Relatives of US citizens that are missing since Saturday's surprise attack by Hamas militants near the Gaza border, in Tel Aviv, Israel attend a news conference on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Tel Aviv, Israel.

‘We need to tell the story’: Parents of an Israeli hostage in Gaza grapple with uncertainty

Hamas took over 250 hostages from Israel on Oct. 7, including 23-year-old Hersh Goldberg-Polin. His parents, Rachel Goldberg and Jon Polin, have become high-profile advocates for bringing Israeli hostages home from Gaza. We hear from Hersh’s parents in an interview with “Israel Story,” a radio show and podcast in Tel Aviv.

The World

Hersh Goldberg-Polin was at the Supernova music festival in southern Israel on Oct. 7, when Hamas militants launched a series of deadly attacks. 

Goldberg-Polin, 23, lost his arm in the attack. He was then taken hostage in Gaza, along with over 250 other others.  

His parents, Rachel Goldberg and Jon Polin, have become high-profile advocates for bringing Israeli hostages home from Gaza. In a candid interview with “Israel Story,” a radio show and podcast in Tel Aviv, Goldberg and Polin talk about what it’s been like to live with the uncertainty of knowing their son is still held in captivity in Gaza. 

“It is a slow motion, stretched out, agonizing, continual way of being."

Rachel Goldberg, mother of Hersh Goldberg-Polin, a hostage in Gaza

“It is a slow motion, stretched out, agonizing, continual way of being,” Goldberg said. 

About 105 hostages were released during the brief truce last November, but Goldberg-Polin remains in Gaza. Israel said that 136 hostages remain in captivity and 31 were reported dead this week.  

Goldberg and Polin are holding out hope that their son is among the living. 

“We are yearning and praying for the immediate release of our hostages. We want to see them back as soon as possible," Israeli President Isaac Herzog said this week alongside US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Jerusalem.

But Polin said they made the decision on Oct. 7 that they weren’t going to wait around for the Israeli government or the US government to take action on their behalf. 

“We said we're taking matters into our own hands. We set up a situation room and sometimes there are four people here, sometimes there are 14 people here. It depends on the day and the time of day, but we are constantly in action mode, whether it be reaching out to US officials, reaching out to Israeli officials, finding foreign government officials that may be relevant players here, connecting with other hostage families to compare parts of the journey. We basically have said we need to tell the story, keep it front and center for the world, and we need to do everything we can to reach out to every influential person that we can that might ultimately be the person who could lead to the release of Hersh,” Polin said.

Goldberg said the experience of living with this uncertainty has been excruciating. But being catapulted into an advocacy role for the hostages has given her a sense of fearlessness. 

“I've never been in this situation before and this is just primal. What we've been doing, it's not me. This is so not me to go and not be scared. I don't care who I talk to now. Like, the scariest thing on planet earth has happened, so I don't care — getting up in front of 300,000 people in DC — my voice didn't shake. I don't care. I don't care, getting up in front of the UN, [or] up in front of the Pope, I don't care. I actually only feel comfortable physically when I don't feel comfortable. I don't want to feel good because I know [Hersh] doesn't feel good.”

Polin added that their sole focus has been on bringing awareness to the plight of their son and the other hostages currently being held in Gaza, with no time for anything else in their lives. Goldberg said staying constantly busy doing everything they can to raise awareness about their son has actually been better for their mental health. 

But each night as they attempt to sleep, often with the aid of sleeping pills, the parents said they face a sinking feeling because their son is still not home. 

“We always say to each other, ‘Well, I guess we failed because he's not home. They're not home,'" Goldberg said.

"It’s the ultimate myth of Sisyphus. We wake up every morning and we're like, OK, we're back to square one.”

This interview is part of a segment on The World that addresses how parents are coping during the current war between Israel and Hamas. Click here to listen to the story of a Palestinian father who is trying to protect his family in Gaza as Israeli troops close in on Rafah, where he is now based.

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