On weekends, Manhattan’s Central Park is full of people walking, running, strolling, exercising—trying to get a requisite number of steps in the bustling city. Since Oct. 7, a group of Israeli expats and American Jews has come every weekend to jog or walk briskly through the park on behalf of hostages still being held captive in the Gaza Strip, who have no such freedom of movement.
“Run for Their Lives” loops around the Bridle Path surrounding the park’s reservoir, bringing attention to the plight of those Hamas terrorists kidnapped on Oct. 7 and taken to Gaza.
Some 2,000 people—much more than the event typically draws on a weekend—grappled with near-freezing temperatures on Sunday to mark the hostages’ 100th day in captivity.
“I didn’t think I’d be in a situation like this, when I need to protest to release people from captivity,” Ori Nevo, a Haifa native who has lived in Brooklyn, N.Y., for nine years, told JNS. “It’s unimaginable.”
Hila Rotem Shoshani, 13, who was released from Hamas captivity, was on hand for the event, as were family members of American and Israeli hostages. Many of the runners and marchers, who carried posters bearing images of the hostages, chanted “Bring them home now,” as family members spoke before the onset of the run. When speakers mentioned organizations that were not doing enough, attendees called out “Shame!”
‘Hard for all of us’
Danny Elgert told attendees that he was speaking on the phone with his brother Yitzhak when Hamas terrorists found him. His brother’s last words to him were: “The end is here.”
“We can write the ending of this story together,” he urged attendees.
Several attendees told JNS that the challenge is to keep hostages and their plight as a priority for those who have the power to bring them home.
“I work hard to remember it in everything that I do every day. I think it’s hard for all of us,” said Becky Hirschfield, a Riverdale, Bronx native who sported a red “Run for Their Lives” hat and jacket, and had the number 100—for the days in captivity—taped to her shirt.
“Having been in Israel, you see how people are holding it in their hearts every minute of every day there,” said Hirschfield, whose nephew is serving in Gaza. “We have to work to do the same and bring it to the public.”
Yael Alexander, whose son Edan, a New Jersey native, is being held hostage, recited the Shema prayer. “One hundred days of hell,” she cried out, imploring Hamas to “Let my son and all of the hostages go, now!”
‘A voice here’
“Every family deserves the moment of sanity and joy that we were lucky to have,” Gili Roman, whose sister Yarden was released from Gaza, told the audience.
“I was here a month and a half ago, and there were half the number of people that are here today,” she said. “Keep coming. Keep growing this righteous movement. We are the hope!”
Several speakers chided the United Nations for failing to secure the release of the hostages or pressure the International Red Cross to check on their well-being. Others had harsh criticism for the Israeli and U.S. governments.
Mark Levine, Manhattan borough president, told JNS that the Big Apple is among the best places to exert pressure and influence to win hostages’ release.
“It’s so important that here in New York, we take advantage of the fact that we are the center of the global media system, of the global diplomatic system,” Manhattan’s chief executive said.
“We have a voice here that we have to use so that we cannot be ignored, so that the global diplomatic community hears us, so that the global media, business community, the people of the world, wake up every day and ask one simple question,” Levine told JNS. “What can we all do to bring these hostages home?”
Nevo, the Haifa native who has lived in Brooklyn, told JNS that non-Jews and non-Israelis will have to be part of the solution but aren’t necessarily thinking about the hostages.
“It’s not forgotten for a very small portion of the population. It’s amazing what’s going on here today, but you expect to see people that are not just Israeli or Jews,” he said.
“You would like to see people from all colors and ethnicities come here and protest,” Nevo added. “We’re not protesting against any other thing except their captivity.”
Sunday’s run capped a weekend of events marking the hostages’ 100 days in captivity.
On Friday morning, some 3,000 people attended a rally across from the United Nations headquarters, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y). and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, also a Democrat, among the speakers.
Throughout the weekend, a nearly 12-foot glass hourglass with red sand erected in Times Square symbolized that time is running out for the hostages to be brought home safely.
“We are not going to stop marching and walking and running and yelling until every one of our brothers and sisters is home,” Levine told JNS. “I hope that we won’t have to come back here next week. I pray this is the last week that we have to run, but we will be back as long as it takes to bring every hostage home.”
Standing atop a small hill after the run, Shai Davidai, an Israeli professor of business at Columbia University, held up a poster depicting Youssef Ziyadne, an Israeli Bedouin who was taken hostage with several members of his family.
He proclaimed that Hamas doesn’t care about the ethnicity of its targets and treats anyone it finds in Israel with animus. When the enemy overlooks political and cultural differences, so can Israel and Jews.
“Hamas showed only indiscriminate hate,” Davidai said. “We must show indiscriminate love for one another.”