Rachel Foster, of Newton, attended a vigil to highlight the 19 Israeli women still held by Hamas in Gaza./RICH TENORIO

More than 500 attend vigil for kidnapped Israeli women

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More than 500 attend vigil for kidnapped Israeli women

Rachel Foster, of Newton, attended a vigil to highlight the 19 Israeli women still held by Hamas in Gaza./RICH TENORIO

When Gal Zilberberg spoke on Sunday at an event highlighting the 19 female hostages remaining in captivity after the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel, she touched on the plight of one hostage in particular – Shiri Bibas.

Bibas and her family – husband Yarden and their two young sons, Ariel and Kfir – were abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz. The redheaded children have become especially well-known through coverage of the crisis, which Zilberberg alluded to in her remarks at Harvard Chabad in Cambridge. Over 500 attended the event.

Addressing the theme of the day, Zilberberg said, “It’s essential to rescue the 19 women held captive by Hamas for over 163 days.” And, she added, “it’s heartrending following Shiri, being consumed by worry – ‘where are you? Are you safe? How do you find the strength to persevere in such unimaginable circumstances and protect yourself?’”

The event, “Get Our Sisters Out of Hell,” was sponsored by 14 organizations, including Harvard Chabad. It included multiple speakers and a walk-through exhibit of photos from the Oct. 7 attack, accompanied by text detailing terrorist atrocities that targeted women. The event was timed for Women’s History Month, which was noted during
the program.

“This year,” said speaker State Rep. Ruth Balser (D-Newton), “Women’s History Month feels very different, because all I can do is weep for what happened to women on Oct. 7.”

In the exhibit, graphic photos show bleeding women with torn clothes. Text panels describe the history of rape as a war crime and cite instances of sexual violence on Oct. 7. One panel quotes a paramedic who worked as a first responder at Kibbutz Be’eri and described finding two slain girls, one of whom was executed “right after she was brutally raped. She was left there to lay in a puddle of blood.”

Some of the photos are attributed to Hamas-released footage and videos. Another is attributed to a site called TML News, and accompanies a survivor’s testimony of a woman who was gang-raped, executed and mutilated.

Sixteen other photos, taken by Israeli photojournalist Ziv Koren, show other images of violence from the attacks across multiple locations in Israel, such as burned-out cars evacuated from the Nova music festival massacre and a funeral for the Kutz family of Kfar Aza – parents Aviv and Livnat and their three teenagers.

“As I walked through the exhibit, that amazingly powerful exhibit,” Balser said, “what went through my mind was, there are no words to describe the horror.”

“If you stand for women’s rights, you should stand for all women’s rights, including Israeli and Jewish,” said Alexandra Herzog, the national deputy director of the American Jewish Committee’s William Petschek Contemporary Jewish Life department. “The silence, the delayed response, has been deafening.”

Speakers did include non-Jewish voices. Elizabeth Keeley formerly headed the statewide human trafficking division under then-attorney general and current governor Maura Healey and before that, led the inaugural human trafficking and exploitation unit as a Suffolk County prosecutor. Destiny Albritton, the senior director of next generation at the evangelical organization Christians United for Israel, led the audience in reciting the names of the 19 female hostages.

The AJC’s Herzog referenced a recent report from the UN Office of Pramila Patten, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Patten found “reasonable grounds that sexual assault, including rape and mutilation of female bodies, had taken place on Oct. 7, and clear and convincing information of sexual violence and torture against some of those taken hostage,” Herzog said. “The violence may be ongoing.” Of the hostages, she said, “Do not forget them. Don’t be silent. Be their voices. Demand their release. Each one of them has a family, a village of people, that cannot breathe, has been walking with a hole in their heart for 23 weeks – 163 days.”

Rachel Foster of Newton told the Jewish Journal that her family has “mutual friends” with one of the female hostages, 19-year-old Naama Levy, who was shown in sweatpants stained with blood in the crotch, in a widely circulated video of her abduction from Kibbutz Nahal Oz.

“I do feel a stronger connection with her,” said Foster, whose family lived in Raanana, Israel for a year and who participates in a weekly gathering, Run for Their Lives, to raise awareness of the hostages.

“They’re a constant presence in my life, on my mind,” Foster said. “Today is a day that hopefully more people are thinking about it, talking about it, going to take action.” Θ

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