Today is Day 83 since this all began. That is, since our cousin Hersh Goldberg-Polin and more than 240 others were taken hostage by Hamas. Since the atrocities of October 7 and the war that has followed, with its ever-greater toll on both Israelis and Palestinians.
And today – December 28, 2023 – is the day that Hersh was supposed to be on the first day of his journey around the world, landing in India, and eventually making his way to Nepal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Thailand.
He had been saving up, working various odd jobs. He was supposed to start working at a new restaurant, slated to open up around the corner from our home here in Jerusalem, and just a few more blocks from his. Renovation delays meant that they kept postponing their opening date. Every time we walked by we’d peer in through the cracks of the paper plastered across the windows, trying to see if they were almost ready. My husband kept joking with Hersh that at this rate, he might have to find another job or he’d never save up the money he needed for his big trip. Hersh would arch his eyebrows and laugh.
The horror of Hersh being in captivity – with no further news of his situation since the video clip of him being forced onto a Hamas truck, with his left arm blown off – is a constant presence permeating our thoughts, our discussions, our dreams. Sometimes it’s there, just below the surface; sometimes at the center of a particular effort or conversation. But this terrible reality is always there, here, among us, with us, deep within us.
Sometimes it hits hard, making you unable to continue what you were doing. This is one of those moments.
Does Hersh know that today is December 28th? That today was the day he was supposed to begin his journey? Released hostages describe varying sensibilities of time. Some were able to keep track; one little girl thought she had been held hostage for a year. Over the course of 83 days and nights, during which the sun’s brilliant rays and the moon’s silvery glow presumably don’t light up the tunnels of Gaza, perhaps he’s lost count of just how many days it’s been.
I worry not just about the passage of time – the way that with every day, every minute, the risks to the hostages’ lives mount – but also about the emotional toll of date milestones. Early this December, Jews celebrated Hanukkah – a holiday of light and miracles. But its eight days passed without a miracle. On December 15, Congress went on winter break, understandably, but that means there’s no one to do the work needed when people make their one-minute-a-day calls to their elected officials to keep up the pressure to release the hostages. Hersh’s mother Rachel has been sharing messages on social media with each new theme of the Advent countdown to Christmas, and now Christmas has come and gone.
As these date milestones slip past without Hersh and the hostages returning home, I draw from it a critical lesson. That hope cannot be pinned on any particular date, action or individual, but must, rather, transcend them. We must sustain our faith through continuous effort, working constantly toward the goal of saving their lives, over time with its various milestones; through a vast array of efforts; opposite all sorts of key players.
It’s an excruciating reality, slashing at the heart over and over. But we delude ourselves if we think that the decision-makers will keep this front and center without being reminded constantly how much it matters, and to how many people. After all, there are so many competing issues at the various decision-makers’ tables – Hamas; the Israeli soldiers and their families and evacuees and economic costs; international opinion; “the day after”…. There is much to be concerned about and so much to do. It can be overwhelming.
But Hersh and the other hostages are still waiting to be saved. Which is why we have to maintain a clear-eyed focus on the issue of hostage release alongside it all, and keep demanding that the decision-makers prioritize that all the hostages come home now. Because the hostages have no time. Certainly not the wounded among them – like Hersh. Not those with preexisting medical conditions, nor the elderly, who can’t be getting the care they need. Not the women among them, many of whom we can assume, based on released hostage testimony, are at risk of sexual abuse. Not the two small children and their mother whom we hope are still alive, despite Hamas claims that they are dead. Not the men among them, many of whom we can assume, based on released hostage testimony, are at risk of torture.
Hope and prayers aren’t enough by themselves. They must be the fuel for action, raising awareness and advocating with key decision-makers of all types.
Today is day 83. December 28th, 2023. Hersh has missed his flight to India. So we’ll have to keep doing all we can so that he and the other hostages can make it back home in time. To be reunited with their families. To recover from this trauma. And catch a later flight to travel the world.
There is a time for everything. For the hostages, it is time to come home.