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Day 208: Iron Swords War

Looking Down and Asking for Forgiveness

When last I wrote, it was before Pesach, a holiday that more than anything signifies redemption.

Since then, we all sat around festive Pesach tables, many with an empty seat reserved for the hostages, and we thought of them when we thanked God for the redemption of our Israelite ancestors from Egypt some 3,500 years ago, even as we prayed for a modern age redemption—the release of our hostage brothers and sisters.

Now the holiday has passed, spring is visible in the land, the fields are turning green, flowers are blooming, and the lively sound of songbirds fills the air with songs of renewal, as nature ignores the gloomy national mood in which we all are immersed. Yet, the much-awaited good news is still delayed. Redemption did not come. Two hundred and eight days in which 133 are still in captivity, hidden and tortured in tunnels under enemy soil.

This is a forgiveness post.

On the morning of October 8, 24 hours after the terrible massacre that tore us apart and forever desecrated our country and our people, I awoke from a nearly sleepless night full of nightmares to see if the hostages had returned. It did not occur to me that in 2023, in a world that values human rights, the Geneva Convention, and the sanctity of life, there could be a situation in which 250 hostages—including women, children, and the elderly—would not be released to their homes immediately.

Since then, 208 nights have passed in which every helicopter engine in the sky sparked hope that finally the daring rescue operation had happened, the longed-for miracle had occurred, and the hostages had been returned home, back where they belong. Sadly, for 208 mornings I have awoken to another day of sorrow and disappointment.

How is it possible that 208 days have passed? It is infuriating, frustrating, and painful beyond measure. In our world that regularly experiences groundbreaking achievements, it must be possible to recover hostages held only a few miles from their home. If it hasn’t happened in the last 208 days, we haven’t done everything possible. To the hostages, I say: “Forgive the State of Israel for not being there for you, for not intercepting the terrorists before they invaded our borders and pulled you out of your beds and away from the Nova Music Festival. Forgive us all for abandoning you that black day. We all are tainted with the guilt of having failed to achieve your release.”

How can it be that neither our strong, moral, all-powerful Israeli army nor the highly accomplished Israeli intelligence together with mighty, influential nations couldn’t release them? How can anyone comprehend that millions of people praying across the world, tearing up heaven in supplication, shedding rivers and oceans of tears didn’t bring them home? If all of that didn’t work, surely the pleas of heartbroken mothers and cries of babies yearning to hug their dads once again should have done so. For nearly seven months the hostages have been languishing—some dying, others sick, all exhausted, perhaps hopeless—because we failed to bring them back.

So, humbly, I ask the hostages for their forgiveness. We failed you. We failed ourselves.

Forgive, too, the world’s finest universities, where violent protestors are not calling for your immediate release. On the contrary, in acts they consider to be resistance, they are blatantly denying the massacre, ignoring your captivity, and justifying the acts of violence, including rape, being perpetrated against you. Let me say that again: Students at the finest universities in America and Europe consider rape part of legitimate resistance. The scenes unfolding at Columbia University, UCLA, and other institutions of higher learning take us back 90 years, to 1930s Nazi Germany, where Jewish students were forbidden on campus.

It is embarrassing to see the protesters’ ignorance and naivety and to watch them repeat ridiculous chants without understanding the meaning of what they are demanding, all of which contradicts what our western, liberal, progressive culture represents and what they themselves value—women’s equality and rights over their own bodies, freedom of speech and religion, equality for those in the LGBTQ community, and democratic ideals. If they bothered to disconnect the discourse from the toxic antisemitism that surrounds it and blinds their eyes, they would accept none of the tenets of the Hamas terrorists. Hypocrisy knows no bounds, and this week, across campuses worldwide, protesters proved that #metoo applies to all—unless you are a Jew.

Forgive us, dear hostages, that the highest Jewish value—ransoming captives—is not the top priority of our decision-makers. I don’t want to dwell on the details around the grueling negotiations with Hamas, the devil incarnate, but your immediate return should take precedence over everything else. All of you should have been home by now. Or, God forbid, can it be that we did everything possible, but when dealing with the devil, everything just may not be enough?

Forgive us, dear hostages, that ugly politics—that thankfully lowered its head following the massacre—has raised it again, only to continue to divide us here in Israel and in some cases, on your account.

Forgive us, dear hostages, that leading cultural figures and public opinion influencers, including Susan Sarandon, deny the massacre, claiming it is a myth. A myth! Sarandon and others turn their eyes and intellect from these and other incontrovertible facts: Hamas terrorists invaded Israel; slaughtered babies; gang raped, murdered, and mutilated women and young boys and girls in front of their friends and parents; shot them in cold blood; and then set their bodies ablaze. Video captured those who were abducted to the Gaza Strip where their sexual abuse continued as they were paraded through the streets, bleeding and broken. The Hamas terrorist filmed themselves committing these atrocities and immediately broadcast them across the world on social media channels and apps, never denying their monstrous acts. Why, in fact, would they deny acts they are proud of and which they declared time and time again they would repeat with even greater force? For the terrorist, it was total reality—and anything but a myth.

Nonetheless, Sarandon and her followers have chosen to walk away from the truth, making space to “prove” the deliberate lies told by the terrorists through Hamas’s poisonous propaganda machine. I invite Sarandon and all other hypocritical Hamas supporters to watch former Facebook COO and author Sheryl Sandberg’s brave and important documentary, “Screams Before Silence.” The search for truth requires confronting facts, evidence, reality.

Although not widely known, Israel, in the last few days, has approved some $60 million for a humanitarian aid plan for Gazans. This new plan is in addition to the 3,000 trucks with more than 41,000 tons of humanitarian equipment that, since the beginning of the war, already has been transferred from Israel to Gaza.

With that said, dear hostages, please excuse those who chose to see only what is convenient, while turning away from the truth and blaming Israel for preventing humanitarian aid into Gaza while the facts tell otherwise. Please also excuse the groups of Jewish protesters from around the world who arrived in Israel for Pesach, barricading themselves near the border crossing with Gaza in an effort to try to deliver sacks of rice to the Gazans. Although we would expect them to go above and beyond and do everything possible to deliver equipment and life-saving medicines to their own people—to you, the Jewish hostages—they instead chose to blacken Israel’s face and ignore the facts, only to help Gazans, many of whom enabled Hamas to carry out the monstrous acts of October 7, cooperating with terrorists thereafter by hiding hostages.

Dear Hostages,

I look at your photos posted on one of our windows at home and the ones that sprout from every corner in Israel and from positions across Jewish organizations all over the world. I read the personal stories behind your photos—clearly seeing those who left loved ones behind, fearful children, and parents who are unable to contain the magnitude of their pain. I look at your pictures knowing what some of you don’t yet know: You lost your family on October 7. You have no physical home to return to, and your life as you knew it is forever gone.

All of you, all 133 of you—whether barely living; sadly, no longer alive; full of hope; or hopeless—all of you were kidnapped from life. You have lost 208 days of living and creating; days of laughter and of joy that will never be returned to you; and 208 nights during which you should have been cuddled safely in your warm beds next to your loved ones.

The next few days will be critical. After a continuous stalemate, a deal that seems serious, one that is especially generous on the part of Israel, finally is on the table. Currently, we are waiting for Hamas’ answer. Dear hostages, unfortunately, not all of you are included in the deal, and our hearts break for those who are not.

From my bare, hurting heart, I ask for your forgiveness today, Day 208, and throughout the days to come, however many it will be until you all are back home.

Together, united, we will overcome.

Leah Garber is a senior vice president of JCC Association of North America and director of its Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem.

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