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Rabbi reflects on 'young man who prayed' in Richmond and is now missing in Israel

Posted at 2:01 PM, Oct 09, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- Hersh Goldberg-Polin, a 23-year-old man who spent part of his childhood in Richmond, Virginia, is among those who remain unaccounted for after Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel over the weekend killing hundreds of people.

Goldberg-Polin's father Jon Polin, who also lived in Richmond, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency his son was attending the open-air electronic music festivaltargeted by Hamas militants.

“He sent us two short WhatsApps Saturday morning at 8:11,” Jon Polin told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. He shared his son’s text messages with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “'I love you' and I’m sorry.'"

Hersh Goldberg-Polin

That site will go down in Israeli history as the site of the country's worst civilian massacre after paramedics recovered at least 260 bodies from a field near the border with Gaza.

Rabbi David Asher, of Keneseth Beth Israel in Richmond, said the Goldberg-Polin worshiped at the synagogue during their time in Richmond.

"This young man who prayed here in this room, and is now in Gaza held as hostage, we believe, he hasn't been heard from since since the Sabbath. So it's been very difficult," Rabbi Asher said.

Asher, whose parents and other relatives live in Israel, said the Jewish people there and around the world are in a state of shock.

"Everybody knows someone who's kind of sheltered or who's just struggling to figure out what their next steps are. So we are frantic," he said. "When you see the one Jewish country go through what many are saying, and I think properly so, is like a 9/11. I think Virginians and Americans should realize, imagine if 20,000 American civilians were killed tomorrow by terrorists, what would the state of our country be like? I think many of us are in a daze in terms of understanding what this means for the Jewish community globally."

Rabbi Dovid Asher
Rabbi Dovid Asher

A Richmond Stands with Israel gathering has been scheduled for Monday evening at the Weinstein JCC.

"It's critically important for Richmonders to know, Hamas is not a social service organization. They're an international terrorist group," Asher said. "I am pained by the plight of regular everyday Gazans who live under this mafia regime. In fact, my own personal theory is that Israel has an opportunity to help empower Gazans to take back their neighborhoods from this mafia that is Hamas. And certainly hoping that innocent civilians on both sides will live in safety and security."

Israel vows to punish Gaza as region and world feel ripples from Hamas attack

Israel formally declared war on Sunday and gave the green light for “significant military steps” to retaliate against Hamas.

The hostilities so far have killed around 700 people in Israel and 493 people in Gaza, according to authorities on each side.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Monday ordered a “complete siege” of Gaza, saying authorities would cut electricity and block the entry of food and fuel.

Israel’s military scoured the country’s south for remaining militants and pounded Gaza from the air. Rockets launched from Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas, set off air raid sirens in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

“I ask you to stand firm because we are going to change the Middle East,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told authorities from southern Israel. “I know you have been through terrible and difficult things. What Hamas will go through will be difficult and terrible … We have only just begun.”

International aid group warns of ‘utter disaster’ in Gaza

The secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, an international aid organization, warns that the Israeli government's vow to besiege and blockade the Gaza Strip would spell “utter disaster” for the more than 2 million Palestinians living in the small territory.

Jan Egeland’s comments came after Israel’s defense minister ordered a “complete siege” on Gaza after an unprecedented incursion by Hamas fighters into Israel early Saturday. Israel formally declared war on Sunday and has since retaliated against Hamas for the attack.

“There is no doubt that collective punishment is in violation of international law. It’s clear as that.” Egeland told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “If and when it would lead to wounded children dying in hospitals because of a lack of energy, electricity, and supplies, it could amount to war crimes.”

Egeland also slammed donor countries for halting humanitarian assistance to Gaza after the unprecedented attack by Hamas militants on Saturday.

France reports uptick in antisemitic acts

French police have arrested 10 people in connection with antisemitic acts that were reported since the latest fighting between Israel and Hamas militants began.

The 20 reported incidents included threats to synagogues or people frequenting Jewish stores, the interior minister said Monday.

Prosecutors have also opened 44 investigations into antisemitic hate speech online or posts glorifying terrorism in connection with the violence, according to Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin’s office.

While France’s sees sporadic acts targeting Jews or Muslims, Darmanin said the number of antisemitic incidents since Saturday was ″dramatic.″

France has the world’s largest Jewish population after Israel and the U.S.

Two French citizens are confirmed dead in Israel following the outbreak of violence. At least eight others are missing or believed held hostage, according to a lawmaker who represents French people abroad.

Egyptian university students rally in support of Palestinians

Dozens of students held a rally in support of the Palestinian people Monday at the prestigious American University in Egypt's capital.

The students rallied across the university campus in Cairo’s upscale 5th Settlement neighborhood.

Students were seen waving Palestinian flags and holding banners with slogans such as “Free Palestine.”

The rally came as fighting raged for a third day between Israel and Palestinian militant groups following Hamas’ unprecedented Saturday attack on southern Israel.

UN agency near capacity for displaced Palestinians in Gaza

The U.N. Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, says it is near maximum capacity in accommodating internally displaced people in Gaza.

The agency’s director of external communications, Tamara Alrifai, said Monday that nearly 137,000 people have sheltered so far in over 70 U.N. schools around Gaza. Alrifai said the agency can host up to 150,000 people at up to 79 schools around the territory.

She added there is fuel in Gaza that could last for up to 10 days.

State Department: 9 Americans are among the dead in Israel

The U.S. State Department said Monday that at least nine American citizens have been killed in the weekend Hamas attacks on Israel, raising the toll from four.

The State Department says an undetermined number of American citizens remain missing and unaccounted for.

It is not clear whether the missing had been taken hostage, were killed or are in hiding.

The State Department is in touch with families “and providing all appropriate consular assistance,” spokesman Matthew Miller said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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