The night before Hersh Goldberg-Polin was taken hostage by Hamas terrorists at the Supernova desert rave, he danced at his family’s Jerusalem synagogue for the Simchat Torah holiday, ate dinner with them at the home of close family friends and then left at 11 p.m. to go camping with another friend.
His parents didn’t know exactly where he was heading.
“They’re 23, they’re not babies,” his mother, Rachel Goldberg, told People magazine. “And that was the last time I saw him.”
Goldberg-Polin has been spending the last months working with school groups, earning money to travel. His last travel stint was a nine-week trek during the summer through six European countries to attend a series of raves along the way.
His mother, Goldberg, last heard from Hersh early in the morning on October 7, when her son sent two WhatsApp messages, one telling his parents he loved them, the other saying, “I’m sorry.”
Goldberg has said she immediately knew something was very wrong, that 23-year-olds don’t normally send those kinds of messages.
After speaking to several of Hersh’s close friends, the family and friends were able to figure out that Hersh and his best friend, Aner Shapira, went to the Supernova desert rave, where hundreds ended up being killed or taken captive by Hamas terrorists who attacked the event.
The two friends were last seen at a field shelter on the morning of October 7, crowded with others who tried to escape from the party.
From the bits and pieces of information gathered from witnesses in the same shelter, Goldberg-Polin’s arm was blown off from the elbow down, as the Hamas terrorists lobbed grenades into the shelter. Hersh tied a tourniquet around his own arm.
His best friend, Shapira, threw at least half a dozen grenades back out of the shelter, according to eyewitnesses, and reported by Jon Polin, Hersh’s father. Shapira was killed and was buried at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl military cemetery on Friday.
At one point, the terrorists told anyone still alive and standing in the shelter to come with them, and Goldberg-Polin was loaded onto the back of a pickup with other hostages.
Despite those harrowing accounts, his mother, Rachel Goldberg, holds out hope she will see him again, she told AP.
“He’s a survivor,” Goldberg said of her son, whose grin beams out from behind a sparse, youthful beard in family photos. “He’s not like this big, bulky guy. But I think that survival has a lot to do with where you are mentally.”
Goldberg-Polin was born in Berkeley, California and moved to Israel with his family when he was seven years old.
His family and friends immediately gathered on that Saturday morning at the Goldberg-Polin home in Jerusalem, creating an ad-hoc headquarters for telling Hersh’s story to the international press that has included CNN, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NPR, MSNBC, People and others.
They made contact with the Red Cross, trying to get medical help for Goldberg-Polin and others, and made use of other US government connections to spread the word about the growing hostage situation.
Building on Hersh’s US citizenship, Goldberg and Polin and other families whose missing relatives have American citizenship, met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week and had an hour-and-a-half video chat with US President Joe Biden last Friday.
“We feel daily an unreal amount of support from the US government,” said Polin in several interviews. The families were told the president might come on the call for a few minutes, and after half an hour, said Polin, “Biden told his staff, ‘I’m not going anywhere, I’m staying here with the families.’ And he stayed and heard the stories and cried with us.”