Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Rachel Goldberg speaks in front of a photo of her son Hersh Goldberg-Polin during a rally for hostages on January 14.

“We have reason to believe he is still alive,” Rachel Goldberg told the group gathered to hear her family’s story last week in Alon Shvut. Rachel and Jon Polin’s son Hersh was one of the hostages taken on Oct 7. Her words seemed almost incomprehensible to me. How could this woman possibly think their son was alive after all this time?

Those of us in the Israeli Anglo community have seen Hersh’s face and know his story. Beyond the major social media push on his behalf, we see posters of him everywhere. The story of what happened that day was reported to Rachel and Jon by the few who survived the attack.


Hersh, along with 27 others, took cover in a bomb shelter near the Nova dance festival as rockets rained down from above. Hamas militants repeatedly threw grenades into the shelter. Those trapped inside succeeded in throwing the grenades back – until one detonated. Most of the people were dead. Hersh lost his arm in the blast. The terrorists entered the room and instructed anyone who could to stand up and walk out. Maybe due to shock, Hersh followed the orders.

That was well over four months ago.

“Hersh was captured early on the morning of Oct. 7 and those taken first were given ample medical care because the terrorists had no idea they would end up with 250 captives,” Rachel continued. “Also, the most recent list of 30 hostages believed to be dead did not include his name.”

I was shocked. Prior to attending this event I had lost hope that Hersh might still be alive. Throughout the event, both Rachel and Jon spoke of their son in the present tense. “Hersh is such an amazing person,” they said. And I kept thinking, “Why are they referring to him like he’s still alive? He lost his arm four months ago; how could he survive this long?” But according to the information disclosed that night, it seems I was mistaken. The parents clearly have reason to believe their child is alive.

The guilt I felt was massive.

Those of us who wake up to see our children every day cannot fathom the reality people like Rachel and Jon have been subjected to. The parents and relatives of hostages who have been in captivity for nearly 150 days live on a different planet, “a planet of tears,” as Rachel put it. For the rest of us, our lives have continued with the expected disruptions of war, but we couldn’t possibly begin to understand the pain and suffering these families are enduring. And all I could think during the presentation was, “Have I done enough?”

Here in Israel, at each of the three daily prayer services, we say additional Tehilllim for the wellbeing of the soldiers and the captives. The truth is there is no consistent practice among communities. Some say Tehillim on Shabbat, others don’t. Some communities say daily Tehillim so that they complete the entire book, all 150 psalms, in a month. And still others say a prayer for healing and the return of the hostages, during which they pause to say all 134 names of those still in captivity. Whenever you enter a new prayer space, you never know what to expect.

This means the hostages are on many of our minds multiple times a day. That may seem like a decent amount, but I left the event wondering, how could that possibly be enough? How am I not doing more all the time? If my family members were captive, wouldn’t I hope for more from my community? But when I think of what more I can do the task seems so overwhelming, I give up before I even start.

I recently heard a derasha on Parashat Terumah. The rabbi spoke about the Aron HaKodesh which carried the Luchot. The vessel was laid with gold both inside and out. What is generally overlooked is that, with that much gold, the ark would weigh over a ton. The question is, how could the Children of Israel even lift something that heavy, let alone carry it through the desert for 40 years?

One possible answer is that it was a miracle. But if G-d was carrying the Aron, then why was it commanded to have wooden rods on the sides at all times? It would seem superfluous. The rabbi’s answer was that we had to start the lifting in order for G-d to perform the miracle.

In these trying times, it’s helpful to remember that G-d is there to help us achieve even the most daunting of tasks. This insight helps me feel that I can do more for the hostages and their families even though it seems so unattainable. And there are many things that can be done – from contacting your local representatives, to donating to the cause, to sharing posts on social media. Perhaps the help we all provide for these families will carry them as they attempt to lift the Aron.

If we all just take that first step.


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The writer is a rabbi, a wedding officiant, and a mohel who performs britot and conversions across the world. Based in Efrat, he is the founder of Magen HaBrit, an organization protecting the practice of brit milah and the children who undergo it.