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Josh Fine

One Hundred Days of Hell

Along with about 120,000 of my fellow Israelis, I gathered last night in Hostages Square in Tel Aviv to mark “one hundred days of hell,” as the posters proclaimed.

A word about Kikar HaChatufim, or Hostages Square – it sprung up in the plaza in front of the Tel Aviv Art Museum in the days after the attack and has become a central gathering place for our collective anguish and rage over the hundreds of innocents who were stolen from their homes and locked underground. I remember visiting Ground Zero in New York about six weeks after the September 11 attack. Hostages Square has a similar feeling. At any time of day or night people are gathered. There are hundreds of notes, flowers, posters and art installations.

But Hostages Square is different from Ground Zero in that it is so personal. The families of the hostages have been camping in the square since the beginning of the war. I’ve been a few times and each time I hear another story – a woman whose sister was kidnapped, a hostage who was released and tells of the unspeakable cruelty of her captors, and so many parents who are waiting for their children. Israel is a very small country, and the hostage families are not statistics but neighbors and colleagues and friends. At Hostage Square we talk to these families, and we try in vain to comfort them. But as we look them in the eyes, we see that the life has been sapped from their faces, as if speaking to ghosts whose hearts are in tunnels in Gaza.

Last night as storm clouds rolled over Tel Aviv, we gathered again to let the families know that we have not forgotten about them and we will never forget about them. And as I listened to story after story, my cheeks wet with rain and tears, I found myself boiling over with rage.

Gathering in Hostage Square to mark 100 days of captivity. Photo by the author.

I live in Israel and work overseas, and I have made two trips to the US since the war began. Hopping back and forth between these worlds is head-spinning. I used to feel at home in both places but as the world seems to turn more and more upside down, being outside of Israel makes me dizzy. In Israel, you cannot escape the posters of the kidnapped, the signs at almost every intersection to Bring Them Home, the dog tags around virtually every neck, the yellow ribbons tied on almost every car door handle. But overseas, the world has other concerns.

How is it possible that the world isn’t screaming about 100 days of captivity for a baby? When jihadists kidnapped and raped hundreds of girls in Nigeria in 2014, the world screamed #BringBackOurGirls, culminating in a famous tweet from the First Lady that was shared by millions. When jihadists kidnapped and raped hundreds of Israelis, Michelle Obama’s Facebook and Twitter feeds are silent. How is that possible?

Michelle Obama’s 2014 viral post to free kidnapped Nigerians. Photo from Twitter, @FLOTUS.

How is it possible that on the night I went to Hostages Square to hear from bereft parents, a woman who used to be my study partner at a yeshiva 24 years ago and who is now ensconced in academia mused on Facebook that when people pronounce Hamas with a Hebrew “het” instead of an English “h,” that is a microaggression because it “Hebraicizes” their name? And a huge discussion followed with nearly 100 comments about why that pronunciation is so offensive? How is it possible that people are more concerned with microaggression against kidnappers than actual aggression against their victims?

And how is it possible that the Convention Against Genocide, adopted in 1948 in response to the murder of six million Jews, is being used in the International Court of Justice to seek an injunction that would prevent the world’s only Jewish state from defending itself against an organization whose genocidal mission is explicitly and proudly proclaimed? How is it possible that South Africa, a state that was once banned from international sports for excluding blacks, is now excluding Jews from its national teams while at the same time championing the cause of kidnappers in the ICJ? Seeking a ruling that would tell us we must allow our children to remain captive in the dungeons of people who seek the death of all Jews, because it is our fighting for their release and not the kidnapping of our children that is genocidal? How does any of this make sense?

The morning after the demonstration in Tel Aviv, our one hundredth day of hell, it poured in Raanana. We received the news that another young man from our town, Major (res.) Dan Wajdenbaum, 24, fell in battle in central Gaza. When a soldier from Raanana is killed, there is usually a procession from the family’s house to the local military cemetery, and the town shows up to line the route with Israeli flags in a final salute. We are too used to this ritual. I grabbed my flag and walked a few blocks to the route, joining over a thousand of my neighbors – retirees and schoolchildren, religious and secular, good friends and strangers. The sun came out, and the army van bearing the coffin slowly crawled along the street, followed by the family that will never be whole again. Hundreds followed them to the cemetery. Others held their flags and dropped their heads in a silence that was louder than any scream.

Flags line the route of the funeral procession for Major (res.) Dan Wajdenbaum, Raanana, January 14, 2024. Photo by the author.

These have indeed been one hundred days of hell. And as I watched the silent procession slowly head toward the cemetery, I was sick knowing there are likely more days of hell ahead. But standing with my neighbors, our flags fluttering in the wind and our eyes glassy, I was comforted that at least here, with all these people, up is still up and down is unfortunately still very much down. And as hellish as it is living with such anguish all around, right now there is no place else to be.

About the Author
Josh Fine develops cabin resorts in mountain and rural areas of the United States. He made aliyah in 2019 from Denver, Colorado. Josh lives in Raanana with his wife and three children. His oldest child currently serves in the IDF. Josh graduated from Harvard University and Harvard Law School and was the president of a Denver-based real estate development company before moving with his family to Israel.
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