This Hostage's Mother's Speech at the U.N. Is Heartbreaking and Necessary – Kveller
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This Hostage’s Mother’s Speech at the U.N. Is Heartbreaking and Necessary

Rachel Goldberg begged world leaders to keep fighting for the release of her son Hersh and the others held in Hamas captivity.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - Rachel Goldberg whose son Hersh Goldberg-Polin was kidnapped by Hamas addresses the press at the United Nations Headquarters on October 24, 2023 in New York City. The Security Council continues to meet to discuss the status of the Palestinians and the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

via David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

I keep thinking I might be done crying since October 7, and then I realize, as more and more news keeps pouring in, there will always be more tears. Today, those tears are thanks to Rachel Goldberg, a dual American-Israeli citizen who talked to the U.N. about her son, Hersh Goldberg-Polin, who was kidnapped by Hamas from the Supernova festival in Re’im, where almost 300 were killed.

It has been both devastating and inspiring to see how the families of hostages are sharing some of the most eloquent, prescient words to describe the situation they find themselves in, even with all their fear and grief. Through sleepless nights, they are finding a kind of endless energy to fight these battles. For Goldberg, these battles have led her from her home in Jerusalem, where she got two text message from her son — “I love you” and “I’m sorry” — hours before his phone was last geo-located across the border in Gaza to the U.N. in New York this Wednesday.

Goldberg, who is originally from Chicago, described, in as much detail as she could, what happened to her son, who was  celebrating his 23rd birthday at the festival, during that terrible day almost three weeks ago. Everything she knows she managed to glean from a few survivors who were near Hersh at the time, hiding under stacks of bodies and pretending to be dead.

“Here I live in a different universe than all of you,” she explained to the U.N. “You are right there… but I, like all of the mothers and all of the fathers and husbands and wives and sisters and brothers and loved ones of the stolen, we actually live on a different planet.” She went on to say the cruelest of questions is one that they get asked unwittingly, without malice, every day: “How are you?”

While she and the rest of the families of the over 200 hostages, who hold citizenships from 33 different countries, are in their “planet of agony… this planet of beyond pain, our planet of no sleep, our planet of despair, our planet of tears,” she asks, “Where is the world? … Why is no one demanding just proof of life?… This is a global humanitarian catastrophe,” she cried.

Goldberg also talked about “the hatred showered on Israel.” She said that she felt an article she read put it best: “When you only get outraged when one side’s baby is killed, then your moral compass is broken, and your humanity is broken.”

She implored people to ask themselves, “Do I aspire to be human or am I swept up in the enticing and delicious world of hatred?” She understands that “hatred of the other, whoever we decide that other is, is seductive, sensuous and most of all, it’s easy.” But, she said, it’s “not helpful, nor is it constructive.”

Discussing the attacks on Gaza, which have, according to Palestinian authorities, killed over 6,000 people, she said, “I know that Israel is being cautious because it knows that… there are over 2 million Palestinian civilians who are trapped in Gaza,” citing how Israel tried to give warnings for civilians to “relocate before they strike.”

“But there were no warnings given to the women, children, the elderly, the music lovers and the babies before… the intentional massacre of innocent lives,” she said of the October 7 attack.

“We all know that war and conflict always ends up hurting the innocent, and that is why war is so brutal [and] so very devastating,” she said. “In a competition of pain, there is never a winner.”

Here is what Goldberg knows about what happened to Hersh: On October 7, Hersh and his friend Aner Shapiro ran, along with 27 other people, into a bomb shelter near the festival. Most of the music-loving youth are now dead. The few survivors were saved by Shapiro, an IDF soldier, who, with his bare hands, threw seven grenades Hamas had thrown into the shelter back at them. When ZAKA, a volunteer emergency response team, found Shapiro’s body days later, there was still a grenade in his hand. According to one of the survivors, Shapiro saved lives that day — including, possibly, the life of his close childhood friend, Hersh, who lost his left arm in the attack. He was last seen getting in a pick-up truck with Hamas terrorists, with a tourniquet or some form of bandage.

It was Anderson Cooper who found the first video of Hersh while looking through footage of the Hamas kidnapping, and pointed it out to Rachel and her husband Jon before they were guests on his show. In the video that he shared with them, Hersh, with his missing arm, can be seen using his non-dominant hand to climb onto the Hamas vehicle. To Jon, he looked “calm” and “seemed physically strong enough,” Goldberg told Haaretz. “A lot of people are not aware that Hersh has a life-threatening injury,” Goldberg said in that interview, saying she desperately wants to know if he was given the medical attention he needed.

Goldberg says that one story that gives her hope is that of a Bedouin guard who ran to the shelter with Aner and Hersh and who tried to get Hamas to leave the youths alone by telling them that he’s a Muslim and that everyone inside was his family. The man was badly beaten, and his whereabouts are still unknown. Goldberg said she “finds comfort” that the man tried to save her son and the rest of the people in the shelter, since “there was someone trying to do the right thing when everything in the universe had been turned upside down.”

She ended her speech to the U.N. by begging world leaders “to remain steadfast, determined and tenacious” in their attempts to save the hostages “because the time is running out to save them. The time is running out to save all of us.”

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