April 2, 2024: Rabbi Ron Shulman

I approached Hostage Square in Tel Aviv slowly. After months of seeing it in pictures, on Tuesday it was my turn to stand in front of the board counting 178 days, 07 hours, 45 minutes, and 37 seconds of captivity for the 134 Israeli hostages held in Gaza. I walked around the square feeling as if I was on sacred ground. A place to reflect in sadness. A site devoted to pondering the incomprehensible circumstances of the hostages’ plight and their families’ unending pained worries and fears. I walked into the mocked-up terror tunnel. I listened to relatives speaking with small groups of visitors like me recounting their frustrations and anger and talking about their loved ones. I respectfully stood with others in silence.

For me this was an important touch point. The reason I am participating on Jewish Federation of San Diego’s Solidarity Mission to Israel is my need somehow to touch October 7 personally. My daily routine these past months has been intertwined with the news and complexities of this shattering event, but from the distance. Though I’m a “tourist” not an Israeli, I’m a Jew also impacted and hurting.

Our group arrived at Hostage Square after visiting the Schneider Medical Center where the children held hostage and released last November were first treated. We walked the hallway through which those children reunited with their families. We learned of the hospital's preparations, treatment protocols, and remarkable care. We watched a video of family reunions with tears in our eyes and hope in our hearts.

In the middle of Hostage Square a now famous long Shabbat table is set. At the seats representing the freed hostages dinner plates read in Hebrew, “How good it is that you've returned home.” I thought of the children whom I had just vicariously met. At the place settings representing those still held captive there are no plates. Burlap and half-filled water bottles symbolize what they lack in food and dignity. I thought of the hostages still suffering in Gaza.

Focusing on the hostages today, I realized it wasn’t that I needed to see what I already had seen on media or somehow touch what I already knew took place on October 7. It's not that I touch Israel. It's how deeply Israel and the resilient spirit of our people touch me.


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