On the mind of the Rev. Adrian Dannhauser

Apr 12, 2024

Last week, I joined a small group of Christian clergy at a synagogue on the Upper West Side. We were there to hear from Rachel Goldberg, mother of Hersh Goldberg-Polin, who is one of the 133 hostages still held by Hamas. Hersh is a 23-year-old dual Israeli-American citizen. There are 8 total hostages from the U.S., with several other countries represented. The youngest is 14 months and the oldest is 86. They are Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim.

Rachel is at the forefront of advocacy to bring the hostages home. She’s met with the Pope. She’s been to the U.N. and the White House multiple times. She’s been interviewed by Anderson Cooper and other high-profile journalists. And she has met with countless faith communities, both big and small, working to get her story out.

As Rachel spoke about the day her son was captured, she gave a play-by-play. Details included hearing a warning siren in Jerusalem on the morning of October 7, which prompted her to hide in the bomb shelter in her apartment with her two daughters. (All apartments in the newer buildings in Jerusalem have their own bomb shelters.) She then turned on her cell phone, as it had been off in observance of the Sabbath, and saw two texts from Hersh: “I love you” and “I’m sorry”.

When Hamas descended on the music festival, Hersh tried to escape by car. But he soon discovered a 50-car pile-up of dead bodies as he headed toward Jerusalem. So, he retreated to a 5’x 8’ roadside bomb shelter, where he huddled with 28 other people. Rachel learned from those who survived that Hersh lost the bottom half of his left arm when Hamas fighters attacked them with grenades and machine guns. These survivors were able to hide undetected under dead bodies. Hersh wasn’t so lucky. He was marched out and onto a truck with three other young men.

Rachel has not put on make-up or worn her hair down since October 7. She has not exercised or eaten sugar. She explained for us Christian clergy that it feels like Lent all the time. Putting on clothes for the day is like wearing a costume because all she wants to do is cry in bed. But when you’re going through hell, you have to keep walking. Rachel sticks a strip of masking tape to her shirt every day. On it, she’s written the number of days her son has been held hostage – the number of days she’s kept walking.

Rachel is a woman of deep faith. She referred to the Psalms as a “self-help book” and reads two a day. She had started reading them in order on the day Hersh was stolen. (That’s the word she uses – “stolen” – because he was stolen from her, and his life was stolen from him.) When she got to Psalm 150, she started over with Psalm 1 but also kept praying 150 because it is a psalm of praise. I have joined her in this ritual. Today is Psalm 150 and Psalm 139.

I got to have a private word with Rachel and told her she reminded me of Rachel weeping for her children in the Bible. Jeremiah 31:15 describes Rachel (the wife of Jacob in Genesis) as weeping over the Israelites taken into Babylonian captivity. She finished my thought by paraphrasing Jeremiah 31:16-17. The Lord says they will come back from the enemy to the land of their own country.

It is always a testament to the mercy and compassion of God when a person actively experiencing trauma speaks to the power of their faith. This includes faith in humanity. Rachel said she can still have faith in humanity because terrorism is the absence of humanity. Rachel is the embodiment of hope and invites us all to join her in helping #bring_hersh_home. For example, learn more on her social media sites and take one minute a day to contact your elected officials. And of course, join Rachel in prayer.

As I left the synagogue, I walked through Central Park listening to Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, a 13th-century hymn that portrays Mary’s suffering during the crucifixion of Jesus. The hymn takes its name from the first line. Stabat mater dolorosa: “The sorrowful mother was standing.”

May this mother’s sorrow, strength, and advocacy rooted in faith bring us to a place of solidarity with all who suffer in this tragic war, and bring her child home.