Michelle Conwisar
Immediate Past President, Hadassah Southern California

How Hadassah’s Solidarity Mission to Israel Inspired Me and Gave Me Hope Part 3

The author (center) with Hadassah Past Presidents Ellen Hershkin (left) and Rhoda Smolow (right).  Photo courtesy of the author.
The author (center) with Hadassah Past Presidents Ellen Hershkin (left) and Rhoda Smolow (right). Photo courtesy of the author.
Photo courtesy of the author.
Jon Polin and Rachel Goldberg, parents of 23-year-old Hersh Goldberg-Polin. Photo courtesy of the author.
Photo courtesy of the author.

This is the third in a four-part series by Michelle Conwisar on her visit to Israel on a Hadassah Solidarity Mission.

Many of you have probably heard, or read about, Rachel Goldberg and Jon Polin, the parents of 23-year-old Hersh Goldberg-Polin, who was kidnapped from the Nova Music Festival during the October 7th raid and massacre by Hamas. In many ways, they’ve emerged as the face of the hostage families. They’ve met with President Joe Biden and Pope Francis and they were on the cover of Time Magazine. Rachel Goldberg has spoken at the United Nations and at the March for Israel rally in Washington, D.C., last fall.

In all those places, as well as in countless interviews, speeches and meetings, they’ve told the heartbreaking tale of the two text messages Hersh sent on the morning of October 7th — one which said, “I love you” and the other “I’m sorry.” He wrote those messages from within a bomb shelter on the Nova Music Festival site, where he was hiding with 28 other partygoers.

Eighteen of the 28 young people in the bomb shelter were killed, and Hersh was badly wounded (his left arm blown off). Shortly thereafter, Hersh and three others from the shelter were loaded onto a Hamas pickup truck and taken into Gaza.

As participants in the January Hadassah Solidarity Mission, we were privileged to meet Hersh’s parents, hug them and share their sorrow and tears.

We also witnessed scenes that seemed straight out of a Hollywood movie yet were painfully real. From seeing the devastation at the Nova Music Festival site and at Kibbutz Kfar Aza to hearing the heart-wrenching stories from Rachel and Jon about Hersh’s kidnapping and the death of many of his friends, every moment felt like we were standing on sacred ground.

At the festival, 364 young adults were murdered, and hundreds were wounded. Many were sexually abused. We walked around the site paying our respects to those 364 innocent, joyous, free-spirited, young people who had been there to enjoy the music, be with friends and celebrate life.

We heard stories of unimaginable loss, of families torn apart by senseless violence. But, amidst the despair, one thing stood out—the unity of the Israeli people. Despite their individual traumas, Israelis stand together as one family, resilient and unwavering.

We visited The Salad Trail, a vibrant working farm run by Uri Alon, who moved to Moshav Talmei Yosef to fulfill David Ben Gurion’s dream of turning the desert green. Uri created a unique touch-and-taste farm, where you can pick your own produce, enjoy a complete sensory experience and learn about Israeli agriculture.

On October 7th, hearing the sound of gunfire, Uri ran to his bomb shelter, assuming it was “a normal day of shooting” since Moshav Talmei Yosef is very close to the Gaza border. But it was not a typical day of shooting at all; 3,000 rockets struck in the first hours of the attack and terrorists arrived at the moshav gates.

Uri showed us an old broken wooden chair that he said was worth $100 million in his eyes. Why? He had been worried about his son, who lives in Kfar Aza with his wife and three children. His son had taken this old chair out of his living room on October 6th, right before the Simchat Torah holiday and placed it in the family safe room. That chair saved their lives when they propped it up against the safe room door, making it impossible for the terrorists to turn the door handle.

Safe rooms do not have locks on the doors so that the people inside can be rescued after bombings subside. The Israelis had never thought there would be terrorists on foot rampaging through their communities, so they did not anticipate the need to lock shelter doors. Consequently, the only option they had to keep the terrorists out was to take turns holding the door handle shut or propping things up against the door.

It had been 2 p.m. when Uri’s son, sheltering in his safe room, saw the handle of the door slowly turn. Unable to get the door open, the terrorist moved on.  Eventually, an Israeli soldier came and gave food and water to Uri and his family but warned them to stay put. There they stayed for 30 hours.

When Uri’s son and his family finally came out of the safe room, they found a dead terrorist lying on their living room floor.

Tragically, their next-door neighbors, who were Uri’s son’s wife’s sister and brother-in-law, were killed in their beds. Miraculously, the couple’s one-year-old twins were spared, found after 30 hours of being left alone in the family safe room. Uri’s son and daughter-in-law have adopted their twin nephews.

As I write this, I continue to slowly process all I saw on the mission. It will take much more time for me to release the heaviness of all I bore witness to.

In Part 4 of my series, I will take you to the remaining stops on Hadassah’s Solidarity Mission. In the meantime, here’s what you can do to help Israel and the remaining hostages:

 Contact your elected officials: If you’re American, click here to find out  how to urge your legislators to sanction supporters of Palestinian terrorists. If you’re a citizen of another country, tell your leaders it is not acceptable that innocent civilians from 18 countries are being held hostage in Gaza by Hamas.

 Contact the White House. Anyone can do this; you don’t need to be a US citizen! And these appeals are tracked, so make sure your voice is heard! Call +1-202-456-1414 and/or email

 Contact Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at and demand he do more to ensure the return of the remaining hostages.

 Have faith. Whatever form of prayer you relate to, please pray for the hostages’ safe return. They were randomly kidnapped and deserve to be home.

About the Author
Michelle Conwisar is the Immediate Past President of Hadassah Southern California and a member of the Hadassah Writers' Circle. As a third generation Hadassah leader Michelle is honored to follow in her mother and grandmothers’ legacy. Michelle has held many leadership roles in her nearly three decades of Hadassah involvement. Currently she is a National Evolve: The Next Generation Liaison helping to expand Hadassah’s outreach to a younger demographic in local communities. Michelle is also the Vice Chair of the upcoming National Capital Campaign which will be launching in the near future. As a proud National Hadassah Leadership Fellow Alumna, a two-year leadership training program that she was selected for in 2016, Michelle credits Hadassah for giving her opportunities to feed her passions for Israel, advocacy, and fundraising for medical research. Michelle’s husband of 30 years, Phil, is a Hadassah Associate. They have two daughters who are fourth generation Hadassah life members.
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