Naftali Bennett leads crowd of thousands in New York calling for hostage release

Thousands took to the streets of Manhattan to mark 6 months since October 7


(Faygie Holt)

Dag Hammarskjold Plaza near the United Nations was a sea of blue-and-white on Sunday as thousands of people gathered to mark the six-month anniversary of the October 7 terror and to call for the release of the hostages in Gaza immediately.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told the crowd that Israel won’t be bullied by outside forces.

“No one can tell us or preach to us while there is even one man or woman in the tunnels of Gaza. … We won’t stop until we bring them all home,” he said, noting “It’s almost Pesach, and we don’t want an empty seat at the table except for Eliyahu HaNavi, (Elijah the prophet)”

Carrying Israeli flags, posters of hostages and handmade signs, they gathered to mourn, reflect, comfort and make clear that the hostages have been in the dark for far too long.

“We have been living in hell for the last six months,” said Rudy Chen, whose son Itay, an American member of the IDF and originally believed to have been taken hostage by Hamas but was killed on October 7. He said there is a “moral, legal and Jewish obligation to bring everyone home.”

Rachel Goldberg-Polin, whose son Hersh was abducted by Hamas after having part of his arm blown off has been at the forefront of advocating for the release of the hostages and inspired so many with her quiet strength over the last six months, broke down as she stood on the podium. The audience responded with shouts of “We love you Rachel.”

Noting that she had spoken in the past about wearing a costume to get through the day, Goldberg-Polin told the crowd, “Today my costume doesn’t work, and to be honest with you my friends … I am just too broken, I just can’t.”

Still, she spoke about the hostages, not just Hersh and the other Jewish hostages, but the “eight Muslim Arabs, the eight Thai Buddhists, the two African Christians” the hostages from Mexico and Nepal. As Goldberg-Polin said, “It is critical for the world to know how diverse the hostages are,” and that “we do them an injustice” when they aren’t mentioned.

Luis Har, who was rescued from Gaza just a few weeks ago, spoke in Hebrew with his son-in-law providing a translation. He recounted being “brutally taken out of my house” and said “I am here today to shout out loud” that there are still hostages—men, women, young, old, a baby and a kid, and “they must come back now.”

Are they smiling? Are they safe? Do they get food? Har asked rhetorically before saying, “I know every minute is a nightmare, a pure nightmare. … Strike a deal. As simple as that.”

It even appeared to some in the crowd that the congressman may not have completely finished his speech as he was drowned out by chants of “Bring them home.”

The reaction Nadler received was in contrast to that of fellow Jewish Congressman Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) who was in Tel Aviv on October 7. He said his children are “still dealing with the trauma” of being there as the Hamas rockets were raining down on the city. “But nothing,” he continued, “compares to the suffering of these families, their relatives in captivity have endured.

“It is unconscionable,” Goldman continued, that there are still American hostages, as well as the remains of American hostages, held in Gaza. “Since when don’t we care about other Americans held hostage?”

While many of those in attendance were American Jews and Israeli expats, a group of some 40 Israeli teens from Moshav Shuva, about four miles from the border with Gaza, also attended the rally.

The group stood toward the back of the crowd, at times they were locked arm-in-arm, and could be heard singing “Am Israel Chai” and “Acheinu” during the program. At other times, the group, made up of boys and girls between the ages of 14-18, would dance in a circle.

Nehara,16, was among the girls who came. She’d been in her home on October 7, and spent the very long day in a safe room with her parents. They were evacuated from their moshav around 2am the next day. Nehara found the rally “amazing and moving.”

The teens were in New York at the invitation of the Jewish community in Great Neck, Long Island, where they had spent Shabbat, met some of their American peers and recounted their stories from October 7.

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