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מתיר אסורים – Solidarity Mission Reflections

By Lauryn Weiser

ברוך אתה ה׳ אלקינו מלך העולם מתיר אסורים
Blessed are You, Eternal God who frees the captive.

When SAR announced its Solidarity Mission to Israel, instinctually, so many wanted to join – to join in the mission to support our brothers and sisters in Israel, to join in the mission to bring chizuk to our loved ones in Israel, to join in the mission to become educated firsthand on the state of our beloved Medinat Yisrael and to join in the mission to stand as one with Am Yisrael.

We left our families with heavy hearts, but also with confidence that the choice to travel to Israel at this time was a must. We felt a strong obligation to connect and share our love with our family, our friends, and all of Am Yisrael.

This was not our first visit to Israel during a time of war, but never before had we felt a visit was so urgent. Arriving in an almost empty airport, greeted only by the pictures of the 240 hostages lining the walkways was eerie and powerful, as though each hostage was looking deep into our eyes and asking us to be their voice, to fight for them, not to forget them.

Our first stop was Hostage Square in Tel Aviv, a gathering place for families and supporters of those held by Hamas. While the artistic phenomenon has been adopted in many communities, seeing the “original,” in Israel, made it all the more powerful. The now famous Shabbat table stood in the center, set for 240 people who at that point were not yet home, even in the rain, symbolic that there is no break from this crisis. Each place setting representing an individual story, a family, a future that was interrupted.

Simultaneously, it evoked sadness and fear for the hostages, as we wondered, How are they faring in the rain? What conditions are they living in? And of course, praying for the safety and security of each and every one of them.

That morning, among the many white tents pitched in the square, we met a young woman keeping vigil. She emerged from the family tent where hostage families have been encamped. Her name was Darya; she was 18 years old, and she shared with us the story of her sister, Romi Gonen. Romi, 23, lives in Northern Israel and attended the Nova music festival on October 7th. She was taken hostage, had tried to escape, hid for over two hours, called home, and spoke to her mother who had tried to reassure her that they would rescue her. But, ultimately, she was captured by Hamas and taken to Gaza. Her phone location was the only clue to her whereabouts.

Darya shared with us that it gives her strength to share Romi’s story, who she is, and what her interests are. She gains strength from visitors. Wearing a t-shirt with Romi’s picture, she chooses to come each day because she does not want to be alone and being at Hostage Square gives her the courage to face each day. She expressed her belief that Romi is okay, that she is strong, and likely taking care of the toddler hostages.

Many of us approached Darya to hug her and talk to her, to tell her that she is not alone. Specifically, we shared that we were visiting from SAR, a school in New York and that our day does not begin until we have gathered as a community to demonstrate our love, support and emunah. While the Gonens are a secular family, when they learned that we pray every day for the safe return of the hostages, they were overwhelmed with gratitude. We shared videos of our morning tefilot, which we were told was perhaps one of the most meaningful efforts they were aware of.

Our daily prayers have taken on new meaning, and tefilot that we may not have intimately felt the meaning of before, have been given new life. For me, this is best exemplified in Bircat Hashachar. The blessing of Matir Asurim took on even greater meaning. It had become personal and the number of people who we prayed to be released from captivity was immeasurable. So many individuals, so many individual stories, so much individual pain and sorrow. And yet, it is collective. We all share in the pain of each of the hostages and their families.

Over the course of the SAR mission, we were charged with being ambassadors – ambassadors of the individual story and of the collective experience. It is our responsibility to carry these stories with us, ensuring that the voices of the victims, the heroes, all the people we have met, echo far and wide. We vowed to show honor to Romi Gonen by committing to sharing her story with our community. Please keep her, and all the hostages, in your prayers.

Since that visit, we have been fortunate to see nearly 70 hostages released and reunited with their families. We continue to pray for the safe release of all the hostages b’karov.

What We Can Do to Help
We ALL have a responsibility to encourage our representatives to support Israel and to urge our government to do everything in its power to help with the release of ALL hostages. We should also remember to give thanks to those who are standing for Israel!

Check out the SAR advocacy toolkit for a list of elected officials, their contact info, and key talking points and actionable steps for voicing your support for Israel. The volume of messages matter.

The SAR Supports Israel Fund
Please click here to donate to the SAR Supports Israel Fund today.
Your support enables us to extend our reach to many corners, addressing the many diverse needs that continue to present themselves, and hopefully make a significant impact.