As Local Incidents Fade for a Moment, the Federation Focuses on the Hostages

Local Israelis have organized under the BringThemHome banner to raise awareness of the hostages still under Hamas’ control. (Photo by Rotem Elinav)

What happened in the Philadelphia area this week that was antisemitic, anti-Israel or generally threatening to the Jewish community? For the second straight week, not much.

“I haven’t seen a ton going on right now,” said Jason Holtzman, the director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Jewish Community Relations Council.

Holtzman attributed that to colleges still being on winter break. But he also said, “People may be getting fatigued after three months of this.”

It remains to be seen what will happen when college students return. But in the meantime, Holtzman and the Jewish Federation are focusing on a deeper issue related to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Hamas is believed to still be holding more than 100 hostages, according to the Israeli government. Several Philadelphia-area residents have connections to the hostages, Holtzman said. The Jewish Federation is trying to meet with them to figure out what they all can do.

Devorah Selber, a Wynnewood resident born in Israel, knows a man whose grandmother is the sister of her aunt. The man was kidnapped by Hamas.

“There are videos I got that show he’s kidnapped to Gaza,” she said.

Selber, Holtzman and others are trying to organize meetings with senators and House representatives. They also want to get the word out in the media. Their goal is to “get Hamas to provide proof that these people are still alive,” Holtzman said.

“We have no idea how they’re being treated or if they’re still alive,” he added. “The Red Cross has not been able to provide proof.”

Between Christmas and New Year’s, “things were pretty much shut down,” Holtzman said. But now, the offices of Pennsylvania senators Bob Casey and John Fetterman and House representatives Madeleine Dean and Mary Gay Scanlon are back open.

Selber’s relative is a man named Elkana Bohbut, according to Selber. He lives in Jerusalem. He attended the Nova Music Festival, near Gaza, during the weekend of Oct. 6 and 7. His wife and child were at home.

Selber has never met him.

“He’s my brother like everybody else. I’m really fighting for everybody,” she said. “We still have 139. It seems like the whole story with antisemitism in colleges just became a lot more central to the fight.”

Selber said she knows four other families in Wynnewood/Lower Merion with connections to hostages, too. The Jewish Federation wants to organize meetings with them as well, according to Holtzman.

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