Sundays in Squirrel Hill call for release of Hamas-held hostages
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War in IsraelRaising voices in Squirrel Hill

Sundays in Squirrel Hill call for release of Hamas-held hostages

Sounds from the street include prayers, cries and demands that Hamas return an estimated 137 hostages to their families

Amitai Bin-Nun speaks into a megaphone during a Dec. 3 demonstration in Squirrel Hill. (Photo by Adam Reinherz)
Amitai Bin-Nun speaks into a megaphone during a Dec. 3 demonstration in Squirrel Hill. (Photo by Adam Reinherz)

The familiar sights and sounds of community members continued Sunday as holiday shoppers ambled through Squirrel Hill’s business district while Pittsburghers demanded the release of an estimated 137 hostages still held hostage by Hamas.

“Innocents remain in Hamas captivity. They need to come home,” Amitai Bin-Nun said into a megaphone on Dec. 3.

“Every single person means the world to us,” Julie Paris told the crowd of almost 100 people.

For weeks, Bin-Nun and Paris have organized rallies on Sundays in Squirrel Hill, amplifying awareness through banners bearing pictures of the hostages, printouts of the captives’ names, Israeli music blasted from a speaker and chants of “Bring them home” and “Am Yisrael Chai.”

How anyone can ignore the hostages’ plight is incomprehensible, Tova Rose said.

Shouting into the megaphone, Rose described Kfir Bibas, a 10-month-old baby, who along with his 4-year-old brother and parents, are among an estimated 240 people abducted by Hamas two months ago.

“Kfir is the face of Oct. 7,” Rose said. “Kfir is the face that reminds us that — when we don’t know where to stand because people want to polarize topics — we see a child, an innocent child, who at 10 months old, could never have done anything in the world deserving of what was done to him. He is the face of this. He is the face of every child: Jewish, Muslim, Christian, otherwise, because no child is deserving of this.”

Participants sing, pray and share vignettes about an estimated 137 hostages who remain captives of Hamas on Dec. 3. (Photo by Adam Reinherz)

The Israel Defense Forces estimates that 137 captives remain in Gaza. Despite freeing nearly 100 hostages during a seven-day pause in fighting, Hamas did not release the Bibas children, their mother, Shiri, or father, Yarden.

“I’m angry about what happened to them,” Rose said. “I’m angry about the responses from so many people in this world who have seen a family suffering, and who have torn down pictures of their faces. And I’m sad for them; I’m sad for these children who even when, God willing, they make it home safely will be with this trauma for the rest of their lives.”

Still, gatherings like Sunday’s offer optimism.

“I’m hopeful looking at all these people here today who have come together to support a family that we don’t know personally, but we feel for in every part of our soul,” Rose said.

Paris, the Midwest regional director of StandWithUs, urged attendees to channel that emotion into action.

Contact public officials and let them know the importance of bringing the hostages home, Paris said: “We need to get on the phone.”

City Councilperson Erika Strassburger told the Chronicle that she attended the rally to “offer unequivocal support to bring the hostages home.”

“There can be differences of opinion, over policy, over politicians, but to bring innocent people who have been captured by Hamas — some as young as infants — home to their families is something that no one can argue with.”

Lauren Baldel, David Dvir, Amitai Bin-Nun and Julie Paris clutch a banner during a Dec.3 demonstration in Squirrel Hill. (Photo by Adam Reinherz)

Bhavini Patel, an Edgewood Borough councilperson and candidate for Pennsylvania’s 12th congressional district, has attended several Sunday demonstrations.

The gatherings, Patel said, are necessary appeals.

“We need to make sure that Hamas is held accountable,” she said. “We need to continue to keep that pressure on until every single one of the families are reunited with their loved ones.”

She noted that many Pittsburghers have personal ties to those abducted by Hamas.

“There are people here who are directly connected to the individuals who are being held hostage, so although it might be far away we are feeling that pain right here at home,” Patel said.

The rationale for attending a demonstration that calls for the release of Hamas-held hostages should go without saying, state Rep. Abigail Salisbury told the Chronicle.

“These are people’s families that are missing. It’s first in their minds every second of every day, so I think the least we can do is take a little bit of our day to pray for them, to remember them and to try to do our best to advocate to bring them back home,” she said.

During several Sunday gatherings, organizers beseeched community members to urge elected officials to call for the release of the hostages.

A strong relationship between politicians and the public is a necessary component of democracy, Salisbury explained.

“I have a lot of people who contact my office to advocate for various issues — and I’m a state legislator, I’m not doing any international policymaking — but it’s always important,” she said.

“We’re supposed to represent our communities. So if we don’t know what people think, we can’t represent them.”

Calling, emailing or stopping by a politician’s office to talk about an issue is important, Salisbury said.

“It lets them know that this is something that their constituents care about,” she said. “And if they want to get reelected, then they should care about it, too.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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