By: Bat-Tzion Atik  | 

Leading Through Sympathy: YU Leadership Scholars Hear From Family Members of Hostages

On October 24th, the YU Leadership Scholars, a cohort scholarship program that promotes leadership activities and skills, attended a communal meeting at the Central Synagogue in Midtown, Manhattan with the families of hostages currently held captive by Hamas. We heard from Rachel and Jonathan Goldberg-Polin, parents of Hersh Goldberg-Polin, who is currently being held hostage by Hamas in the Gaza strip; Moshe Lavi, whose brother-in-law Omri is being held hostage; and Ruby Chen, whose son, Itai, is a hostage. 

This is what was shared:

Rachel Goldberg spoke about the little current information she knew about her son. She said that her son, Hersh, was at the music festival with his friend Honor. Following Hamas’ attack, they ended up fleeing to a bomb shelter with twenty-nine other people. Hamas terrorists came to the doorway and started throwing in hand grenades. Honor managed to throw out eight of them but three of them detonated. The terrorists then came in with weapons and began firing. Rachel said that there were very few members of the group in the bomb shelter who survived. Hersh was one of the survivors, although he lost an arm in the fire. The terrorists forced the survivors to stand up and walk out despite the injuries that they had sustained, subsequently taking them hostage. Jonathan, Hersh’s father, noted,“In this world where I try to look for optimism and strength anywhere I can find it, I find some in the video [depicting him being X] where he looked composed and in shock, but from that I took some strength and continue to say I hope that it’s carrying him forward.” 

Moshe Lavi spoke about his sister and her husband Omri. Omri is the father of a two-year-old girl and a six-month-old baby. His sister’s entire family was held captive for six hours in their home in Nachal Oz and then grouped with other families in another house before they were liberated. They all witnessed the horrors that occurred. When speaking about his niece, he pointed out, “It’s a trauma that will be with her for the rest of her life”. 

Ruby Chen spoke about the bar mitzvah his family made for his other son, Alon, a few weeks ago, shortly after Hamas’s terror attacks. He noted that family and friends who haven’t attended synagogue in over a decade showed up to his family’s simcha at their shul in support of their family. 

When all of the family members were asked by the audience what Americans in the United States could do to help, they unanimously agreed that we should be politically active in calling and emailing our elected officials constantly. 

“We need people to keep this front and center. It has to stay in the news,” Jonathan Goldberg said. “We have to have people talking about it sharing it on social media … it helps to call your elected officials every single day … this is what I would ask people in this room to do.” 

“We are the voice of these people,” Chen added. “It’s you guys. You talking to the senators. You talking to your congressman. We need you to amplify the message.” 

Rachel added that she wanted everyone to call a political office every morning while boiling water for coffee. “It can really be one minute every morning … It’s one minute, but it’s one minute from all of you … for now it’s that little mosquito that when you’re trying to sleep you’re like, shoot that’s so annoying. We want you to be that mosquito” to the politicians you speak to, she continued. 

Dani Minkove (YC ‘26), another leadership scholar, afterwards reflected, “It was incredibly empowering to hear from the families what we could do. For them not to despair and think, here are concrete steps we can be taking, was inspiring and gave me a lot of chizzuk [strength]. In addition to increasing our davening and learning, we also need to put our efforts toward calling congresspeople and keeping this in the front of their minds.” 

The program concluded with everybody, representing every religious denomination, singing Acheinu and Hatikva together. 

Eli Novick (YC ‘26) reflected that, “The most beautiful part was the achdus (unity). There were Jews from every single denomination sitting together, listening to the stories of our brothers and sisters together, singing Acheinu together. Just like biological siblings, even though we all have our differences and we occasionally don’t get along, we know how to come together for the things that matter most: family.” 

A key message of the event was that in addition to fundraising, davening, tehillim and taking on extra mitzvot, it’s crucial that every single one of us becomes that “mosquito,” advocating for our brothers and sisters. If every single one of us contacts our congresspeople, then we can make such a big difference in the lives of those who are struggling. Rachel Amar (SCW ‘26) shared, “That is why I feel our role as Leadership Scholars to fundraise and spread awareness is crucial–the war is not over, and it is our job to bring it to the forefront of everyone’s minds, just like the agony that has sat anxiously in the hearts of so many families for 18 whole days.”

Sometimes it can be difficult to connect with the struggles of our brothers and sisters in Israel when they are so far away. But this event really made everything feel so much more personal and close to home. We showed these families that they are not alone. We are all family, Acheinu Kol Beit Yisrael


Photo Caption: A family member of a hostage talking with attendees

Photo Credit: Rabbi Mordechai Schiffman