Hersh Goldberg-Polin has been curious about the world since kindergarten. Obsessed with maps and atlases and globes. After saving money for years, he bought a yearlong round-the-world airplane ticket for this December 27.
His mother, Rachel Goldberg — who speaks with both extraordinary warmth and steely resolve — hopes Hersh will still take that trip, even though, on October 7, a Hamas grenade blasted off part of his arm.
Just 23 years old, Hersh was at the music festival near Kibbutz Re’im, promoted as a “journey of unity and love.” And he is one of the more than 220 hostages taken into Gaza.
I spoke this week with Rachel, who, along with her husband, Jon Polin, came to New York to speak wherever and whenever they could, including at UJA, with the singular purpose of raising awareness of their son’s story and the plight of all the hostages.
Lest we forget even for a moment, there are 30 young children and teens among the kidnapped. Entire families taken. Grandparents. A great-grandmother. A woman who devoted her life to coexistence. A teen with muscular dystrophy who depends on a feeding tube. A kindergarten teacher taken with her children, one aged 3, the other just 9 months old.
And on and on.
Which is why I don’t really know — and yet, of course I do — why we’re being met with too much silence in some circles and equivocation in others, even from those we consider communal friends. How can people rip down the posters across the city — including steps from UJA’s headquarters — showing the faces of the hostages.
We see and are enormously grateful to those who have stood with us and with Israel. Our president. New York’s governor and mayor. And Cardinal Dolan. His Eminence directed $100,000 from the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation, in addition to $50,000 from his own discretionary funds, to support our Israel Emergency Fund, and then also encouraged congregants at churches across New York to support UJA's work in Israel.
There are many others — but still far too few — who have unequivocally condemned Hamas’s barbaric massacre.
Adding another layer of heartache, today also marks the fifth anniversary of the Tree of Life massacre, when many of us in America awakened to a new reality: antisemitism was very much alive in this country. And now, given the growing unease across our community, we’ve allocated an additional $1.5 million to augment our already-robust community security infrastructure, allowing for more physical security upgrades and increased security patrols.
On college campuses, where we’re hearing almost daily reports of Jewish students facing harassment and intimidation from pro-Palestinian groups, we’re equipping Jewish student leaders with resources that help them in responding to media requests, speaking with campus administration, and inviting pro-Israel speakers to campus. We’re also planning to enhance support for our 11 local Hillels, serving 20 campuses, to strengthen activism, investigate antisemitic incidents, and much more.
We can’t be silent. And we can’t be complacent.
Which brings me back to Hersh.
I asked Rachel what we can do to help her cause, which must be ours too.
She asked us to call our elected officials daily and remind them to keep the pressure on. “Today is day 21, and the hostages are still not home.” And for those who are active on social media, tell the stories and share the hashtag #BringThemHomeNow.
Rachel shared how comforted she was by our community’s support. Wistfully, she said how much she would love to return to UJA with Hersh, how fun that would be.
She just wants her son back.
May her prayers and ours be answered.