The mother of a young man taken hostage by Hamas is sharing her family’s harrowing journey and their hope her 23-year-old will be found alive.
Rachel Goldberg told CBN Digital her son, Hersh Goldberg-Polin, was captured Oct. 7, while attending the Nova music festival. Video showing her son being loaded onto a Hamas vehicle after losing one of his arms confirmed accounts the family had heard about the horrors Hersh endured during the attack.
“I definitely feel like I’m living on another planet or in another parallel universe,” Goldberg said of the impossible situation she and the family face. “It’s just pretty much indescribable.”
Goldberg has been vocal since Hamas’ lethal terror attack on Israel left 1,400 Israelis dead and more than 200 were taken hostage. She has spoken with President Joe Biden, among other Israeli and American leaders, as she desperately prays for her son’s safe return.
Right now, the family has no proof of life despite holding onto hope.
The events of Oct. 7
Goldberg described the early morning hours of Oct. 7, when she first realized something was amiss. Her husband had gone to synagogue when she suddenly heard sirens.
“I was finishing a cup of tea, and then bomb sirens started to go off, which is kind of unusual in Jerusalem, which is where we live,” she said. “And I ran to wake my daughters.”
The family hurried into a bomb shelter inside their apartment.
Goldberg said she turned on her phone, which she doesn’t normally do on the Sabbath; that’s when she saw Hersh had, just minutes earlier, sent two messages through WhatsApp.
The first read, “I love you” and the second added, “I’m sorry.”
“Immediately, I knew something horrible was unfolding,” she said. “The second message was the haunting message, because I immediately knew he knew something was really going to hurt us, and he was apologizing for that.”
Goldberg tried to call her son but to no avail. From there, she and her husband began talking with survivors of the music festival and pieced together much of what had unfolded. Later, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper reached out to the family to tell them he had footage of their son from that day.
The horror Hersh faced
Goldberg recounted how many of the kids tried to flee the music festival but ended up crammed into bomb shelters — locations the Hamas terrorists started to target.
“[These shelters are] a small cement, fortified room, small room, no windows, and [they were] spraying it with machine guns,” she said. “And most of the kids were instantly killed. Many of them were brutally wounded and dying.”
Goldberg continued, “There were some young people who were trapped under the dead bodies, and it was from those eyewitnesses that we initially heard that Hersh and two other boys … were slumped against the wall, but were still very much obviously alive. [They] were ordered by Hamas who came in with machine guns and said, ‘Stand up and come out.'”
They learned Hersh’s arm from the “elbow down had been blown off” and that he had a bandage of some sort on it. Cooper’s video confirmed these details for the family.
“That was the last that we heard of him,” Goldberg said of the video, noting it brought some peace to her husband, as the family saw their son was “in control,” looked “composed” and was strong.
This offered them hope he might still be alive, though they do not know for sure.
Why she’s speaking out
Goldberg has continued to do media interviews and speak out, urging people in Gaza to help her son and for the international community to keep up efforts to release the hostages.
“I feel a lot like Hirsch had his arm blown off, and he walked out in shock, and I feel like I’ve had my heart blown out, and I’m walking around in shock,” Goldberg said. “And, even though it’s 24 days in, I still feel that I’m walking around in shock.”
But Goldberg is trusting in God and prayer to get through.
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“I am a very God-fearing, faithful person,” she said. “I say Psalms throughout the day. I pray every morning. That’s a ritual that I have done for many years. I religiously pray every morning, but Psalms — I find to be this great sort of self-help book that you can pick out what is appropriate for the moment.”
Goldberg showed the book of Psalms she had next to her to demonstrate how close she truly keeps the text. She also routinely speaks out words of affirmation to her son.
“I also have this mantra that from the beginning I’ve been saying to Hersh … ‘We love you. Stay strong. Survive,'” she said. “And I realize that it’s actually me that I’m saying it too, and not just him.”
The grieving mom also spoke about the importance of people realizing this crisis extends beyond political labels and groupings.
“This isn’t a Republican, Democrat, a conservative or liberal issue,” Goldberg said. “These are innocent civilians from 33 different countries who are being held captive by a terrorist organization. It’s not OK.”
Please continue to pray for the release of Hersh and other captives, for changed hearts and minds, and for peace in the Middle East.
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