Tears as hostage families implore: Bring Them Home Now

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Tears as hostage families implore: Bring Them Home Now

Hundreds gather opposite Downing Street for emotional rally marking six months since October 7

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

As an emotional Jewish community rally, marking six months since the October 7 massacres, drew to a close, a lone cyclist rode down Whitehall and screamed “Free Palestine” at the crowd.

As one, more than 1500 people responded in a spontaneous cry of “Bring Them Home Now”. It was a fitting reply — and the only one those present could have given, after a passionate hour listening to the families of Israeli hostages still languishing in Gaza.

At the event, opposite Downing Street, there was heartbreaking and unvarnished testimony, not only from the families of the hostages, but from Ophir Tor, a Magen David Adom first responder on October 7, who told the crowd that “we are colour and religion blind. We help everyone. And yet 27 of us are dead, and there is no outside voice saying that it’s wrong”.

He exhorted those present not to stay silent, but to continue pressing wherever and whenever possible for the return of the hostages.

The event, staged by UJIA, the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Hostage Families Forum, Magen David Adom and the Israeli embassy, was hosted by UJIA chief executive Mandie Winston. It was bookended by contributions from rabbis across the denominations: Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis and Rabbi Joseph Dweck, representing central Orthodox and Sephardi movements; Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg from the Masorti congregations; and Progressive rabbis Josh Levy and Charley Baginsky.

But the core presentations came from those directly connected to the hostages: Stephen Brisley, brother-in-law of the kidnapped Eli Sharabi; Ayala Harel, whose uncle Michel Nisenbaum remains in Gaza; and Michael Marlow, father of Jake, murdered at the Nova festival.

Stephen Brisley reduced many in the crowd to tears as he openly declared that he was neither Israeli nor Jewish, but felt as one with the Jewish community. He spoke of how his elder sister Lianne, from Bristol, had fallen in love in 1995. “We are not here today to talk about religion or borders or politics”, he said. “We are to talk about people, family, loved ones”.

Mr Brisley painted a picture of a warm and loving British-Israeli family, strengthened by regular visits between Kibbutz Be’eri and Britain, in which the Israelis regarded Britain as their second home, and vice versa.

“Lianne, Noiya and Yahel were murdered in their home on October 7, and Eli was taken hostage to Gaza”. For his British family, Stephen Brisley said, “he is us, and we are him.”

Ayala Harel, whose uncle Michel Nisenbaum was kidnapped from Kibbutz Kissufim, has herself been displaced by the events of October 7, being evacuated first to Eilat and then to Tel Aviv. Michel spent that day — “Black Sabbath” — trying to save his granddaughter, she said. He suffered from Crohn’s disease and has not been treated for the last six months. He and the other hostages, she said, were “pawns in the cruel game which Hamas is playing”.

Michael Marlowe, father of Jake who was murdered at the Nova festival, spoke of his campaign to highlight the case of Jake’s kidnapped friend, Shlomo Ziv, part of the security team at the festival.

The event ended with the reading of the names of those hostages believed still to be in Gaza. Among the names were those known to be dead, such as Shani Louk or Judy Weinstein Haggai, but their names will remain on this tragic list until such time as their bodies are retrieved from captivity. As the names and ages were recited — ranging from a one-year-old to a hostage of 86 — the crowd wept. But there was only one answer — “Bring Them Home Now.”

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