Israeli hostage families hold onto hope and demand a solution, saying, “He will come back.”

Now, days of absence and suffering instead of weeks or months, are Rachel Goldberg-Polin’s new calendar. She writes a number on a piece of tape and attaches it to her clothes every morning when she wakes up. It’s the number of days that Hamas kidnapped her son Hersh and claimed him as his own. That number is 155 when we get together in Jerusalem. When she checked her phone in the morning on October 7, she saw two texts from Hersh. First, they said, “I love you.” The second message that was sent out right away was, “I’m sorry.” Her call went unanswered. Her words, “It rang and rang,” I penned, ‘Are you alright? Tell me if you’re alright. There was never any evidence of those texts. My gut turned inside and my throat tightened. I simply knew that a terrible thing was happening, and I knew he knew it too.” Hersh became entangled in the chaos that Hamas had unleashed during the Supernova music festival. He went to a crowded bomb shelter for safety. Hand grenades were being thrown in by Hamas fighters who were nearby.

The 23-year-old’s most recent photo appears in a Hamas video. With shooters all around, he is being carried onto a pickup vehicle. It’s blasted off his left arm. 1,200 Israelis were murdered in the Hamas strikes, the most of them were civilians. Since then, officials in the Hamas-run region of Gaza claim that Israel has attacked the area nonstop, killing over 31,000 people. There, women and children make up 70% of the deceased. Rachel’s quest is to return her son and the other prisoners home while the conflict rages in Gaza. Hersh is one of the 130 hostages from the strikes of October 7th that are still in Gaza. Israel estimates that at least thirty have already passed away. “Every morning I make a concerted effort and say to myself, ‘now, pretend to be human so that I can get up and try to save Hersh and the other remaining hostages’,” she shares with me. “What I want to do is lay in a ball on the floor weeping, but that won’t help them.”

Despite her petite size and slight build, Rachel is a formidable mother of three. We get together at the office of a venture capital firm, which a friend leased us, which serves as her family’s campaign headquarters. She currently works as a campaigner full-time. Ever since the day of the assaults, she has not returned to her job. Jon, her spouse, hasn’t either. However, after five months, both domestically and internationally, attention is beginning to shift away from the hostages. Family members are fighting arduously to maintain their public profile. When you inquire about her, Hersh, a smile appears on her face. “That’s my favourite subject – my children,” she continues. “Hersh is a carefree, easygoing soccer enthusiast. Since he was a young boy, he has been enthralled with travel and geography, and he is a huge music festival enthusiast.” Her son, a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, was scheduled to depart for a year or two of travel throughout the globe. He had already purchased his ticket.

The date of departure was December 27. There was talk of a possible agreement to free the Palestinian captives and bring an approximate 40-day peace in exchange for the hostages being released before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. A dismal Ramadan has arrived, devoid of any progress. But in the coming day or so, negotiations on a potential deal are scheduled to pick back up in Doha. I’m terrified, uncertain, and anxious all the time, says Rachel. “You know the adage, don’t count your chickens before they hatch? Don’t count yourself hostage, in my opinion, until you’ve given them a hug.” However, she maintains that optimism “is mandatory”. “I believe it and I have to believe it, that he will come back to us.” Even in the midst of her suffering, she recognizes the suffering of Gazan families without delay. The suffering, she believes, has to end, and not just for Israelis. “There are thousands and thousands of innocent civilians in Gaza who are suffering,” she continues. “There is an abundance of misery in the world. And I would adore it if all of our leaders declared, “We’re going to do whatever it takes to make the lives of ordinary people better.”

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