Johnny Kagan

United In Grief

Last Saturday night, after the march to Jerusalem, an important meeting was held at the headquarters of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum in Tel Aviv, between the families of the hostages and two members of the Israeli war cabinet. This meeting was achieved after over forty thousand people marched with their families to Jerusalem, demanding the slightest attention and response from all cabinet members.

Finally, Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot agreed to meet with the families. Towards the end of the meeting, a faint cry from one of the mothers in the hall was heard: ” Where were you? Why did it take you 40 days to meet us? How do you think we’ve managed to survive 40 days and sleepless nights if not thanks to the support we got from the Hostages and Missing Families Forum?!”

I have been volunteering at the Hostages and Missing Families Forum since its establishment. I led the march to Jerusalem with the families. I prayed for them. I was positive that they would receive a glimmer of hope in the meeting with the cabinet. Maybe some information. Some news – either bad or good. At this point, the families no longer need a hug. They have already received it. What they really need is certainty.

They need to know that actions are taken. That there is at least one responsible individual in the war cabinet who is capable of steering the ship to a safe shore. Someone who takes into account the family’s loved ones when making the decisions.

I stood still at the edge of the hall and waited. Eventually, the meeting concluded with the same statement the families have long been tired of. The same hollow cliché: “We are doing and will do everything in our power to bring back the hostages”. What value does this statement hold? Haven’t we heard it already in the early days of the war? If your child or parent was kidnapped in Gaza with no information about their fate, would you be satisfied with it? Will the families receive no answer until they reach another disaster like in the case of IDF veteran Itzik Saidyan who self-immolated?

In a country with a moral compass, “public representatives” should have been begging to meet with the families of the hostages, fall on their knees, ask for forgiveness, and re-earn their trust to bring their loved ones back home. It really doesn’t matter if a certain public representative has declared that he takes responsibility or sought to evade it, whether he is responsible with an indictment or responsible and found guilty. “The law should pierce the mountain” – unfortunately, Israel of our days lost its moral compass.

I still refuse to believe that I live in a country where citizens whose loved ones are held in captivity in the dark, are required to march 100 kilometers only for the “public representatives” to finally agree to cross the road from the Kirya military base and walk 100 meters to the headquarters of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, and meet with them. From the first day of the war, the families were required to beg and chase tirelessly after those ‘job holders’ who failed in every parameter possible.

But there is another approach. Entirely different. I know that because I’ve witnessed it. I accompanied the families’ delegation on an official visit to Washington, where they met with senior U.S. government officials. They are too, public representatives. Busy and important no less than our representatives; unlike them, they hold no official responsibility towards the Israeli citizens. Nevertheless, they have found it appropriate to clear their busy schedule and meet in person with the Israeli families. The families received attentive ears from the top senators – both Republican and Democratic. They listened to them, hugged them, cried with them, and faced their terrible pain, without running from it. Moreover, they told them what they have already accomplished, what they intend to do next (the approval of a $14 billion aid package to Israel), and last but not least – what they cannot do.

In the video: A bipartisan assembly in Washington in solidarity with the families of the hostages.

In the video (left to right): Itai Raviv, Rita Lifshitz, Congressman Brad Sherman, Boaz Atzili, and Yael Nadim.

And it is not lip service. Two weeks have passed since the visit, and many of the senators we met are still engaged in advocacy for Israel in the printed and broadcasted media, and their various social media accounts. They don’t share the opinion that advocacy efforts are a waste of money, as the recently resigned Information Minister of Israel.

Posts about the massacre at Kibbutz Nir Oz from Senator Rick Scott’s Twitter:

Back to the march to Jerusalem. 90 kilometers in five days. An unfolding event that was initiated by Yuval Harn, whose three family members were brutally murdered, and seven are  held in captivity by the Hamas-ISIS terror organization. On Sunday, November 12th, Yuval announced his intention to march to Israel’s prime minister’s office. It was clear that we would support his plans. By Tuesday afternoon, all was set.

Hand in hand, brother in arms, we all marched at one pace, overcoming the weather and the challenging climbs to the capital city. Five days in the blazing sun and pouring rain, accompanied by people of all ages and from all ends of the political spectrum. Some elder people had difficulty walking. Parents brought their young children in carts. The accompanying paramedics were busy treating several injuries, but our goal was one – resonating the families’ cry to bring their loved ones alive from captivity. There is no higher goal, no greater commandment, and no greater strength than the unity of tens of thousands of citizens who left everything behind and came with their families on a grueling journey out of true belief in the righteousness of the goal. Out of unity of fate.

In the video: Thousands marching together on the ascents to Jerusalem (Credit: Yair Palti)

“We could no longer sit at home and be silent. We came to support the families”, said the concerned and heartbroken marchers. Thanks to these amazing people, thanks to the citizens who have volunteered since the beginning of the war, thanks to the businesses that have donated to the soldiers at the frontline and to the civilians back home, and thanks to our great people, I feel that though our leadership has lost its moral compass, the compass is not entirely broken. The battle is not yet lost – the citizens have taken command.

‘One-line drawing’ that symbolizes the unity of the Jewish people. An art piece that was drawn by the artist Roei Elba and presented at the “Hostages & Missing Square” near the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. 

About the Author
R&D Product Manager at a medical device company. Obtained a bachelor's degree in Neuroscience and an MBA in biomedical management; a social worker by profession. Creative thinker and an amateur writer. Volunteered at the operations team at the hostages and missing families forum since its first week of establishment.
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