A wall in Rebecca Assia Shafir’s office is covered with pictures of the hostages who have been held by Hamas since Oct. 7, 2023. Their images are imprinted on the minds and hearts of Israelis and those in the Jewish Diaspora communities. The people in these photos, so alive on Shafir’s wall, are an embodiment of hope—hope that these babies, children, young adults, grandmothers and others are somehow surviving.

Omer Shemtov’s picture is on that wall. Shemtov was at the Nova music festival on Oct. 7. He shared his live location with his parents, Malki and Shelly, on that day, and the Shemtovs saw that Omer was moving toward Gaza. Initially, they thought it was a mistake, but when they realized their son had been kidnapped, it was too late for the Israeli authorities to help him.

In the wake of the barbarism in southern Israel early on that October morning, the Shemtovs founded the Hostages and Missing Families Forum. By Oct. 8, the Shemtovs had gathered people—some of whom had assisted in the release of Gilad Shalit—to help them in the early days after the attack. Within 12 hours of posting Omer’s picture on social media, over 100 families missing a loved one answered the Shemtovs’ call. It took only a matter of days for the group, along with the entire country, to build an impressive infrastructure of services, including mental health support, safe housing and meals for the hostages’ families.

As the Forum’s director of philanthropy, Shafir tapped into her network of family foundations in Israel, the U.S. and Canada, as well as Jewish federations in the United States. CJP was among the federations that responded with a $750,000 grant for psychological services, direct financial aid and funds for hostages’ families to share their stories all over the world.

Originally from Canada, Shafir has lived in Israel for over two decades and has a son who is a combat soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. Grateful for the global financial assistance and emotional support, Shafir says, “Although Israelis are resilient, the position we are currently in is devastating. Over 1,200 Jews were murdered in their own country on Oct. 7, the highest number of Jews killed in one day since the Holocaust.”

Within the first week of the attacks, the mayor of Tel Aviv rededicated Monument Square as “Hostage Square.” Israel’s leading cybersecurity company, Checkpoint, provided a building for the Forum next to the square, with all expenses paid to set up operations for the year. Those operations are run by almost 2,000 volunteers and 90 employees whose salaries are covered by grants. There are advisory boards and a management committee in which Malki Shemtov and members of other hostage families are active.

From its inception, the Forum has been emphatically nonpartisan and serves people no matter where they are on the political spectrum. The Forum has also extended help to minorities in Israel, including Israeli Arabs, Druze and Bedouin families.

Rabbi Marc Baker, president and CEO of CJP, was recently in Israel, where he met with some of the hostages’ families. “Meeting with these families is very emotional, but their strength and resilience is inspiring,” he says. “As a community, we have kept the hostages in the forefront of our minds for eight months, and CJP’s grant shows our community’s extraordinary generosity. There is a deep sense of unity and solidarity in Boston with the families, the hostages and the people of Israel.”

Thus far, CJP has raised $59 million from 6,700 donors across the Greater Boston community. “Raising this money is further evidence of our commitment to Israel in this unprecedented and troubling time,” Baker adds.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Shafir walked me through the Forum’s building on FaceTime. “We have a massive dining hall, which at any given time feeds up to 350 people. Tech companies and philanthropic organizations have donated the meals,” she says.

The mental health team schedules at least five of its professionals to be on call at any given time. Services such as reflexology, massage and acupuncture are available to traumatized families and others. “Four months in, we understood psychologists, social workers and case managers had to be the same people families met with to build an effective foundation of trust and provide continuity,” Shafir says. People are also equipped with apps to ask for help confidentially. There are computers for kids to do homework and spaces to give the families opportunities to rest.

The afternoon of my virtual tour, most of the staff was leaving to attend the funerals of three hostages whose remains were recovered that week. “This is a strong community. Yet we need the Forum to be a one-stop shop for everyone who is struggling and alone in handling this situation,” Shafir says. “This is bigger than any of us, so we don’t have an alternative but to find solutions and resolutions. No one knows what they are now. Hopefully, our hostages are returned tomorrow. But for the moment, we are here to marshal resources and get them in the hands of people who need them.”

Laurene Sperling, chair of CJP’s Board of Directors, was in Israel in May. “After we landed, we went immediately to Hostage Square and met with Malki Shemtov,” she says. “He was speaking on behalf of the hostage families. There was no hint of anger or the burdens he was carrying. His strength and grace underscore how deeply horrific it is for humanity to witness these innocent people being held. He carries the hope that Omer and all the hostages will come home.”

Sperling says she saw the impact of CJP’s grant on the hostages’ families in Hostage Square. Citing a major art installation there, she recalls “the recreation of one of Gaza’s tunnels, which conveyed a hostage’s experience in very personal ways.” She adds that she is deeply disappointed over the lack of press coverage about the hostages. “The hostages’ captivity is a threat to humanity and a war crime against Americans, Israelis and other impacted countries. The mainstream press’ silence about the hostages is a major historic mistake, and the Forum is correcting that,” she says. “The narrative of Israel as the aggressor denigrates Israel. This is an inflection point not just in Jewish history, but in all of history. Allowing the taking of hostages with prices on their heads is a danger to all of us.”

As the hostages slowly return, Shafir notes that with CJP’s help, the Forum has been sending many of them, accompanied by a family member, psychologist or health professional, to testify at The Hague. “They are there to provide eyewitness accounts of what they’ve been through in captivity and saw at the Nova festival,” she says. “We also send them with legal representation and security guards because they feel so threatened. We send them to advocate for their agency, to be heard and for the world to hear them.”

Shafir walks outside to show me the square’s first art installation: “Shabbat Dinner Table.” She notes that part of the table is festively set. The second part consists of poured concrete representing the hostages still in Gaza. To reflect on the severity of the situation, broken chairs, stale pieces of pita bread the consistency of cardboard and dirty bottled water drive home the point that this is only a small part of what the hostages are suffering in Gaza.

Hostage Square also has an operational touring system. There are tour guides to walk visitors through the installations and explain their various meanings. Shafir notes that most of these guides speak English, and a companion virtual system will soon be available. Shafir points out the yellow tulips in the square “to reflect that we wear yellow ribbons for the hostages. Many companies are buying these tulips and use the profit to support the hostages and their families.”

At the end of our FaceTime tour, Shafir notes, “We shift with the times; we’re dynamic. We’re light on our feet; we’re nimble. The times are changing, and we are changing with them. The needs are changing, and we are also changing with them. And, in the end, hope and generosity power our spaces.”

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