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'Nothing is impossible for the Lord' - Mother of Israeli hostage expresses gratitude for prayers of Christians around the world

Interview with Rachel Goldberg, mother of Hersh Goldberg-Polin

Rachel Goldberg, mother of Israeli hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin, speaks during a rally for hostages marking 100 days since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, outside the Jerusalem Municipality, Jan. 14, 2024. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

One of the most prominent spokespeople within the group of Israeli hostage families is Rachel Goldberg. Her only son and eldest child, Hersh, is still being held captive in the Gaza Strip and Monday marked 150 days since Oct. 7. The eloquent and God-fearing mother has been very active on social media, reading a psalm for each day her son has been in the hands of Hamas.

“I just can't believe I got to Psalm 150 and my Hersh is not home,” Goldberg wrote on the ‘Bring Hersh Home’ Facebook page. “But Psalm 150 is joyous and we will be joyful again. We will continue to be hopeful because hope is mandatory.”

On Day 133, the brave mother quoted the psalm, ‘Hine ma tov’ (How good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity), something that has characterized her campaign, as she has reached out for prayer and friendship through this unimaginably difficult trial.

On Day 143, Goldberg spoke to Christian journalist Paul Calvert of Bethlehem Voice Radio, urging Christians around the world, “Please don’t stop” praying.

As one of the dual Israeli-U.S. citizens currently being held hostage by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, Hersh turned 23 just two days before attending the music festival near the Gaza border, on Oct. 6 last year.

That Friday evening marked the beginning of the joyous Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, which falls at the end of the Feast of Tabernacles, so the whole family went to the synagogue and then to dinner with friends.

Hersh told his parents he would be going camping with one of his best friends later that night. As is traditional on the evening of Shabbat, his parents blessed him with the Aaronic priestly blessing (from Numbers 6). Goldberg said it was the last thing they did before he left.

“And then when Hersh left that night, he kissed me,” she said. “He kissed my husband, John, and he turned and he said, ‘I love you; I’ll see you tomorrow.’”

In Jerusalem, the rocket sirens (unusual for the Israeli capital) began around 8 a.m. Being Sabbath-observant, the family would normally keep their phones off, but Goldberg said she “knew this was a question of life or death” and her son was out camping with rockets falling. So she told her daughters that she was going to switch on her phone for the first time on a Shabbat, “to make sure the boys are okay.”

When she turned on her phone at 8:20, she found two messages from Hersh that morning at 8:11, simply saying, “I love you” and “I’m sorry.”

“So, immediately I knew something horrible was happening,” said his mother. “I tried to call. He didn't answer. I texted him back, ‘Are you okay? Let me know you're okay.’”

Hersh couldn’t reply. He and one of his best friends from childhood, Aner Shapira, were at the Nova Music Festival with some 3,000 other young people. Hamas terrorists and their allies ultimately slaughtered 367 of the attendees.

Hersh, Aner and two other young friends managed to escape into a car, but they couldn't drive north because Hamas gunmen were lining the road, shooting at everyone coming toward them in cars, Goldberg explained. They made a U-turn and there were rockets falling, so they stopped the car and ran into a roadside bomb shelter.

Hersh’s parents later heard what transpired from eyewitnesses. Twenty-nine young people sought refuge by stuffing themselves into a safety shelter that was only 6.5 ft x 6 ft. Aner bravely managed to keep throwing back grenades that the terrorists threw into the shelter.

“You only have 4.5 seconds from when a pin is unpinned from a hand grenade until it detonates,” Goldberg told Calvert. “She said Aner managed to throw out seven but "on the eighth it exploded in his hand, killing him. And when his body was returned to his parents, the remnants of the grenade were still in his hand. Hamas then came to the doorway and threw in another three hand grenades, which detonated. And then they sprayed the room with machine gun fire. So most of those kids were dead.”

Goldberg and her husband spoke with the four survivors who had played dead while hiding under bodies. They recounted that there were three or four young men who were wounded but alive. Hamas had ordered them to stand up, and eyewitnesses said that Hersh’s arm had been blown off, and he had something tied around the stump.

At least three of the young men were moved to a pick-up truck that was heading for Gaza. The last phone cell signal from Hersh came from within Gaza at 10:25 a.m. on Oct 7.

One week later, Goldberg explained, footage emerged from a GoPro camera on a terrorist’s helmet, showing the kidnapping of Hersh and his friends.

“Hersh is walking on his own two feet at gunpoint, but he gets himself up onto the pick-up truck, and when he turns to sit down, is when you can see the stump of his left arm… with some jagged bones sticking out. And I'll just mention that Hersh is actually left-handed. So that was his dominant arm,” she told Calvert.

There has been very little information about the condition of the hostages since the Red Cross has not succeeded in visiting any of them, Goldberg said, so the families cling to any snippets they can get.

They understood from Israeli intelligence that the terrorists prioritized the abduction of younger people, as they are considered to be more valuable alive. In addition, hostages who were released at the end of November stated that many of them were treated by veterinarians due to the shortage of regular medical physicians.

Goldberg admitted that life as the family knew it to be before Oct. 7, had “completely stopped” and that it had been 143 days of “living on another planet.”

The family even refers to pre-Oct. 7 life as “the before.” Neither of Hersh's parents have returned to their day jobs, but are working full time on the ‘Bring Hersh Home’ campaign, which is part of a larger hostage release campaign.

“I mean, obviously we want to save Hersh,” she said. “We also want to save the 133 others, or I should say, we want to bring them home. Some of them are already no longer alive. We know that. So the ones that are alive, we want to bring them home alive. And we work about 20 hours a day, relentlessly, tirelessly. And time is frozen for us in many ways. I couldn't believe it the other day, realizing that it's almost March, because truly in my mind, it is October 7.”

Rachel and John have taken a two-pronged approach to the campaign. One is focusing on advocacy and sharing the story. They feel very strongly that the issue of the hostages is not merely a ‘Jewish issue,’ and that the matter should concern the whole world.

Goldberg explained that the 250 musical festival attendees who were “dragged across the border" represent 39 nations.

“They were representing Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus," she added.

The youngest hostage was a nine-month-old baby named Kfir [who turned 1 in January, while in captivity], and the oldest hostage was an 87-year-old grandmother who survived the Holocaust, Goldberg told Calvert.

“So we’ve tried very hard to advocate that this is a unique situation and the world should be dealing with this in a very different way,” Goldberg said.

The second aspect of the ‘Bring Hersh Home’ campaign involves diplomatic action, including meeting Israeli lawmakers and as many world leaders as possible. Goldberg explained that she and her husband speak to the press daily.

The family is fluent in English, and Rachel said she was born and raised in Chicago. Just before Hersh turned eight years old, the family moved to Israel.

“So we very much have a foot in both worlds in terms of our English speaking,” she said. “We are asked often to go and speak in different locations. I spoke twice to the UN. I spoke once in New York and once in Geneva. I was asked to go speak to the Pope.. with a small group of other hostage families. I was asked to speak with the President of Israel, to Elon Musk; many different people who are seen as leaders with power, influence and, you know, a voice louder than any of the hostages who are being held without a voice.”

The couple, whose marriage is so strong that they can support each other wonderfully at this time, is also speaking to large groups of people from all over the world, who are coming to Israel on solidarity missions. Goldberg has said that her favorite groups have been Christian ones. She explained that being a person with a strong faith in God, herself, is definitely a comfort.

“Praying every morning, which I do religiously, it takes about a half an hour, is very important, especially during this time when you feel so un-moored in so many ways. My faith helps anchor me throughout the day. I am constantly saying different psalms, which I find very helpful. I’ve said that I feel like Psalms is a self-help book because you can pick out the one that speaks to you in that moment. And of course, there are psalms of praise, but there are also psalms of saying, ‘Where are you? Don't hide your face from me, God, I'm suffering. I'm in the darkness and I need you. Where are you?’ And so that's very validating. And I will say that the Christian community has been absolutely beautiful, supportive, loving and has completely 'shown up' for us."

“I will be forever eternally grateful to our Christian friends and neighbors around the world, of all different brands of Christianity, that have reached out to embrace us and embrace Hersh and the other hostages, and to pray for them," Goldberg continued.

"I have people who are in constant touch with me, sending me different psalms. They’re saying Christmas Eve was beautiful. We received thousands and thousands of photographs of people’s Christmas dinners with an empty plate that had Hersh’s name on it. We had people sending us photographs from Midnight Mass with Hersh’s poster, and other posters of hostages, on the altar with candles around those posters.

“You know, that gives me faith again, renewed faith in humanity which, by the way, is what the Pope said to me when I was in Rome. I showed him the video of Hersh's abduction. And he, Pope Francis, said, 'You know, what you've experienced is terrorism, and terrorism is the absence of humanity.' And that was such a wise, succinct, helpful way for me to reconcile what has happened to us and what we are going through. It helps me have faith in the goodness of humanity, and to understand that what happened to us and what is continuing to happen, is a piece of a lack of humanity.”

Goldberg told Calvert she is hopeful and desperate and hope is mandatory.

“Nothing is impossible for the Lord,” she said, referring to her prayer for her son and the other hostages.

“So, you know, anything that He wants to do to save these hostages… We pray that God reaches out and saves these hostages. I think I pray often for the insight and wisdom of our leaders and for them… I pray for them to find the courage and the grace to stop this today. And I pray for Hersh to stay strong and to survive, and to come home alive, today, along with all the other beloved hostages. And that’s really what the Christian community can keep praying for. Keep holding us up, praying for our strength to keep on going.

She told Calvert, “I believe in the power of prayer. I know it works. I feel it working. And I really believe that Hersh will come home. And I pray that the next time I talk to you, Paul, that you’ll get to talk to him.”

Click below to listen to the full interview.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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