Addressing thousands of people in Times Square, in the heart of New York City, on Thursday evening, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who recently returned from leading a bipartisan group of senators to Israel, noted Judaism’s emphasis on freeing captives.
“We know the great tradition of Israel is to fight for every one of its citizens when they are in danger, no matter how daunting,” he said. “Hamas thought they could frighten the Israelis into submission. It has done just the opposite. By taking the hostages, it has made us stronger, more united and closer to Eretz Yisrael,” the land of Israel.
“Israel, America has your back,” Schumer emphasized. “We will not leave you. We will fight with you side by side until the threat of Hamas is totally eliminated and every hostage is brought home.”
There are currently 32 Americans confirmed dead in the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7, which killed more than 1,400 people, and 11 Americans remain unaccounted for, Matthew Miller, U.S. State Department spokesman, said on Thursday during the department’s press briefing. “We know that some of those unaccounted for are hostages,” he added.
In a late-breaking development on Friday afternoon, it was announced that two hostages from the Chicago area, dual Israeli-American Judith Raanan and her daughter, Natalie, had been released. Authorities have notified their family of their pending return to Israel via Egypt.
Also as of Thursday, Israel Defense Forces Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said that there are 203 confirmed hostages in Gaza. That number will likely rise as the military gets more information, he predicted.
“The whole world stands together in outrage,” added Elan Carr, CEO of the Israeli-American Council, which organized the “Bring Them Home” event with 30 co-sponsors. Carr previously served as the U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams, Israeli-American Council CEO Elan Carr, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan and Michal Cotler-Wunsh, Israel’s special envoy to combat antisemitism and a former Knesset member, were among those who addressed the audience.
As they spoke, displays of Israeli and foreign national hostages held in Gaza were projected on iconic Times Square video screens with the word “kidnapped.”
“We are heartbroken. We are worried. But we are focused and resolute on doing everything in our power to bring Omer back,” said Ronen and Orna Neutra, parents of Omer Neutra, a 22-year-old, American-born IDF soldier being held captive in Gaza.
Moshe Emilio Lavi spoke about his brother-in-law Omri Miran, 46, whom Hamas is holding hostage. He said that it was like “a scene from a horror film” to see Hamas videos on social media. Those working to free hostages “are the heroes of Israel, the heroes of the sane world, heroes of anyone with a conscience,” he said.
“So many in Israel and around the globe have dropped everything to help bring our children home,” said Erdan. “This is our top priority, and we will not stop until we bring them home.”
‘Emmett Till moment’
“This is a Never Again movement, and the United Nations must join our efforts,” Erdan told JNS. If U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres “truly cares about humanitarian needs, our hostages must be his top priority,” Erdan said.
“I will bring the families of the hostages to the security council with me to have the ambassadors look them in the eyes and see their pain,” Erdan told JNS. “The security council will know that until their hostages are returned, it will not have a moment of quiet. Gaza will not have a moment of quiet.”
“This is an Emmett Till moment,” said Adams, speaking via video message and referencing the barely 14-year-old African-American boy who was tortured and killed in Mississippi in 1955. His open-casket funeral in Chicago—and the outrage and press coverage of his murder—played an important role in the then-growing civil rights movement.
Cotler-Wunsh told JNS that it was very important to be in Times Square that night.
“The world cannot simply continue as it was after Oct. 7,” she said. “We must all be the boots on the ground in New York and around the world to combat this terrorism.”
Supporting Israeli brothers and sisters
The event also included a prayer led by Rabbi Uriel Vigler, who heads the Chabad Israel Center on the Upper East Side, and performances by Israeli singer Shiri Maimon. The event culminated in video showings of dozens of siblings, children and parents naming their loved ones who are Hamas hostages in Gaza.
“We came to show the world that we stand with Israel,” Jan, a retired Brooklyn resident who attended the rally (and didn’t share a last name), told JNS. “At times that there are atrocities like we’ve seen recently, to not stand with Israel would be very stupid.”
Shlomi Bros, a former Israeli resident now of Long Island, N.Y., told JNS that he came “to support our brothers and sisters in Israel.”
“We came to show that they will not break us,” he added. “We will stand against evil.”
Carr told JNS that the event was “first of all, to comfort the broken, grieving families who have suffered unfathomable agony at the hands of these barbaric monsters—of Hamas.”
“Make no mistake: We are also here to demand that the hostages be freed and to insist that Israel has the inalienable right to defend itself, and to defend itself completely and decisively, to the elimination of the genocidal threats facing its people,” Carr said.