Thousands who gathered in Manhattan on Oct. 10 for a “New York Stands with Israel” rally heard a mother’s plea for the release of her son.
“We last spoke with him on Friday night,” Orna Neutra told the crowd of her 21-year-old son Omer. “In our last conversation, he was looking forward to a quiet, peaceful weekend after a stressful month protecting the border.”
Omer Neutra is believed to be held captive by Hamas in Gaza, his mom said. “Omer, we know you are alive. We know you are whole. Be strong. We love you very much, and you know, we will be together again, soon.”
A native of Long Island, N.Y., Omer is a fan of the New York Knicks and served as captain of the basketball, volleyball and soccer teams at the Schechter School of Long Island. He opted to spend a gap year in Israel before studying at the State University of New York at Binghamton.
Ronen Neutra, Omer’s father, praised U.S. President Joe Biden’s speech earlier in the day which has been widely seen as strongly pro-Israel. “We love you, and we are just looking forward to bringing you back home,” he said, directed to his son.
The event, which drew thousands and was organized by UJA-Federation of New York and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, drew city and state officials, as well as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations to Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza in Midtown Manhattan, near U.N. headquarters on the east side.
Many attendees waved Israeli flags, and many bore signs, including one that stated: “Never Again Is Now.”
“We are not all right when we see young girls pulled from their home and dragged through the streets,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams said at the rally. “We are not all right when we see grandmothers being pulled away from their homes and children shot in front of their families. We are not all right when right here in the city of New York, you have those who celebrate at the same time when the devastation is taking place.”
“We are not all right when Hamas believes that they are fighting on behalf of something, and their destructive despicable action that [they] carried out. We are not all right when we still have hostages who have not come home to their family,” continued Adams, a Democrat who has visited Israel several times.
“Everything is not fine. Israel has a right to defend itself, and that’s the right that we know,” he added. “Your fight is our fight.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul told the crowd that she will fight antisemitism “everywhere it rears its ugly head.” She also noted that there are New Yorkers who still don’t know the whereabouts of their loved ones.
To date, news reports have circulated that there are 22 US citizens killed and 17 still unaccounted for.
Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, told the crowd that the Israel Defense Forces are up to the task. “In Israel, we don’t flee the battle. We run towards it because we are a people of heroes,” he said.
“Your love is an integral part of our resilience,” he told the crowd.
“Barbaric terrorists invaded our homeland,” he said. “They massacred children in their beds. They exterminated revelers like the Nazi death squads in Europe. They violently dragged our grandfathers and grandmothers, babies and their mothers to Gaza, as hostages. They started a war not only with Israel but with civilization as a whole.”
Israel had suffered its own 9/11, according to the ambassador.
“We have witnessed our ‘Never Again’ moment, and not in our worst nightmares could we have fathomed such horror,” he said. “But this moment of darkness will not only go down in history for its infamy, it will go down in history as the time that we, the Jewish people, showed the world that we will never be massacred again.”
Hamas aimed to butcher Jews at their weakest, but the Jewish people were not and are not divided, according to Erdan. Worldwide support for Israel could change, he warned. “The world is quick to forget Jewish agony.”
‘Our hearts are broken’
Hindy Poupko, senior vice president for community strategy and external relations at the UJA-Federation of New York, fought back tears as she spoke.
“We come here tonight with our hearts broken,” she said. “We gather here tonight overwhelmed with grief, anger, but also with resolve. We will remember Oct. 7 as the day that the largest number of Jews were murdered in a single day since the Holocaust.”
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, told JNS that Israel was forced into war. “We want peace,” he said. “But you have to go after people who have attacked you and want to destroy you.”
Rabbi Daniel Graber, 35, of the Forest Hills Jewish Center, told JNS it was important to support Israel in mass numbers, and he was glad to see elected officials in agreement.
“The message felt universal—the full-throated support of Israel and the condemnation of terror against civilians,” he Graber.
Sarah Friedson, who is in her 30s and lives in Manhattan, told JNS that her thoughts are with the families of those killed, injured or taken hostage. She said she was impressed by the turnout for the event and told JNS that it is possible to find strength amid such tragedy.
“This is not the first time the Jewish people have faced evil trying to destroy us,” she said. “We hold within us the natural resilience and will to survive that our ancestors held over generations. We must remember that every group that has attempted to annihilate us is now nothing more than a page in the history books.”
“Hamas is destined for the same fate,” she said.