Mother of hostage held in Gaza pans Red Cross as ‘Uber for released hostages’

Rachel Goldberg criticizes aid group for not securing visits to kidnapped Israelis; says she was told hostages more valuable to Hamas alive, injured probably taken to hospitals

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Rachel Goldberg, mother of Hamas hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin, speaks to the press on November 29, 2023 (Sreenshot)
Rachel Goldberg, mother of Hamas hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin, speaks to the press on November 29, 2023 (Sreenshot)

Rachel Goldberg, whose son Hersh Goldberg-Polin is held hostage in Gaza, said Wednesday that the Red Cross has done a good job “being the Uber service for the released hostages,” referring to the organization having shuttled groups of freed captives across the border to Israel, but doing nothing for those still in captivity.

Speaking to reporters, Goldberg added several details that she and her husband, Jon Polin, have learned about their son’s abduction.

Goldberg-Polin’s arm was blown off from the elbow down by a grenade on October 7, when he and 27 others were attacked by Hamas terrorists while attempting to hide in a concrete field shelter in southern Israel. They were pelted by grenades, an RPG and then with gunfire by terrorists. Many inside the shelter died. Goldberg-Polin was carted off to Gaza.

His parents were told that hostages are more valuable to Hamas alive, and that the sense is that injured hostages were taken to hospitals.

“We know there are very capable physicians and surgeons in Gaza,” said Goldberg. “What has been explained to us is that although the injury looks horrible, it’s not a complicated surgery,” and would only involve the surgeon amputating above the jagged part of the limb.

“And then he would need antibiotics, which of course begs the question if that happened or is still happening,” said Goldberg.

A screenshot of Hersh Goldberg-Polin (left) and his friend, Aner Shapira, in a field shelter early Saturday morning, October 7, 2023. Goldberg-Polin is missing, Shapira was later declared dead (Courtesy)

While the family has been reaching out to the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations every day since October 7, they have been told by each organization that they would be willing to visit the hostages but that Hamas wasn’t letting them in.

“We thought they were not pushing enough,” said Goldberg. “Then the Red Cross went in to see Gaza civilians.”

Goldberg-Polin’s parents and other families of the hostages then hoped the Red Cross would see one hostage for each Gazan civilian, “but that didn’t happen either,” said Goldberg.

This week, Jon Polin visited the shelter from which his son was taken.

Their son was “smashed into this space,” said Goldberg, describing the 8 foot by 5 foot “tiny, concrete” field shelter where he and his friend Aner Shapiro attempted to hide, along with 27 others. Shapiro fended off seven or eight hand grenades, and was then killed.

Those who survived saw that Goldberg-Polin’s arm was blown off from the elbow down. A video later sent to his parents by CNN broadcaster Anderson Cooper showed that Goldberg-Polin walked to the Hamas pickup truck that took him and several others to Gaza.

“I think he’s completely shell-shocked and traumatized in that video,” said Goldberg. “Unfortunately, that’s 54 days ago and we don’t have any news.”

Watching the reunions of released hostages with their loved ones has offered the “first moment of respite and a sliver of light and a tiny hopeful moment,” said Goldberg.

“At this point, we know so many of those people, I know these mothers, I have been in these meetings,” she said. “The thought of those children being alone in the darkness was just unbearable.”

Goldberg mentioned being in Rome to meet the pope with Moshe Leimberg, husband whose wife Gabriela Leimberg and daughter Mia Leimberg had been abducted. Both were released Tuesday night with Gabriela’s sister, Clara Marman, while other relatives are still held hostage.

“We became friends with this man, who was a broken, shattered man, and then last night, we saw them come out,” she said. “Obviously, I would love to see Hersh be one of those released. But he’s not a woman and he’s not a child, and that’s how the optics of this are playing out.”

Hersh Goldberg-Polin was taken captive by Hamas terrorists from the Supernova desert rave on October 7, 2023 (Courtesy Rachel Goldberg)

Hersh, she said, is a kind, curious person who loves music and music festivals, and has been obsessed with geography and travel since he was very young. He used to read National Geographic like a book, said Goldberg, “even the really boring articles.”

He’s also a believer in peace and coexistence, and the book he left on his nightstand is “The Art of Happiness” by the Dalai Lama.

“That’s Hersh,” said Goldberg.

The mother said she feels “like a faded piece of who I was.” She finds strength in what people write to them, and in her religion and faith as well.

“I pray every morning, I have a relationship with this idea of God, and I am praying and saying a lot of Psalms,” she said. “Every day we try to stay really busy and keep throwing feelers in every direction. Trying to run to the ends of the Earth to save him has saved me from being a puddle on the floor.”

As for Hersh, said Goldberg, “I hope you get to meet him. You can see his new bionic hand.”

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