Thousands rally in New York’s Central Park in support of hostages held by Hamas

Freed hostage Keren Munder tells crowd of 3,000 that NY Jewish community ‘gives us strength’; demonstrators urge US to pressure Arab nation mediators, Israel to reach hostage deal

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Keren Munder, center, a former Hamas hostage, at a rally in Central Park, March 10, 2024. (Luke Tress via JTA)
Keren Munder, center, a former Hamas hostage, at a rally in Central Park, March 10, 2024. (Luke Tress via JTA)

New York Jewish Week via JTA – An Israeli hostage who was released from Hamas captivity said the support of New York’s Jewish community “gives us strength” as thousands of demonstrators gathered in Central Park on Sunday morning to mark 150 days since the captives were taken in the devastating October 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel.

“This support is really moving,” said Keren Munder, who was taken from Kibbutz Nir Oz with other members of her family. She was released in November, during a temporary ceasefire, with her 9-year-old son, Ohad, and her mother, Ruti, 78. Her father, Avraham Munder, 78, remains in captivity.

“I really feel the support and I hope it will help us return them home,” Munder told the New York Jewish Week. “It warms the heart and feels like all the Jewish people are unified for this purpose.”

More than 3,000 people attended the demonstration, according to organizers from the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, an advocacy group for the hostages. The crowd waved Israeli flags, chanted “Bring them home” and heard from Jewish community leaders and family members of those still held captive.

Many held signs with photos of the hostages, some with “156 days” written on the placards, the number of days since the hostages were taken. Organizers distributed flags from over 30 countries representing the different nationalities of the hostages.

Terrorists from the Palestinian terror group Hamas took 253 hostages when they attacked Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, amid horrific atrocities.

Israel responded with a military campaign to destroy Hamas, topple its Gaza regime, and free the hostages.

Family members of hostages held by terror group Hamas in the Gaza Strip lead a crowd at a rally for the captives’ release, in Central Park, New York, March 10, 2024. (Luke Tress via JTA)

More than 100 hostages, mostly women and children, were released during the negotiated week-long ceasefire in November in exchange for three times as many Palestinian security prisoners held in Israeli jails. There remain 136 hostages in Gaza captivity, of whom about 100 are believed still alive. Negotiations via international mediators to agree on a second, longer lull that would also free captives in exchange for Palestinian security prisoners have stalled. Israeli and US officials are said to blame Hamas for the hold-up by not agreeing to terms that Israel has accepted, while Hamas has insisted on a permanent ceasefire.

Gilad Korngold, whose son Tal Shoham was taken hostage from his home on Kibbutz Beeri, urged the crowd to pressure elected officials to take action to release the captives.

“We need all of you because the only power who can move something in the Middle East is the US,” Korngold said, adding that the United States should increase its pressure on Qatar, Egypt, and Israel to reach a hostage deal. “Please do everything you can do.”

Other speakers included Mark Treyger, the new head of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York; Eric Dinowitz, the leader of the city council’s Jewish Caucus; and Rabbi Angela Buchdahl of Manhattan’s Reform Central Synagogue.

Attendees said they were grappling with the duration of the crisis. Yet they also expressed delight at the unity in the crowd and said they remained hopeful that the hostages would be freed.

“It’s shocking that this is still going on. I can’t reconcile it,” said Bronx resident Tamar Bar-David. She said she had recently returned from Israel, where she visited sites of Hamas atrocities, and was attending her first demonstration.

“I think people are a little dull with the pain, exhausted, but we all want to stay hopeful because the alternative is just too painful, to live in a world where these kinds of things happen,” she said.

Demonstrators urge the release of hostages held by Palestinian terror group Hamas in Gaza, during a rally in Central Park, New York, March 10, 2024. (Luke Tress via JTA)

Hannah Simpson, from Harlem, said, “I think we’re all scared and afraid to say that we’re losing hope, that we don’t know how these individuals who are still held captive are being treated.”

“But we’re not giving up, we’re standing resolute, reminding the world,” said Simpson, a writer, and activist on transgender issues who is Jewish and has demonstrated on behalf of the Israeli victims of Hamas’s attack since shortly after October 7.

Adam Marks, an Australian visiting New York, said he appreciated how open the New York crowd was about its support for Israel and the hostages. “How the world isn’t screaming for their release like we are today, it’s absolutely ridiculous,” he said.

After the speeches, the crowd marched through Central Park in a long, winding line of blue-and-white Israeli flags. A group of marchers led by a guitarist sang “One Day” by Jewish musician Matisyahu, who had a third concert canceled in response to the threat of pro-Palestinian protests just two days prior.

At the head of the procession, Munder and the hostage families carried a banner saying “Bring Them Home” and sang a traditional song based on words attributed to the founder of the Breslover Hasidic movement, Rabbi Nachman.

“The whole entire world is a narrow bridge,” they sang in Hebrew. “The essential thing is to not be afraid at all.”

Times of Israel Staff contributed to this article

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