Ilan Ben-Yehuda took the microphone at Goleta Beach Park on Tuesday and said he has family members being held hostage in Gaza.
His cousins Keith and Aviva were captured by Hamas.
“We assume they are alive, but we don’t know,” Ben-Yehuda said. “They are sweet. They are lovely.”
More 200 people gathered at the park Tuesday to call for the release of the more than 245 Israelis being held hostage in Gaza.
“All Israel is responsible for each other,” Ben-Yehuda said.
The event was sponsored by Congregation B’nai B’rith, the Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara, Community Shul of Montecito and Santa Barbara, the Anti-Defamation League Santa Barbara/Tri-Counties and Santa Barbara Hillel.
Hamas launched thousands of missiles from Gaza while hundreds of heavily armed militants streamed into southern Israel, hunting down and killing more than 1,400 Jewish people and taking hundreds hostage. The Israeli response has killed more than 10,000 Palestinians, according to PBS.
The news report said 1.5 million Palestinians, or about 70% of Gaza’s population, have fled their homes since the war began. Food, medicine, fuel and water are running low, and “U.N.-run schools-turned-shelters are beyond capacity, with many sleeping on the streets outside,” according to the report.
Tuesday’s event featured prayers, and Rabbi Daniel Brenner played his guitar and led the group in song. On the sand, organizers laid posters on the ground of missing hostages.
Rabbi Maddy Anderson, assistant director and senior Jewish educator at Santa Barbara Hillel at UCSB, said her day on Tuesday began the same way it has for the past month: looking at her phone to see what she missed while she was asleep.
“I always knew that combating anti-Semitism would be part of my job, but I never anticipated that it would look like this,” Anderson said. “I never thought I would have to stand on campus with my students and try to convince the public that the Simchat Torah massacre happened.”
She said Hillel is providing a safe space for students to be openly Jewish on campus but that anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise.
“Nearly every day we are counseling students who are harassed for their Jewish identity, who have observed anti-Semitic graffiti on campus and in their homes, who feel afraid to walk to class alone or unsafe in classes where anti-Semitic propaganda has taken over the professor’s narrative,” Anderson said.
She said students deserve better.
“We must not allow the misinformation, propaganda and rising anti-Semitism around us to distract us,” Anderson said. “The reality is the gruesome attack by Hamas has rippled suffering throughout Israeli and Palestinian society, Muslim and Jewish communities worldwide.”
Cyndi Silverman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara, said she has been heartsick for the past month, but there is a bright light.
“This has been a really hard time, but there is a light,” Silverman said. “Look at how much we have come together. Look at how connected we are.”
She encouraged the crowd to look to the future.
“This, too, will pass,” Silverman said. “It doesn’t seem like it will at this point, but it will. Let’s all continue to do what we have been doing. Let’s be connected.”
Ben-Yehuda is staying hopeful about his family being held hostage in Gaza.
“They were there to be pioneers of peace,” Ben-Yehuda said. “May they and all the hostages come home soon.”