Last Friday, I held my breath as I waited for the first round of hostages in Gaza to be released. Until the very last minute, it was unclear whether it would happen and who would be included, part of Hamas’ psychological warfare and another traumatic element of this excruciating war.
In an interview for an Israeli news channel, a young boy articulated the range of emotions that I have been feeling as some of the hostages finally returned to their families. Awaiting the arrival of his own family members, the boy shared excitement and joy that he would be reunited with the people he loved, but also fear and concern for his friends who were still missing. I’ve been hearing that joy and fear from so many in the community, in addition to anguish and outrage that the world had not yet demanded the release of the remaining hostages.
This week, Boston hosted several family members and friends of hostages to tell their stories, and I had the privilege of participating in an event with them on Tuesday. Hundreds of people gathered to bear witness and to join their effort to spread the word far and wide: Bring Them Home Now. This is not just a Jewish story. It is a human story. Mothers, fathers, babies and children, grandparents, people from different religions and nationalities, and their families around the world, are all suffering through this living nightmare.
Some of the stories I heard — I'm not sure I’ll ever forget or recover from hearing them. I am in disbelief at the resilience and courage of the families of the hostages. Behind the outrageous numbers of people murdered and abducted by Hamas are individual human beings. Jewish tradition teaches us that each of these lives are a whole world. Entire families and communities have been torn apart and worlds have been shattered. Some will never be repaired, while others continue to endure this interminable state of not knowing, still hoping for the possibility that their loved ones will return.
One of the hostage families concluded his remarks by sharing the video that has gone viral of his 9-year-old cousin, Ohad, running into his father’s arms. “Every one of us needs to keep watching this video,” he said. “We need to watch this in part so we can share in this family’s joy, as we should. And we need to watch this because it reminds us that we cannot rest until every single hostage returns home and runs into the arms of their families.”
Shockingly, we are already seeing October 7 denial and even the tearing down of hostage posters with claims that they are “propaganda,” attempts to totally erase these hostages and their families from the narrative of this war. Once again, we must bear witness and demand that the world not forget and not look away. Whether by putting signs in our window, reposting pictures and stories on social media, participating in #BlueRibbonsforIsrael, and/or attending local events, we all have a critical role to play and a moral obligation to keep telling their stories and to keep raising our voices. It is the least we can do.
Rabbi Marc Baker