When an alarm sounded near Shelly Shem Tov’s home in central Israel at 6:30 a.m. on October 7, she initially wasn’t too worried. “We are in a crazy country where the bombs are regular,” she thought. However, she called her son Omer, 21, who assured her that he was safe. But then he called back, saying he and his friends were trying to escape from a dangerous situation. Shem Tov tracked her son’s location on his phone and realized something was wrong when the car was going in the wrong direction, into Gaza.
By midday on October 7, Emilie Moatti was inundated with messages from around the world and sprang into action, knowing something had to be done. Meanwhile, Rebecca Shafrir and her husband Gideon watched a news program about Hadas Calderon, whose children had been taken hostage. Shafrir, the director of a philanthropic foundation, felt she had to take action.
There is no guidebook for what to do when tragedy strikes, but in the wake of the October 7 events, the Hostages and Missing Families Forum was established in Tel Aviv. The forum is entirely civilian-operated, with volunteers providing support, setting up tents, and advocating for those affected by the crisis.
Despite little government involvement, the volunteers are determined to keep the hostages in the public eye. An ad agency COO, Dorit Gvili, leads a team creating videos, logos, and social media campaigns to raise awareness. The volunteers refuse to give in to despair and continue their efforts to ensure the safe return of the hostages.
The volunteers have created a supportive community, even throwing parties on the roof deck to keep spirits high. Despite the ongoing efforts, they hope that one day the organization can be closed and the hostages can be brought home. It’s a testament to the determination and resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.