100 Days in Gaza

By: Jonathan Feldstein

January 14 will mark 100 days since the inhuman October 7 Hamas massacre of more than 1200 people in Israel and kidnapping of hundreds more, 136 of whom are still being held hostage in Gaza. They are citizens of some 20 nations: 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 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.”  She says, “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. 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 at which 367 people were slaughtered, women brutally raped, and from which dozens were abducted. Hersh was one of them, after having his left arm blown off by Hamas, 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, considering 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: the Pope said what she’s experiences is terrorism, and terrorism is the absence of humanity. 

Opposite 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. Citing the example of the cease fire 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 whether their loved ones were coming out in the Hamas orchestrated media event, Rachel had no expectations that Hersh was going to get out then, because it was only for women and children. This allowed her to celebrate the release of every single one of the hostages, especially as the families of the hostages have become an extended family themselves.

Rachel also would 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 speaks of the need for action, not emotional support. She implores people to think outside the box. As a US citizen, she’s grateful for President 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: president@whitehouse.gov)

Rachel notes candidly that she has seen no sign of the Red Cross’ willingness to actually be of material help, but tries to give them the benefit of the doubt. Their deflection that, “We’re here on the border.  We want to go in. Hamas won’t let us in,” is not sufficient. Rachel 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 care 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.” She’s frustrated.  “How is it possible that we can’t get these people back.”

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. More than 100,000 people sent pictures of those who set a place at their Christmas table with Hersh’s name on it.

On Sunday, January 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 everyone 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 can 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.