1,200 people in Israel and the kidnapping of hundreds more, 136 of whom are still being held hostage in Gaza. The hostages are citizens of some 20 nations and come from a variety of faiths, including Jews, Christians, Moslems, Buddhists and Hindus. 

One of the hostages is 23-year-old Hersh Goldberg-Polin, whose parents, Rachel Goldberg and Jon Polin, have had their lives turned upside down, and are leaving no stone unturned to bring him and all the hostages home. 

Like her son Hersh, a dual American-Israeli citizen, who loves travel and who had a two-year trip to Asia planned for last month, Rachel has been traveling the world, not for fun but by necessity. She’s met presidents and prime ministers, senators, ambassadors, and even the Pope.

As Rachel explains, she fervently believes that Hersh’s deliverance is in God’s hands and she has to “run to the ends of the earth to try to save him.” 

“I don’t know what stone we will turn over that’s going to be the lynchpin (to free Hersh). I’m a religious person. Prayer has given me tremendous strength and solace. I believe that (Hersh’s redemption) will come from above, from God," she said, adding: "But I don’t know what the vessel will be, so I have to go everywhere. I don’t know what God’s plan is: is it the Pope, or the nice young woman who came to my door with cookies?”

Hersh was kidnapped from the Nova music festival on Oct. 7, where 367 people were slaughtered, women brutally raped, and from which dozens were abducted. Hersh was one of those who was kidnapped into Gaza after having his left arm blown off by Hamas terrorists and has not been heard from since. (Listen to the whole story on the Inspiration from Zion podcast.) 

For Rachel and Jon, that was “another universe ago.” They are distraught from fear and trauma. They struggle for 18-20 hours a day, and Rachel considers herself and their actions a failure, so far. In many ways, she has lost faith in humanity. 

Rachel shared how, in a private audience with Pope Francis, he shared something that’s been a comfort since that meeting: The Pope said what she has experienced is terrorism – and that terrorism is the absence of humanity.  

Opposite of Hamas’ inhumanity, and despite the horrors through which they have been forced to live for more than three months, Rachel displays a strong sense of moral clarity and abundant humanity. She cited the example of the November temporary ceasefire, during which 105 hostages were released, along with vast humanitarian aid for Gazans. Rachel believes this is an important model to get all the rest of the hostages released.  

Unlike many of the other families who watched in desperation to see whether their loved ones were being released from captivity in the Hamas-orchestrated media event, Rachel had no expectations that Hersh would be released because only women and children were being freed. This is what allowed her to celebrate the release of every single one of the hostages, especially as the hostages' families have become an extended family, themselves.

Rachel said she would also like to see more humanitarian aid going into Gaza, noting that hundreds of thousands of Gazans are also suffering, 85% of whom have been displaced.

“Let’s let humanitarian aid get in and let’s let human beings get out,” Rachel said.

Rachel spoke of the need for action, not emotional support. She implores people to think outside the box. As a United States citizen, she’s grateful for U.S. President Joe Biden and others who she says do care. There are six living American hostages left, following the third biggest massacre of Americans since September 11. Despite US support, she urges daily action, noting, “Americans don’t like it when Americans are taken hostage against their will.” Americans should contact the White House every day with a simple message: “There are 136 people including six American hostages held by Hamas. I am not OK with it.”  (White House comment line: 202-456-1111, Email: [email protected]

Rachel noted candidly that she has seen no sign of the Red Cross’ being willing to actually be of material help, but tries to give them the benefit of the doubt. Their deflection –“We’re here on the border.  We want to go in. Hamas won’t let us in” – is not sufficient, she said. She believes that “where there is a will there’s a way” and that more can and must be done. She wonders rhetorically why can they not, or won’t, do more and draw red lines for Hamas.

Generally, Rachel believes the world is turning a blind eye, and does not understand who the hostages are. The implication is that anywhere else in the world, people would care more than they are demonstrating for the Jewish/Israeli hostages. She does not, however, simply put the blame on others.

“I have failed. We have failed. World governments have failed. How is it possible that we can’t get these people back,” she said in her frustration.

The world needs to know that hostages came from 33 countries, aged nine months to 87 years old. Of 136 still in Hamas captivity, 23 are confirmed dead. She brings examples that if people like this had been kidnapped and taken hostage anywhere else, the world would be up in arms and it would not be allowed to continue to happen. It’s a global humanitarian catastrophe.

The Genesis 123 Foundation has initiated a global petition campaign to free ALL the hostages, something that’s important to reduce pressure on Israel to settle for anything less. 

Rachel noted that Christians have been especially encouraging to her during this time. More than 100,000 people sent pictures showing a place setting at their Christmas table with Hersh’s name on it. 

On Sunday, Jan. 14, Rachel is asking everyone to participate in an urgent and simple humanitarian message. Just as she has done from the beginning, she’s asking each one to take a piece of masking tape or a sticker with the number 100 and put it on their clothes above their heart. The goal is to get one million people to participate. It’s especially powerful if Christians and other non-Jews do this. 

Rachel Goldberg is one relative of just one of the 136 hostages.  In addition to the hostages who we need to pray for and advocate on behalf of, there are thousands of loved ones of all these hostages living a slow-motion trauma, sometimes feeling hopeless, whose lives have been turned upside down, and for whom even when their loved ones are released, their lives will never be the same again.  

I asked Rachel how we could pray for her, and for all the families. “I really take comfort from Psalms, it’s a real self-help book. I say psalms throughout the day.” She particularly noted Psalms that give her encouragement: 135, 121, and Psalm 13 which is so desperate, asking God: How long are You going to make me go through this?” Even Psalm 23 is a comfort, that even in this dark time, her cup is overflowing. 

Click here to sign the petition to release ALL the hostages. 

Click here to read about the 24-hour rally in Israel to mark 100 days since the hostages were abducted into Gaza.

Jonathan Feldstein was born and educated in the U.S. and immigrated to Israel in 2004. He is married and the father of six. Throughout his life and career, he has become a respected bridge between Jews and Christians and serves as president of the Genesis 123 Foundation. He writes regularly on major Christian websites about Israel and shares experiences of living as an Orthodox Jew in Israel. He is host of the popular Inspiration from Zion podcast. He can be reached at [email protected].

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