Families of Hostages Taken in Israel on Oct. 7 Plead for Peace at Interfaith Conference in NYC

Families of Hostages Taken in Israel on Oct. 7 Plead for Peace at Interfaith Conference in NYC

New York City – Families of hostages taken by Hamas on October 7 came together with religious leaders for an interfaith conference in New York City on Monday amid the ongoing war in Gaza. The event, hosted by UJA-Federation of New York, saw a poignant convergence of Jewish and Muslim families alongside pastors, rabbis, and imams, all united in their call to end the suffering and secure the release of their loved ones.

The attendees, comprising the family members of Jewish and Muslim hostages as well as religious leaders, pleaded for peace at the discussion. “It’s time to bring this suffering to an end. It’s time to work out a deal that will bring our children, our fathers, our sisters, our mothers back, and we urge everybody to do everything that they can to press in all directions to bring this deal to fruition,” said Ronen Neutra, the father of American hostage Omer Neutra. “We need them back. It’s urgent.”

Former hostage Aviva Siegel, whose husband is still being held despite her release from captivity, expressed her desire for a better life for both the hostages and the people of Gaza. “Last week, somebody approached me and said, ‘I don’t believe you. How could you want a good life for the people in Gaza after what you went through?’” Siegel said. “I am going to stay a good human being. So, I want everybody to be good, and I believe that everybody deserves a better life. Also for the people [in Gaza].”

Notable attendees of Monday’s event included Rabbi Menachem Creditor, Pearl and Ira Meyer Scholar in Residence at UJA-Federation New York; Rabbi Marc Schneier, President of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding; Rabbi Joel Levenson of the Midway Jewish Center; NYPD Detective Mohamed Amen; Danyal Khan, Deputy Director of the Muslim American Leadership Alliance; Zach Erdem, Restaurateur & Television Personality; and Father Ryan Muldoon, Director of Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Dialogue of the Archdiocese of New York.

The interfaith plea came on the heels of grim news from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), confirming the deaths of four more hostages in Hamas captivity. Among the deceased were three elderly men previously seen in a Hamas video pleading for their release.

As of now, approximately 80 hostages in Gaza are believed to be alive, with the remains of 43 others identified. The situation has sparked widespread protests in Israel, with large crowds demanding action from the government. Hundreds of people, including relatives of the captives, gathered outside Israel’s Defense Ministry and military headquarters in Tel Aviv, urging for a deal to be reached. Similar protests were reported across the country.

Despite a cease-fire proposal announced by President Biden, which Israel reportedly initiated, the Israeli government has continued its military operations against Hamas. Israeli leadership has distanced itself from the cease-fire plan, committing to ongoing offensives until Hamas is dismantled. This military strategy has been accompanied by significant protests, reflecting the nation’s deep division on the path forward.

The conflict has resulted in severe humanitarian consequences. According to Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry, Israeli bombardments and ground operations have killed over 36,000 Palestinians, though these numbers do not differentiate between combatants and civilians. Israel holds Hamas accountable for the high civilian casualties, accusing the group of using densely populated areas for military operations.

In the southern city of Rafah, the Israeli invasion has severely disrupted the flow of humanitarian aid, leading to a critical shortage of essential supplies such as food and medicine. Rafah, once a bustling hub for humanitarian operations, is now facing a dire situation. 

The blockade has effectively cut off vital aid routes, exacerbating the suffering of the civilian population. Reports from aid organizations indicate that thousands of families struggle to access necessities, with many relying on dwindling reserves. The scarcity of medical supplies has particularly alarming implications, as hospitals and clinics are overwhelmed with casualties from the ongoing conflict and cannot provide adequate care.

The situation in Rafah highlights the broader humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza. The blockade and continuous military operations have left large swathes of the population in desperate need. International aid agencies have called for immediate and unhindered access to Gaza to deliver life-saving assistance. However, the security situation and logistical challenges pose significant obstacles to these efforts.

The interfaith conference in New York City brought these issues to the forefront, emphasizing the conflict’s profound human cost. Hostage families, religious leaders, and activists used the platform to advocate for urgent humanitarian intervention and a peaceful resolution. 

Their collective plea for compassion and action resonated deeply, underscoring the need for the international community to prioritize the welfare of civilians caught in the crossfire. As the global community watches closely, the hope remains that concerted efforts will lead to a breakthrough, ensuring the safe return of hostages and bringing lasting peace to the region.