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‘I love you. Stay strong. Survive.’ Parents of Israeli-American hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin find meaning in Hamas video

“I love you. Stay strong. Survive.” That has been the mantra of Rachel Goldberg-Polin since her son was taken hostage by Hamas on October 7 with a severe arm injury.

She was referring to a video Hamas released on Wednesday of her Israeli-American son – the first sign since October 7 that he was still alive. Speaking in Hebrew, with part of his left arm missing, Goldberg-Polin called on his parents to stay strong for him.

The undated video has given them hope but there are “mixed emotions,” his father Jonathan Polin said, because as a parent, Jonathan knows his son, who is left-handed, is not fine.

“He doesn’t look great, [his] coloring is off – but you’d expect that after 200 plus days in a tunnel,” he said, adding, “it lights a fire under us even more than we’ve already had” to bring him and the other hostages home.

Goldberg-Polin, who is almost certainly speaking under duress in the video, was kidnapped from the Nova music festival during Hamas’ attacks on Israel, when more than 1,200 people died and more than 200 people were taken hostage.

Footage of his capture showed Hamas fighters leading the then-23-year-old away from the bomb shelter with part of his arm missing. The first time Goldberg-Polin’s parents saw that video was following an interview with Cooper in October. The pair were recalling eyewitness accounts of how their son was taken into captivity during a live TV interview, when Cooper realized he had heard details of the story before.

Not wanting to spring the news on them on live TV, Cooper contacted them after the interview and asked if they wanted to see the video. They later confirmed the man in the video was their son and asked that the video be shared more widely.

The family was told by an eyewitness that Goldberg-Polin lost his arm from the elbow down while helping to throw grenades out of a bunker where he and others were sheltering.

The Hamas video on Wednesday showed part of his left arm missing several inches above the hand and it appears to be healing. Rachel said surgeons have reached out to her to say that the wound needs treatment and rehabilitation.

While worried about Goldberg-Polin’s health, his parents have embraced the proof of his survival so far. “He’s alive and there are so many families that don’t have that proof,” Rachel said.

Their son is among the most recognizable of the 129 hostages who remain in Gaza. Banners and murals are displayed in Jerusalem, saying: “Bring Hersh Home,” and his parents regularly meet top US officials in Washington to press the case of the hostages.

‘Kissing someone through a veil’

In the video, Goldberg-Polin said he hoped he was able to give them his parents comfort on the holiday, in reference to the Jewish holiday of Passover that began on Monday night.

But it has been a struggle for his family to mark the holiday without him. “It’s normally a commemoration of the Jewish people leaving captivity, leaving Egypt and going on to be a free people,” his mother told Cooper. “And the idea that we were going to celebrate freedom when our entire being and soul and heart is being held captive just felt perverse.”

Goldberg-Polin also spoke in Hebrew in the clip, which Rachel called “interesting” as they never speak it with their children. “It was kind of like kissing someone through a veil, because that’s not the language that we use at home. But it’s his voice,” Rachel said.

The Goldberg-Polin family have called on the negotiating parties, including Qatar, Egypt, the United States, Hamas, and Israel, to intensify efforts to strike a deal that would reunite families and end their suffering.

Speaking to Cooper, Jonathan added: “This video plays one small piece in reminding the negotiators that you are dealing with real human beings with aspirations and families who love them and are working every day to bring them home. Maybe that’s a little bit of good that comes out of this for the process.”

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