‘We won’t stop until everyone has been released’

‘We won’t stop until everyone has been released’

In Tenafly, as in towns around the world, walkers join to raise awareness of hostages

A group gathers in Tenafly before the walk begins.
A group gathers in Tenafly before the walk begins.

Daphna Arad of Englewood Cliffs walks in Tenafly at 9 every Friday morning, rain or shine.

And she’s not alone. Most weeks, she walks with a group of 50 or 60 people who share her deep concern for the innocent people Hamas abducted on October 7.

Ms. Arad is part of the Tenafly chapter of Run for Their Lives, a grassroots organization that coordinates weekly walks or runs in cities around the world to raise awareness about the situation and to call for the hostages’ immediate release.

A few weeks after the October 7 attack, she saw a small group whose members “were carrying Israeli flags, American flags, and flags from other countries,” she said. “I stopped to ask what they were doing.”

Roberto Cymrot of Tenafly spearheaded the Tenafly chapter after a friend, Mara Suskauer, started a similar group in Maplewood. A few Israelis who live in the San Francisco area founded Run for Their Lives shortly after the Hamas attack to “show world leaders that we all care about this, that it’s not someone else’s problem,” according to the organization’s website, run4lives.org. “We would like for these leaders to help put pressure on Hamas to release the hostages and obey the rules of war,” the website continues.

Mr. Cymrot reached out to organizers, hoping to join a walk in Tenafly. “There was none, so I started one,” he said. “When I submitted the request to start a local walk, there were probably 10 or 15 weekly walks happening, probably all in the United States. Now there are walks in Europe, Latin America, Asia, India, Japan, South Africa, Australia — groups of concerned global citizens, many without direct connections to Israel or the Jewish community, who want to stand up for what’s right.”

Hostage Edan Alexander’s mother, Yael Alexander, stands between Roberto Cymrot and celebrity chef Josh Capon of Tenafly.

Mr. Cymrot comes from Brazil and he encouraged friends to start a walk in that country. The organization’s website lists 173 locations in cities across the United States, Canada and around the world.

Edan Alexander, 19, who grew up in Tenafly and volunteered to serve in the IDF after graduating from Tenafly High School in 2022, is one of the hostages. Mr. Cymrot does not know Mr. Alexander or his family but he knows people who are close to him. One friend has a grandson who “is best friends with Edan,” he said. “He was telling me how distraught his grandson is.” And the older sister of a classmate of one of Mr. Cymrot’s sons immigrated to Israel and enlisted in the IDF with the same group as Mr. Alexander. “That family is also very distraught,” he said. “You see everything that is happening around you. For me it was, how can I help?”

Two signs with Mr. Edan’s picture are now prominently displayed in the center of town. The group walks from Café Angelique to one of the signs, near the Tenafly public library, and back. Participants spend a few minutes standing near the poster while either Mr. Cymrot or another group member reminds them that the hostages still are in Gaza, and how many days they have been in captivity.

Walkers carry flags of different countries because not all the hostages are Israeli. Mr. Cymrot carries a Brazilian flag, and he distributes flags from France, Germany, Mexico, and Thailand, whose citizens have been among the hostages. The group continues to carry flags of countries whose hostages have been released. “That was a discussion that happened among the leads of the different groups,” Mr. Cymrot said. “In the end, we decided to continue carrying the flags because even if hostages were released, they will carry the trauma with them for the rest of their lives.”

Mr. Cymrot believes the walks are rallying the community to spread the word that there are still hostages. “The feeling many people have is that the hostages often are forgotten in the discourse,” he said. “There are still 130 in there.

“I always encourage people to show up. We also pray that the hostages are released, and we don’t have to walk anymore.”

Daphna Arad is part of Run For Their Lives.

Ms. Arad grew up in Israel. She has lived in the United States for almost 40 years but has a lot of family in Israel. “I have grandchildren in the military in Israel,” she said. “I have daughters in Israel, siblings and their families in Israel.” On a recent trip there, she spent time volunteering, planting cucumber seeds, and picking clementines.

She thought the walk was a great idea. “I’m an Israeli American and I started sending messages to my friends, to the WhatsApp groups that I belong to, to people that I know, and asked people to start coming,” she said. “Very quickly, we became a group of 50 to 60.”

There is a core group of regulars. “It can rain, it can be freezing cold, we’re walking with umbrellas, but there are about 30 people who come almost every Friday,” she said. Ms. Arad is among those regulars. She has missed only two walks since joining the group — one of them during her trip to Israel.

The walk takes about 18 minutes. That’s not accidental — the number signifies chai, the Hebrew word for life.

While some walkers carry flags, others carry signs. “We have signs with Edan’s pictures on them,” Ms. Arad said. “We have signs with other hostages’ pictures on them, we have signs that show all the hostages, signs that say ‘bring them home now,’ signs with the yellow ribbon” — a symbol that has become a popular way to show support for the hostages — “so that when we walk, people who drive by will understand why we are walking.

“That’s why we’re doing this — to raise awareness.

“I think that what happened on October 7 shook our whole world,” Ms. Arad continued. “I think that it brought everything out onto the surface” and made it clear that “there is antisemitism all around us. I’m a daughter of Holocaust survivors, and I feel it’s important that we raise our heads and we say never again.” And she feels it’s crucial to keep the plight of the hostages on the world stage. “The world is turning its back, the U.N. is turning its back, so we have to raise our voices.”

One of the walks was particularly impactful. “Edan’s parents were going to attend, and we reached out to schools and temples and said ‘let’s drum up support for them,’” Mr. Cymrot said. “And that one had about 1,000 people.”

“It was an especially cold day,” Ms. Arad said, but there were so many walkers, “the police had to come and close the street. It was amazing.”

And it sounds like the families are feeling the support. Jon Polin, the father of 23-year-old American-Israeli hostage Hersch Goldberg-Polin, recently sent a video message addressed to a Long Island chapter. “We know you’re out fighting for Hersch and all the hostages,” he said. “We know you’re out walking on Sundays, we see the videos, we see the pictures, we feel it, it strengthens us, it is the one positive that we feel.

“Thank you so much. Don’t stop until they’re home — hopefully today.”

“I think it’s very important that we continue doing this until the very last hostage is back at home,” Ms. Arad concluded. “I’d like to encourage people to join us on the march, to come, to participate, and to help us pray that these hostages return home. We won’t stop until everyone has been released.”

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