In a powerful display of solidarity, thousands of New York’s Jewish community members converged on Times Square on Thursday evening to passionately call for the release of an estimated 203 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.
The gathering, aptly named the “Bring Them Home Now” rally, showcased images of the missing hostages on fifteen Times Square billboards, urging the world’s attention towards their plight.
Eva Fogelman, a distinguished psychiatrist specializing in intergenerational trauma stemming from the Holocaust, expressed concern that the hostages had not received the media coverage they deserved. She noted that hostage situations elsewhere tend to dominate headlines, but the focus had recently shifted to the tragic bombing of the Al Ahli hospital in Gaza, resulting in the loss of hundreds of Palestinian lives.
Tani Foger, a school psychiatrist attending the rally, emphasized the urgency of the situation, stating, “The hostages should be on the front page. Hostages are hostages, and shining a global spotlight on this issue would increase the pressure on Hamas to negotiate.”
The rally unfolded as Israel considered a ground invasion of Gaza in the wake of an attack by Hamas that claimed the lives of at least 1,400 Israelis. In return, over 3,000 Palestinians lost their lives in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza over the past 12 days.
Hamas admitted that not all the hostages taken to Gaza were in their custody, and the exact number remained uncertain. In an interview with The New York Times, Osama Hamdan, a member of Hamas’s political bureau in Lebanon, pointed to Palestinian Islamic Jihad as one of the groups responsible for holding some of the hostages.
Amidst the gathering, Eden Zinger, a 23-year-old flight attendant from Israel, drew attention to the character and timing of the Hamas attack on a rave almost two weeks ago. She underscored the fear that had gripped the Palestinian population, saying, “Imagine… people were enjoying a joyful moment, and then suddenly, someone started shooting.”
Zinger’s colleague, Lidya Bell, 24, highlighted the tragedy of young lives lost and the collective fear that had gripped Israel. She expressed relief at the support from the United States, saying, “When the US president spoke, and said he stands with us, it really helped. We felt, finally, we’re not alone.”
The “Bring Them Home Now” rally, organized by the Israeli-American Council, attracted prominent political figures, including Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer, Israel’s permanent representative to the UN, Gilad Erdan, and New York Mayor Eric Adams. With 1.6 million adherents to Judaism in New York City, their collective voice resonated more powerfully than ever.
Schumer, who had recently visited Israel, vowed unwavering US support, asserting that they would stand with Israel until the threat of Hamas was entirely eliminated, and every hostage was returned. He emphasized that Hamas’s actions had only strengthened the resolve of the United States to stand with Israel.
However, Erdan criticized the UN for what he saw as a lack of attention to their plight, calling on the UN Secretary-General António Guterres to prioritize the return of the Israeli hostages over other issues. Erdan pledged that until the Israeli hostages were returned, neither the UN Security Council nor Gaza would find peace.
Mayor Eric Adams likened the situation to a pivotal moment in history, referring to it as an “Emmet Till moment.” He stated that New York stands for humanity, both at home and abroad, and called for the safe return of their Jewish brothers and sisters.
These powerful statements preceded a televised address by President Joe Biden, who requested a $14 billion security package from Congress to bolster Israel’s military capabilities.
Among the rally’s attendees was David Morris, a litigation lawyer, who, despite his opposition to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, stressed that the taking of hostages by Hamas was not the solution. He urged a focus on the safe return of the hostages, recognizing it as the paramount concern.