Family members and local Jewish organizations came together on Oct. 26 and 27 at two events in Washington, D.C., to call for the immediate release of the hostages taken by Hamas terrorists during the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks in Israel. While in D.C., the families also met with members of Congress and the State Department to discuss efforts to free the hostages.
The events were centered around bringing more attention to the plight of the hostages and the tremendous strain it’s causing their loved ones, as well as underscoring the importance of bringing the hostages home as soon as possible.
The first event on Oct. 26 saw family members go to Capitol Hill and speak passionately about their missing loved ones at a news conference, where they urged political leaders to keep the return of the hostages a top priority.
It was a solemn and emotional event that spotlighted the hostages’ personal lives and stories and showed how desperate their families are to have them back home.
“I got a text message from my mother saying, ‘Dad has been kidnapped by terrorists. I’m alone in the safe room. Can’t talk.’ I never imagined in my life getting this message and I’m sure you can’t either,” said Noam Peri, the daughter of Haim Peri, one of the hostages.
Several family members also included a symbolic gesture to spread their message in the form of custom dog tags made in honor of the hostages and they asked the elected officials to wear them throughout their upcoming congressional meetings.
There was a clear and concise message from the families that they expected the government to do everything in its power to ensure the safe return of the hostages before any other objective.
“We expect the administration to do everything in their power to release the American hostages. The Israeli hostages, the young, the old, the women, everybody and we know that there was sincere intention to reach that point. But we need it. Now. There are sick people and there are wounded people. Time is running out,” said Ronan Neutra, father of Omer Neutra, a dual Israeli-American citizen serving in the Israel Defense Forces who was abducted by Hamas.
Neutra also had a message for his son that he hoped Omer would eventually be able to hear to raise his spirit and assure him of the family and government’s resolve to save him.
“You got all that administration behind you. Know that the 220 people that are out there with you are not forgotten. There is a big, big support here and a big cry and anybody, anybody in the free world should be working as hard as they can to release you. And we, the families, will not stop until everybody is back,” said Neutra.
On Oct. 27 there was a large public event at the Lincoln Memorial that drew a sizable crowd donning Israeli flags and holding posters of the hostages.
The Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool were the backdrop for the Empty Shabbat Table D.C. Community Gathering, at which a Shabbat table was set up right near the majestic steps of the Lincoln Memorial, with an empty chair representing each of the hostages and several infant seats for the toddlers taken.
The attendees donned “Bring Them Home Now” shirts and heard from a wide variety of speakers and cantors that went up to commemorate the plight of the hostages at what was a somber, quiet gathering with speeches and prayers.
Some of the speakers preached solidarity, while others shared personal narratives of people they know who were taken and the ways the community will look to rebuild from these horrors and keep those who were kidnapped in their thoughts.
“We don’t just carry our own souls, we carry both the souls of the people from the table and those who were murdered,” said one of the speakers.
Before the event concluded, the crowd broke into chants of “Bring them home now,” with their words echoing over the reflecting pool and the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial.
The powerful messages touched the crowd, with attendees holding onto their loved ones in support. The event ended with all of the attendees standing together and singing a prayer with their posters of the hostages held high and Israeli flags waving.
The events were a powerful display of support from the American Jewish community for Israel and made it clear that the community is unified in bringing the hostages home a top priority.
“It’s [these events are] to ensure that the hostages are a priority and as they [politicians] are engaging in discussions with allies, with others, that they keep the story of the hostages front and center and use their influence to ensure that Hamas knows that the hostages need to be freed unconditionally,” said William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.