COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Since the surprise attack against Israel, Hamas and other militants in Gaza are believed to have taken roughly 220 people hostage, some of whom are Americans. So far, four have been released, an American woman, her teenage daughter and now two elderly Israeli women.
According to the International Committee of Red Cross, those two elderly Israeli women set free were captured with their husbands, who remain hostages. Local leaders say that while this feels like a starting point, they want the hundreds of other hostages to be released.
“It’s a miracle that they made it out, probably the horrors they’ve endured over the last few weeks is unimaginable,” said Senior Director of Community Relations for JewishColumbus, Justin Shaw.
For the Jewish community here in Columbus, it’s been hard to watch the events in Israel unfold over the past few weeks.
“I think that for every hostage that is released, there is a family that finds an element of comfort and consolation and that idea that they are able to hug their loved ones,” said Rabbi Hillel Skolnik with Congregation Tifereth Israel.
Shaw says that it’s easy for the local Jewish community to feel helpless being 6,000 miles away. Recently, the U.S. had admitted Israel into its Visa Waiver program, allowing eligible Israeli citizens and nationals to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days without having to obtain a visa.
“I think that you’ll find that there’s probably a lot of Isralies that aren’t gonna want to leave home. They’re going to want to stay and defend their country,” said Shaw.
Obtaining these visas is something the Jewish community has been asking for, for a long time.
“It’s going to be a huge boom for tourism and business,” said Shaw.
The conflict in the Middle East has caused fear for the Jewish community all over the U.S. and as Rabbi Skolnik says, it’s brought a lot of hate.
“I was at a soccer game for my son the other day, standing there watching and from a car behind me, someone shouted something anti-semetic as they were driving by. Which has never happened to me before in Columbus,” Skolnik said.
As the war continues, they both say the most important thing is releasing the hostages and returning them safely to their families.