CHICAGO (WLS) — The Jewish United Fund is holding community vigils for local families whose loved ones are being held hostage by Hamas.
At Anshe Emet Synagogue in Lakeview, three families from Israel with a combined eleven relatives ranging from age 3 to 67 believed to be held hostage by Hamas were in attendance.
“It’s a crime against humanity. It’s something that we should not… we should not accept,” said Shani Segal.
“And I feel it’s so, so clear that what Hamas did is wrong, and they continue doing wrong,” said Sandy Feldman.
Or and Daphna Sella are related to Judith and Natalie Raanan of Evanston, who Hamas released last month, but they have an additional seven relatives who are still held captive.
“The international pressure works, and it needs to continue and get even stronger,” Or Sella said.
Yael Nidam Kirsht recalled getting the call that her sister-in-law had been taken.
“‘Your sister-in-law Rimon is missing. We don’t know where she is,'” she recalled. “That moment, I froze.”
Kirsht said her family last heard from Rimon on October 7, before she and her husband Yagev were taken captive by Hamas. They are now being held somewhere in Gaza.
“My heart literally broke,” she said. “We still haven’t finished counting the bodies, so every day when I get a phone call I don’t know what I’m going to hear.”
Kirsht is in Chicago with other families of hostages to call on Illinoisans to advocate for their relief, and for aid to reach the hundreds held in captivity, part of a joint effort with the Jewish United Fund of Chicago and the Israeli Consulate.
Kirsht said she just saw Rimon in a hostage video released by Hamas.
“Now I know for sure she’s held in some dungeon underground by some terror organization that’s murdered 1,400 people,” she said. “She was skinny. I have never seen her that thin. And she’s not wearing her glasses.”
That pain and fear permeates the region as the war continues to claim lives. Mohammed Abu Realh said dozens of his family members were killed in Gaza just this week.
“Their house was hit by a missile; 33 of them, including two unborn children who were expected to be born this week, died,” he said.
Born in Gaza, Abu Realh now calls Bridgeview home. He spoke in remembrance of his family at a Tuesday night prayer vigil.
“These people are not numbers. They are human,” he said. “Two of them are school principals. Some of them are teachers. Some of them is last year medical school. Three engineers and many, many kids.”
He said his family had fled an area they were asked to leave, and were staying at a home blocks from Gaza Shifa Hospital where many of the wounded have been treated.
“These people who are in Gaza are human. They have family,” he added. “They have lives. They have people who love them.”
More family members of Israeli hostages and those killed by Hamas will gather at at North Suburban Synagogue Beth El at 1175 Sheridan Road in Highland Park on Thursday night to share stories in person. The events start at 6 p.m., with the program beginning at 7:30 p.m.