Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Chicago-area Jewish communities call for hostage release in Evanston demonstration

Lily Carey/The Daily Northwestern
Each red balloon at Sunday’s demonstration symbolized one of the over 230 people taken hostage by Hamas in its Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Over 200 red balloons sat in the center of Fountain Square in downtown Evanston Sunday. The balloons, waving in the wind, were anchored to the ground next to a pair of shoes and a poster reading “kidnapped.”

Each balloon symbolized one person taken hostage by Hamas in its Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

The artistic installation was the centerpiece of a demonstration that took place Sunday, which drew a crowd of nearly 300. Organized by local Jewish and Israeli communities, event attendees said they aimed to show solidarity with the hostages and to call on politicians around the world to “bring them home.”

“We want to pressure on governments around the world, in the West and in the Arab world, to do everything to ignite any sort of negotiation to release the hostages, whether as part of prisoner exchange, a ceasefire, humanitarian aid, anything that would lead eventually to the release of all of the 240 hostages,” said Maayan Hilel, a Wilmette resident and NU Professor of Jewish and Israel studies who helped organize Sunday’s event. “As we know, now, they’re still alive, but we don’t know for how much longer.”

When Hamas — a militant group the U.S. government labels a terrorist organization — launched a surprise attack on Israel Oct. 7, they kidnapped over 230 Israelis, who are now being held hostage in Gaza, according to the Israeli government. The Israeli military has since launched a continuous bombardment, blockade and ground offensive in the Gaza Strip. 

Over 10,000 Palestinians have been killed since, and over 1,400 Israelis were killed in the initial attack on Israel, according to Palestinian and Israeli authorities.

Despite international calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will not stop the attacks until the hostages are released. Protests in Israeli cities over the weekend, which also called for the release of hostages, criticized Netanyahu for his response to Hamas’ initial attack.

Hilel said she hoped to call for the safety of all those impacted by the conflict.

“We’re (showing) solidarity with families in Israel and with the Israeli people, and also with the suffering of innocent Palestinians that are being killed in Gaza,” she said. “There are also many Palestinian Israeli citizens that are also being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza — it’s not only Jews are being held hostage.”

During Sunday’s event, attendees heard from several speakers, including local Rabbis and former Democratic State Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg (D-Evanston). Attendees also prayed together for the safe release of hostages.

Rabbi Meir Hecht of Evanston Chabad, who also attended the protest, said he has begun to feel that “our prayers were answered.” Judith and Natalie Raanan, a mother and daughter from Evanston who are congregants at Evanston Chabad, were taken hostage by Hamas on Oct. 7. On Oct. 20, the two were released to Red Cross representatives, and Natalie returned to the Chicago area last week.

“Judith and Natalie are this glimmer of light through all this darkness,” Hecht said. “The fact that there’s 240 hostages still in the hands of Hamas is outrageous and deeply painful. So we, of course, feel very blessed that our neighbors, congregants, friends from here in Evanston, have been released. But we’re also feeling a tremendous amount of pain — our hearts are heavy.”

Chicago resident Oren Orkin said the event was put together by grassroots organizers. As someone who was raised in Israel and moved to the United States over 20 years ago, he said it’s been difficult to watch the unfolding violence in Israel and Gaza. The fact that hostages still remain unaccounted for nearly four weeks after their kidnapping is “unheard of” and “unacceptable,” he said.

Helping to organize these grassroots events, he said, has brought him closer to the local Jewish and Israeli communities, serving as a source of comfort.

“I feel like we’re blessed that we have such a close-knit community, and that everybody showed up together,” Orkin said. “It’s really gratifying.”  

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify the sources of the death tolls in the ongoing war.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @lilylcarey

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