(JTA) — One, just out of the army, told his dad “I love you” and “I’m sorry” then went quiet. One who just joined the army has no family nearby, so a stranger is keeping him company in the hospital. One was a peace activist.
These are some of the stories beginning to emerge as Israel strives to identify the hundreds of people who are dead and dozens who are missing after Saturday’s attack on southern Israel by Hamas. There are no figures yet on the number of North Americans killed or abducted in the invasion, but U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said Americans have reportedly been killed, wounded and taken hostage.
Tom Nides, who ended his stint as ambassador to Israel in June, said crises like the current one send the U.S. embassy into overdrive.
“They have a large number of people that are responsible for this, and it’s one of the biggest, it’s one of the most important things that an embassy can do,” Nides said in an interview.
Nearly two days after the invasion began, Jon Polin is waiting for news about his 23-year-old son, Hersh Goldberg-Polin, and hoping that he is still alive. Goldberg-Polin left home at 11 p.m. on Friday night for an all-night outdoor party near the Gaza border, which Hamas terrorists raided on Saturday morning, killing some 250 young adults and kidnapping others.
The party was supposed to be the kind of revelry that recently discharged soldiers tend to enjoy. Goldberg-Polin, who was born in Berkeley, California, moved to Israel with his parents at age 7 and completed his mandatory army service in April.
Goldberg-Polin’s father said his son loves festivals, music and traveling, and like many discharged soldiers, he was saving up for a trip to India in a couple months. He was working in the meantime as a medic and waiter. But they hadn’t heard from him since Saturday.
“He sent us two short WhatsApps Saturday morning at 8:11,” Polin said, sharing the messages with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
“I love you,” read the first one. “I’m sorry,” read the second.
Another American-born soldier from Houston was lying in a hospital in Israel, with no family nearby, after being shot in the face during the attack. Rhoda Smolow, the president of the women’s Zionist group Hadassah, is keeping the soldier company at Hadassah Medical Center until his family could be by his side.
“He is on a tracheotomy, so we couldn’t speak, and apparently, according to the caregivers there, the nurses and the doctors, they felt he is very traumatized,” she said, declining to share his name for privacy reasons. “We felt so terribly that he was in the room alone without anyone.”
Smolow said she told the soldier Hadassah would make sure he received the best care possible. “He gave me a thumbs up,” she said.
The Zionist group’s CEO, Naomi Adler, discussed the soldier in a briefing held by the Jewish Federations of North America and the American Jewish Committee on Sunday. The hospital and the army were having trouble tracking down his family, but Smolow said Adler’s appearance on the webinar may have resulted in a lead.
Other North American Jews are also missing. Peace activist Vivian Silver, 75, was abducted from Kibbutz Be’eri on Saturday, near the border.
Born in Winnipeg, Canada, she was the longtime director of the Arab Jewish Center For Empowerment, Equality, and Cooperation, which organized projects joining communities in Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. In 2014, after the last major war between Israel and Hamas, she helped found Women Wage Peace, which promotes peace-building actions among women from all communities and across the political spectrum.
Speaking to Forbes in 2021 for a series on women who assist the vulnerable, Silver said she remembered feeling relief after the government built bomb shelters in Kibbutz Be’eri, which had been subject to rocket fire from Gaza for more than a decade.
“In 2009, the [Israeli] government only built shelters for communities that were four kilometers from the border. The community I live in is four and a half kilometers from the border, so we didn’t have shelters then,” Silver told Forbes. “Now we do, so psychologically we feel better, and we feel safer, and in fact, we are safer, we’re a lot safer than the people in Gaza.”
At a 2018 Women Wage Peace event on the Gaza border in 2018, she said that the Israeli government needed to change its approach in order to bring peace to the area. “Show the required courage that will bring changes of policy that will bring us quiet and security,” she said then, addressing the government. “Returning to the routine is not an option.”
Appealing to women across the border, she said, “Terror does not make anything better for anyone, you too deserve quiet and peace.”
“She’s amazing,” her longtime friend and fellow activist, Ariella Giniger, told JTA on Sunday. “She’s smart. She’s funny, and she does great things. She’s a real peace activist for years and to have her fight in such a situation …” her voice trailed off.
Some families searched for news about their loved ones and learned of tragedy. On Facebook, one mother wrote two wrenching Facebook posts, nine hours apart.
In the first, posted at midnight on Saturday, she wrote that her son “was kidnapped by terrorists today from his home in Kibbutz Holit. If anyone has relevant information please be in touch.”
After 9 a.m. on Sunday, she had an update. “Unfortunately we were informed last night that our beautiful, generous and talented son… was murdered by terrorists in his home in Holit.”
She did not return a request for an interview.
Nides said he was getting calls from Americans anxious about their Israeli family members. He said he was directing them to the embassy in Israel.
“They need information, right?” he said. “They want to know what’s going on. They want to know what’s happening, you know, who’s communicating with [their loved ones] because it’s so unfathomable, how scary this is for someone to wake up in the morning and have this happening to them.”
Javier Milei cites Hanukkah story, gives menorah to Zelensky during inauguration as Argentina’s president
(JTA) — Javier Milei invoked the story of the Maccabees in his inaugural address as Argentina’s president on Sunday, extending the right-wing populist’s prominent fascination with Judaism as he celebrated his own improbable victory.
“It is not by chance that this assumption takes place in the holiday of Hanukkah, the festival of light, and that the same celebrates the true essence of freedom,” Milei said during his speech on the steps of the parliament building in Buenos Aires. “The war of the Maccabees is the symbol of the victory of the weak over the powerful, of the few over the many, of the light over darkness and overall of the truth over untruth.”
Milei, 53, defied expectations when he was elected last month. A self-declared “anarcho-capitalist” who was the most right-wing of the five candidates, he ascended rapidly over the last year as he assailed the outgoing government, saying that its policies had fueled unemployment and inflation.
He delivered his speech with his back to the country’s lawmakers, in a break with tradition allowing him to face a large rally outside the parliament building.
Toward the tail of his speech warning Argentineans to prepare for a difficult economic reforms, he said he recalled how he and his now-vice president, Victoria Villaruel, had initially been told that their two-year-old political party, Freedom Advances, would have little influence.
“We were told we couldn’t do anything because we were only two in 257 congressmen,” he said. “And I also remember that my answer that day was a quote from the Book of Maccabees, 3:19, that goes: It is not the size of the army that victory in battle depends on, but strength comes from heaven.”
The speech was in keeping with Milei’s unusual relationship with Judaism. The non-Jewish economist has been studying with an Argentinean rabbi and has said he is interested in converting, though he says he does not see the role of president as compatible with Jewish observance. He visited the grave of the Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi in New York City in his first trip abroad after being elected and has vowed to make Israel — where he promised to move Argentina’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — his first foreign destination as president.
At campaign rallies, Milei has often walked on stage to the sound of a shofar, and in one of his final public appearances before the election, Milei was seen waving an Israeli flag among a large crowd in Rosario.
One Israeli flag was visible amid the sea of Argentinean flags at his speech in footage of the inaugural event broadcast to Argentineans.
Milei, whose term will last four years, was flanked by world leaders, including the king of Spain; Chilean President Gabriel Boric, a left-wing critic of Israel; Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a populist who cruised to a fourth term last year; and Ukraine’s president, Volodymr Zelensky, who was making his first trip to Latin America since Russia attacked his country in February 2022. Jair Bolsonaro, the populist leader recently unseated in Brazil, also attended.
Milei handed a menorah to Zelensky, who is Jewish, after the two leaders greeted each other warmly outside Casa Rosada, the country’s government headquarters, in a handoff captured on the live TV broadcast of the ceremony. Zelensky has embraced Milei as he has sought to build support for Ukraine in Latin America.
On Saturday night, on the eve of his inauguration, Milei met with a group of relatives of Israeli hostages kidnapped in Gaza since Oct. 7, lighting the Hanukkah candles with them and Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, who was in the country for the inauguration.
Moroccans Demand Halt to Ties with Israel
Moroccans waving Palestinian flags took to the streets of the capital Rabat on Sunday calling on the government to cut ties with Israel in protest against Israel‘s military campaign against the terrorist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Protests against Israel‘s war in Gaza have repeatedly drawn thousands of people in Morocco since the conflict began two months ago, mostly led by pan-Arab and Islamist groups.
Sunday’s march by about 3,000 protesters was the first to have been led by the PJD — Morocco’s biggest Islamist party which led the elected government from 2011 until 2021 — a sign the movement is growing more vocal in opposition.
Protesters chanted “Palestine is not for sale,” “Resistance go ahead to victory and liberation” and “the people want an end to normalization,” referring to the policy of Morocco and other Arab states normalizing ties with Israel.
Israel vowed to annihilate Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, after Hamas terrorists burst across the fence on Oct. 7 and went on a rampage through Israeli towns, gunning down families in their homes, killing 1,200 people and seizing 240 hostages.
Since then, Hamas-controlled health authorities in Gaza say thousands of people have been killed during Israel’s military campaign, although experts have cast doubt on the reliability of casualty figures coming out of Gaza.
Morocco agreed to strengthen ties with Israel in 2020, under a deal brokered by the US administration under then President Donald Trump that also included Washington recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.
Despite their policy of normalizing ties with Israel, Moroccan authorities have said they continue to back the creation of a Palestinian state and have urged a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and the protection of all civilians there.
Islamist and leftist parties and groups in Morocco have increasingly spoken out against the normalization policy since the start of the war in Gaza on Oct. 7.
Protesters on Sunday also called for a boycott of brands they accuse of supporting Israel.
“We call on Morocco to end diplomatic relations with Israel,” said Ahmed El Yandouzi, as he was queuing to sign a petition with a Palestinian scarf around his neck.
Although Morocco and Israel have not yet completed the process of setting up full embassies in each other’s countries as they agreed to do, they have moved closer together, signing a defense cooperation pact.
The PJD was in office when Morocco agreed the normalization deal with Israel, with its then leader Saad Dine El Otmani signing it as prime minister, but the policy was ultimately set by King Mohammed, who sets overall strategy.
The new PJD leader, Abdelilah Benkirane, has said signing the agreement was a mistake.
The royal court has previously asked the PJD to stop criticizing Morocco’s ties with Israel.
Violence Escalates Between Israel, Lebanon’s Hezbollah
Violence escalated at Lebanon’s border with Israel on Sunday as the terrorist group Hezbollah launched explosive drones and powerful missiles at Israeli positions and Israeli air strikes rocked several towns and villages in south Lebanon.
Israel and the Iran-backed Hezbollah have been trading fire since the war in Gaza erupted two months ago, in their worst hostilities since a 2006 conflict. The violence has largely been contained to the border area.
Israeli attacks in south Lebanon included air strikes on the town of Aitaroun which destroyed and damaged numerous houses, Lebanon’s National News Agency said. It did not say if there were any casualties.
The Israeli army did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Senior Hezbollah politician Hassan Fadlallah, in a statement sent to Reuters, said Israeli air strikes were a “new escalation” to which the group was responding with new types of attacks, be it “in the nature of the weapons (used) or the targeted sites.”
The Israeli army earlier said “suspicious aerial targets” had crossed from Lebanon and two were intercepted. Two Israeli soldiers were moderately wounded and a number of others lightly injured from shrapnel and smoke inhalation, it said.
Israeli fighter jets carried out “an extensive series of strikes on Hezbollah terror targets in Lebanese territory,” it said. Sirens sounded in Israel at several locations at the border.
In Beirut, residents saw what appeared to be two warplanes streaking across a clear blue sky, leaving vapor trails behind them.
Hezbollah statements say its attacks aim to support Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Senior Hezbollah official Sheikh Ali Damoush said in a speech on Sunday the group would continue in its effort to “exhaust the enemy, and will not stop unless the aggression against Gaza and Lebanon stops.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that Beirut would be turned “into Gaza” if Hezbollah started an all-out war.
In one of several attacks announced by Hezbollah on Sunday, the group said it had launched the explosive drones at an Israeli command position near Ya’ara. In another, Hezbollah said it had fired Burkan (Volcano) missiles, which carry hundreds of kilograms of explosives.
Israeli air strikes were also reported on the outskirts of the Lebanese village of Yaroun, not far from the location of another of the Israeli positions Hezbollah said it had targeted on Sunday.
Those air strikes broke windows of houses, shops and a school in the nearby village of Rmeich, Toni Elias, a priest in Rmeich, told Reuters by phone.
Violence at the border has killed more than 120 people in Lebanon, including 85 Hezbollah fighters and 16 civilians. In Israel, the hostilities have killed seven soldiers and four civilians.
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