Hersh Goldberg-Polin and his mother Rachel Goldberg in Israel. Hersh is being held captive in Gaza.
Hersh Goldberg-Polin with his mother Rachel Goldberg. Goldberg-Polin, 23, was abducted by Hamas militants in the attack on Israel on Oct. 7. Courtesy of Goldberg-Polin family
Hersh Goldberg-Polin and his mother Rachel Goldberg in Israel. Hersh is being held captive in Gaza.
Hersh Goldberg-Polin with his mother Rachel Goldberg. Goldberg-Polin, 23, was abducted by Hamas militants in the attack on Israel on Oct. 7. Courtesy of Goldberg-Polin family

Nearly 140 hostages are still being held captive after being abducted during the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

One of the remaining hostages is Hersh Goldberg-Polin, a 23-year-old with American and Israeli citizenship. He was kidnapped from a music festival in southern Israel after a grenade blew off part of his arm.

Hersh’s parents, who grew up in the Chicago area, have been on a crusade to bring their son and the other hostages home.

His mother, Rachel Goldberg, spoke with WBEZ from Israel, where about 1,200 people were killed on Oct. 7, according to Israeli officials. Since the war began, more than 16,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to Gaza health officials.

Have you heard anything about Hersh from the released hostages or from any other channels?

So far everyone who has been interviewed has not heard about Hersh, they didn’t see Hersh, they didn’t recognize him from pictures, or they didn’t see someone with one arm. But we were told that mostly people only saw the people they were being held with.

The one bit of news that made us hopeful is that people did say that wounded [people] did seem to have their first stop at a hospital for treatment. So we are hopeful that on Oct. 7, after Hersh’s left arm around the elbow was blown off, that he was taken for treatment at a hospital. That’s our hope and our prayer.

Tell us a little bit about Hersh as a person, as your son?

That’s my favorite topic so that’s pretty easy. Hersh is very curious, well-read and respectful. He’s funny, but funny in a dry sarcastic [way], but not mean funny. So it’s like a special genre of funny. He is obsessed with travel, and he’s wild about soccer and loves music festivals. I could go on and on, but I’ll just say he’s the perfect son for me.

Hersh Goldberg-Polin, is being held hostage by Hamas militants, is pictured on a backpacking trip.
The family of Hersh Goldberg-Polin says he’s an avid traveler. Courtesy of the Goldberg-Polin family

What is the latest you’ve heard from the Israeli government about efforts to get your son and the other remaining hostages released?

The [Israeli] war cabinet had an open meeting for families of the hostages [last night]. My husband went. I think it was pretty agonizing. Today is Day 61 that we have been standing on the head of a pin, trying to balance, and to live in this parallel universe that we find ourselves in, of complete anguish and despair.

And look, the Israeli government is juggling two very difficult tasks — a task of trying to find over 100 hostages and finding Hamas militants who caused an unbelievable catastrophe and atrocity on Oct 7. Those things are really tricky to balance.

How have people and officials in Illinois and Chicago been helpful in your efforts?

We have been in touch with both [U.S.] Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin and their offices have been very supportive to us. And Brad … what’s Brad’s last name? Yes, U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider. [He] has been amazing, wonderful, lovely, very supportive to us. I’m sorry for forgetting his name, but I haven’t slept in 60 nights, so you know, my brain cells are diminishing.

Hersh is the last of the Chicagoland hostages being held … and we’re just praying and hopeful, but we really need action because at this point we know, from the people who were released, that the conditions are very dangerous and frightening and I don’t even want to go into it. As a mother, I don’t even want to speak about what’s happening. And their time is really running out. And we know that Hersh was very traumatically injured as well. So we’re living in a very scary, scary chapter.

A banner in Jerusalem calling the release of Hersh Goldberg-Polin and other hostages abducted by Hamas militants.
A banner in Jerusalem calling the release of Hersh Goldberg-Polin. Courtesy of the Goldberg-Polin family

Is there anything people here can do to offer support?

We met with someone in the [Biden] administration and asked, “if this was your son, what would you suggest?” And he actually said, “Call us every single day.” And we’ve been telling people, “Call the White House switchboard. Call the White House comments line.” It takes less than a minute to say, “Hi, good morning. It’s Day 61. And there’s still eight Americans buried underground in Gaza. And we’re not okay with it.”

And actually, there’s 132 other people. This isn’t just about American hostages. The hostage population is vast, from many different nations. The youngest hostage still being held is 10 months old. The oldest is an 84-year-old man, and they comprise five different religions. This is not a Jewish thing. They are Christians. They’re Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists. This is a humanitarian issue. And everyone should be aware of that and advocating for the release of these human beings.

A poster in Hersh Goldberg-Polin's room supports the idea of sharing the city of Jerusalem with all. Goldberg-Polin is one of the hostages still being held by Hamas militants.
A poster in Hersh Goldberg-Polin’s bedroom supports the idea of sharing the city of Jerusalem with all. Courtesy of the Goldberg-Polin family

You have been on this campaign for the last 60 days to bring Hersh and the others home. You visited the UN and with the Pope. How do you think this has helped?

I’m always wondering. We go to bed at night after working for 18 or 20 hours and we think, “Did we accomplish anything? Did any of this help?” We have one goal. And at the end of each day, when Hersh and the others are still not home, it means we failed.

So I’m not sure if it’s helping. I think it does lend advocacy and publicity to the reality that these hostages are still in this horrible, very dangerous situation.

The Pope was actually very encouraging … I don’t know that he meant to be encouraging, but he explained to me in a very simple way … that what we have experienced is terrorism and terrorism is the absence of humanity.

I had never heard it explained that way before and that was very helpful to me because, through the last 60 days, I kind of started losing my faith in humanity. And the way he put it showed me that maybe I can still have hope and faith in humanity, and this was a moment of the absence of humanity.

Hersh Goldberg-Polin and his mother Rachel Goldberg in Israel. Hersh is being held captive in Gaza.
Hersh Goldberg-Polin with his mother Rachel Goldberg. Goldberg-Polin, 23, was abducted by Hamas militants in the attack on Israel on Oct. 7. Courtesy of Goldberg-Polin family
Hersh Goldberg-Polin and his mother Rachel Goldberg in Israel. Hersh is being held captive in Gaza.
Hersh Goldberg-Polin with his mother Rachel Goldberg. Goldberg-Polin, 23, was abducted by Hamas militants in the attack on Israel on Oct. 7. Courtesy of Goldberg-Polin family

Nearly 140 hostages are still being held captive after being abducted during the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

One of the remaining hostages is Hersh Goldberg-Polin, a 23-year-old with American and Israeli citizenship. He was kidnapped from a music festival in southern Israel after a grenade blew off part of his arm.

Hersh’s parents, who grew up in the Chicago area, have been on a crusade to bring their son and the other hostages home.

His mother, Rachel Goldberg, spoke with WBEZ from Israel, where about 1,200 people were killed on Oct. 7, according to Israeli officials. Since the war began, more than 16,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to Gaza health officials.

Have you heard anything about Hersh from the released hostages or from any other channels?

So far everyone who has been interviewed has not heard about Hersh, they didn’t see Hersh, they didn’t recognize him from pictures, or they didn’t see someone with one arm. But we were told that mostly people only saw the people they were being held with.

The one bit of news that made us hopeful is that people did say that wounded [people] did seem to have their first stop at a hospital for treatment. So we are hopeful that on Oct. 7, after Hersh’s left arm around the elbow was blown off, that he was taken for treatment at a hospital. That’s our hope and our prayer.

Tell us a little bit about Hersh as a person, as your son?

That’s my favorite topic so that’s pretty easy. Hersh is very curious, well-read and respectful. He’s funny, but funny in a dry sarcastic [way], but not mean funny. So it’s like a special genre of funny. He is obsessed with travel, and he’s wild about soccer and loves music festivals. I could go on and on, but I’ll just say he’s the perfect son for me.

Hersh Goldberg-Polin, is being held hostage by Hamas militants, is pictured on a backpacking trip.
The family of Hersh Goldberg-Polin says he’s an avid traveler. Courtesy of the Goldberg-Polin family

What is the latest you’ve heard from the Israeli government about efforts to get your son and the other remaining hostages released?

The [Israeli] war cabinet had an open meeting for families of the hostages [last night]. My husband went. I think it was pretty agonizing. Today is Day 61 that we have been standing on the head of a pin, trying to balance, and to live in this parallel universe that we find ourselves in, of complete anguish and despair.

And look, the Israeli government is juggling two very difficult tasks — a task of trying to find over 100 hostages and finding Hamas militants who caused an unbelievable catastrophe and atrocity on Oct 7. Those things are really tricky to balance.

How have people and officials in Illinois and Chicago been helpful in your efforts?

We have been in touch with both [U.S.] Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin and their offices have been very supportive to us. And Brad … what’s Brad’s last name? Yes, U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider. [He] has been amazing, wonderful, lovely, very supportive to us. I’m sorry for forgetting his name, but I haven’t slept in 60 nights, so you know, my brain cells are diminishing.

Hersh is the last of the Chicagoland hostages being held … and we’re just praying and hopeful, but we really need action because at this point we know, from the people who were released, that the conditions are very dangerous and frightening and I don’t even want to go into it. As a mother, I don’t even want to speak about what’s happening. And their time is really running out. And we know that Hersh was very traumatically injured as well. So we’re living in a very scary, scary chapter.

A banner in Jerusalem calling the release of Hersh Goldberg-Polin and other hostages abducted by Hamas militants.
A banner in Jerusalem calling the release of Hersh Goldberg-Polin. Courtesy of the Goldberg-Polin family

Is there anything people here can do to offer support?

We met with someone in the [Biden] administration and asked, “if this was your son, what would you suggest?” And he actually said, “Call us every single day.” And we’ve been telling people, “Call the White House switchboard. Call the White House comments line.” It takes less than a minute to say, “Hi, good morning. It’s Day 61. And there’s still eight Americans buried underground in Gaza. And we’re not okay with it.”

And actually, there’s 132 other people. This isn’t just about American hostages. The hostage population is vast, from many different nations. The youngest hostage still being held is 10 months old. The oldest is an 84-year-old man, and they comprise five different religions. This is not a Jewish thing. They are Christians. They’re Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists. This is a humanitarian issue. And everyone should be aware of that and advocating for the release of these human beings.

A poster in Hersh Goldberg-Polin's room supports the idea of sharing the city of Jerusalem with all. Goldberg-Polin is one of the hostages still being held by Hamas militants.
A poster in Hersh Goldberg-Polin’s bedroom supports the idea of sharing the city of Jerusalem with all. Courtesy of the Goldberg-Polin family

You have been on this campaign for the last 60 days to bring Hersh and the others home. You visited the UN and with the Pope. How do you think this has helped?

I’m always wondering. We go to bed at night after working for 18 or 20 hours and we think, “Did we accomplish anything? Did any of this help?” We have one goal. And at the end of each day, when Hersh and the others are still not home, it means we failed.

So I’m not sure if it’s helping. I think it does lend advocacy and publicity to the reality that these hostages are still in this horrible, very dangerous situation.

The Pope was actually very encouraging … I don’t know that he meant to be encouraging, but he explained to me in a very simple way … that what we have experienced is terrorism and terrorism is the absence of humanity.

I had never heard it explained that way before and that was very helpful to me because, through the last 60 days, I kind of started losing my faith in humanity. And the way he put it showed me that maybe I can still have hope and faith in humanity, and this was a moment of the absence of humanity.