BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- Berkeley resident Aaron Katler realizes it will be difficult when he visits the site in Israel where his friend was taken captive by Hamas.
Katler, who is the CEO of UpStart, a national Jewish nonprofit based in Oakland, is friends with one of the hostages held by Hamas, Hersh Goldberg-Polin, and his family. Katler left the Bay Area for a visit to Israel on Wednesday.
Goldberg-Polin, 23, is originally from Berkeley. He and his family were living in Israel when he was taken hostage from a music festival on October 7. He was severely injured, with his arm blown off, and was last seen alive in Hamas custody headed to Gaza.The music festival site is one of the places Katler will be visiting.
"It will be very hard," Katler said. "I know a lot of people who have been over the past few months on similar solidarity missions or trips. And they've all said the same thing that it's very, very difficult, but very, very important to go."Katler also plans on spending time with Goldberg-Polin's family.
This comes as U.S. and Mideast mediators have appeared optimistic in recent days that they were closing in on a deal for the release of the over 100 hostages held by Hamas.
"My friends, John and Rachel, Hersh's parents, we all grew up together in Chicago, and then lived together here in Berkeley," Katler said. "And they've been in Israel now for a bunch of years. But what they keep saying is hopefully, when I get there, I'll be able to welcome Hersh home with them as they're as they're praying for every day, and if not, I will be there to do whatever I can for them, just help."
Palo Alto resident Randi Brenowitz recently went on a similar trip with nearly 20 people, organized by the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning. She is Melton's International President and visited places Hamas attacked, including the location of the music festival.
"We saw cars piled up like you would see in a junkyard in the U.S., except they were burned cars that had been burned by those young people who were trying to escape the attack and were burned alive," Brenowitz said. "I could hardly breathe while I was there to be perfectly honest. I couldn't imagine what it must have been like."
The Melton group also volunteered with humanitarian needs while there.
Unfortunately Goldberg-Polin's family hasn't gotten an update on him. Katler is also taking letters and packages from the local community to Goldberg-Polin's family so they know people here in the Bay Area are thinking about them.
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