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A native Chicagoan pleaded Saturday for the release of his son, Hersh Goldberg-Polin, who’s one of five hostages with Illinois connections taken by Hamas earlier this month.
Goldberg-Polin’s parents who live in Jerusalem, Jon Polin and Rachel Goldberg, are from Chicago.
Polin grew up in West Rogers Park and Skokie. Goldberg was raised in Streeterville on Lake Shore Drive. Her mom still lives downtown near Navy Pier, and Polin’s mom lives in Evanston.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., told the Sun-Times that of the 12 U.S. citizens captured by Hamas, five have Illinois connections including Hersh Goldberg-Polin. Natalie and Judith Raanan, the Evanston daughter and mother, were released by Hamas on Friday.
The names of the two others with Illinois links have not been made public.
‘It’s a miracle’: Evanston mom and daughter held hostage by Hamas released after almost two weeks
From his home in Jerusalem, Polin told the Sun-Times that the family is “on a mission like no other mission I have ever been on in my life.
“This mission can only have one successful outcome, which is to bring Hersh home,” he said.
Goldberg-Polin, 23, was one of many taken hostage at an open-air music festival in southern Israel near the Gaza border early on Oct. 7. Hamas militants opened fire on festival-goers, killing hundreds. The war that has raged since then has taken thousands of Palestinian and Israeli lives.
Goldberg-Polin’s left arm was blown off in a bunker before he was taken, his family said. He has been missing since and his condition is unknown, according to Polin, who moved with his wife, their son and two daughters to Israel in 2008.
Duckworth has been in regular contact with Polin and Goldberg.
“We have the most number of Americans or connected to Americans that were being held hostage,” Duckworth said, referring to those with Illinois links. “I talk to Jon almost daily,” she said.
After the Raanans were released, “I called Jon to reassure him about the fact that we’re still looking for Hersh,” Duckworth said.
Lifelong Chicago fan
Goldberg-Polin was born in Berkeley, California, and lived in Richmond, Virginia, before the family moved to Israel when he was 7 years old. But he has always been a loyal Chicago sports fan, Polin said.
“Hersh has constantly worn all Chicago sports paraphernalia throughout his life,” he said.
Polin and Goldberg attended Hillel Torah North Suburban Day School and Ida Crown Jewish Academy.
Polin went to Ezras Israel Synagogue in West Rogers Park with his family, and then Or Torah when they moved to Skokie. He attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison and Goldberg went to Brandeis University.
Polin, who used to spend summers working concessions at Wrigley Field and the former Comiskey Park, said “it means so much to have support from the city and especially from Tammy Duckworth and her whole office.”
The night before Goldberg-Polin was captured, their family went to synagogue for services to mark the weekly Sabbath and the Jewish holiday Simchat Torah.
His parents gave him a kiss and a hug good-bye before Goldberg-Polin went off with a friend that night, the last time they’ve seen him in person.
The morning of Oct. 7, Polin heard explosions and air raid sirens.
“It was not like the periodic, mini flare-up we’re used to hearing, it seemed bigger than that,” he said.
At 8:11 a.m., they received two WhatsApp text messages from Goldberg-Polin. The first read: “I love you.” The second: “I’m sorry.”
From there, Polin and Goldberg sprang into action. They called every hospital in the country. They filed a missing person report with police and provided officers with his toothbrush and pillow case for DNA samples.
They got a hold of Polin-Goldberg’s friends, who confirmed that he’d gone to the music festival attacked by Hamas.
They later received a photo showing Goldberg-Polin crammed into a bomb shelter with at least 25 other people. They spoke with eyewitnesses who said grenades and gunfire showered the shelter, killing and wounding many inside.
Goldberg-Polin’s friend, Aner Shapira, picked up and threw out several of the grenades, Polin said. Shapira was killed in the attack, according to Times of Israel.
Four people were taken at gunpoint out of the shelter, including Goldberg-Polin, according to photos, videos and accounts from eyewitnesses gathered by Polin.
He was covered in blood and missing his left arm, which was blown off in the ambush. He fashioned himself a tourniquet from a T-shirt, Polin said.
A video Polin obtained showed Goldberg-Polin, who’s left handed, pulling himself up into a truck with his right arm. His phone was last detected that morning in Gaza, police told Polin.
“That’s the last thing we know about him,” Polin said.
Biden, Blinken, senators reaching out to Polin, Goldberg
Polin and Goldberg — with the families of others from the U.S. unaccounted for in the wake of the Hamas attacks — have met with, virtually or in person, President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and a stream of U.S. senators in Israel.
The families of the other missing U.S. citizens met with Blinken at a hotel in Tel Aviv on Oct. 12. A Zoom call the next day with Biden lasted 90 minutes — well over the 30 minutes originally scheduled.
On Sunday, Polin and Goldberg and the other families are scheduled to talk with 10 senators in Tel Aviv. Last week, five other senators in Israel met with the families.
Friends have helped Polin and Goldberg set up their own “situation room,” tracking any news about Goldberg-Polin and other hostages on social media, making daily calls to U.S. and Israeli officials and contacting aide groups like the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders to determine Goldberg-Polin’s condition.
“We decided we weren’t waiting for the U.S. government to help us and weren’t waiting for the Israeli government to help us. There was no time for that,” Polin said. “I get two hours of sleep a night and I get up and go to work to bring him home.”
Given that Goldberg-Polin is critically wounded, they don’t know what amount of medical care he has received, Polin said.
Dreams of world travel
Goldberg-Polin turned 23 years old two weeks ago. He spent his summer traveling through Europe, jumping from country to country for nine weeks to see as many music festivals as possible, his dad said.
Goldberg-Polin has been fascinated by the world from a young age. He memorized every country, its capital and flag by the time he was 9. He has a plane ticket to Goa, India, for Dec. 27, the start of a yearlong journey across the globe.
“All he’s ever wanted to do, all he’s dreamed of doing, is traveling the world,” Polin said. “All I want for him is to go on that trip, even if he only does it with one arm.”
After his summer trip to Europe, Goldberg-Polin traveled to northern Israel with their whole family — time they now relish even more.
“We just did nothing, it was wonderful. We sat drinking coffee, and three hours later, we were still drinking coffee,” Polin said.
“We knew it at the time that it was special. To sit and talk and laugh. And all we want is to do that again.”