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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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SSI balloon release pic

AU’s SSI chapter holds balloon release as part of Bring Them Home campaign

Sunday marked six months of captivity for the over 100 remaining hostages in Gaza

American University’s chapter of Students Supporting Israel gathered on the quad on April 8 to raise awareness for the over 100 hostages held in Gaza and honored them with a balloon release the day after the six-month mark of captivity.

Attendees listened to speeches from organizers and sang prayers together. They released yellow balloons while chanting “Bring them home.” Tamara Listenberg, the president and founder of AU’s SSI chapter and a senior in the School of International Service, said these balloons symbolized the hostages and the hope for their release. 

“But the fact that we have reached that six-month mark is truly heartbreaking that there are still innocent civilians held hostage, and the world has forgotten about them,” Listenberg said. 

Ethan Kassar, a member of SSI and a freshman in the School of Public Affairs, said he attended to raise awareness and spoke of his frustration as the hostages have had “all their human dignity” taken from them. 

“The world has failed them,” Kassar said. “America has failed them. The Red Cross has failed them and we are here making sure that their memories, their stories, don’t die.”

The organization also had an enlarged poster saying “It could have been you,” along with a mirror in place of a hostage’s picture. Listenberg added that the poster declares their message that anyone could have been taken hostage, and Kassar said that Hamas did not differentiate between the identity of those they kidnapped and would “terrorize everyone regardless of their national identity.” 

On Sunday, some members of SSI attended a rally on the National Mall to mark the six months hostages had been in captivity and to call for their release. The rally included families of hostages, released hostages and American and Israeli politicians, Kassar said.

SSI’s table at the gathering at AU held a poster of Keith Siegel, a current hostage, who Listenberg explained was the husband of Aviva Siegel, whom they had heard from on Saturday at a Shabbat afternoon with Chabad AU and at the rally on Sunday. Aviva was released from Hamas captivity after 51 days, during which she said she was sexually assaulted. 

Kassar said it was important for Jewish and Israeli students to be in community and support each other and that this gathering was an opportunity to do that.

“We’ve also had to turn into activists for something we never thought we would have to be activists for,” Kassar said.

Joy Amidror, a member of SSI and a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences, said she attended the gathering as a member of an Israeli family honoring the goal of releasing the hostages.

“One of the main things we should focus on is getting people safe, whatever side it is,” Amidror said. “People to be safe and people to be in their home.”

She added SSI members have differing opinions on the Israel-Hamas war, but that the differences are appreciated and make the group stronger.  

Anoushka Naik, the events coordinator and recruitment chair for SSI and a senior in SIS, said the yellow balloons represented a prayer for the release of the hostages and the gathering was a means of supporting one another, especially family members and friends of hostages on campus.

“We need to show them that we love them and that we care for them even though it seems like the majority of [AU’s] campus doesn’t,” Naik said. 

This article was edited by Kathryn Squyres, Zoe Bell, Tyler Davis and Abigail Turner. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks, Isabelle Kravis, Ariana Kavoossi and Sydney Kornmeyer. 

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