The initial name of Omer, roughly conveying “first crop,” symbolized his role as the first-born son to Ronen and Orna Neutra 22 years ago.
The family’s collection of photographs depicts a vibrant, promising young man, displaying wide smiles at the community center where he dedicated his time after school, images capturing moments with his father at their cherished New York Knicks games, and a picture of him sporting a Binghamton University athletic sweatshirt, signifying his acceptance to the New York College.
Unfortunately, Omer Neutra never had the opportunity to attend Binghamton. He had made the decision to postpone his enrollment for a year to serve in the Israeli army following a gap year in Israel. However, everything took a drastic turn on Oct. 7, 2023, when he disappeared while fulfilling his duties as a tank commander near the Gaza border.
The last interaction his parents, both descendants of Holocaust survivors, had with him occurred just hours before on Oct. 6 during their routine daily phone call. The last visual contact they had with him was late on Oct. 7, when they witnessed a video released by Hamas, capturing the moment their son was being taken captive into Gaza by terrorists.
Ronen Neutra expounded that Omer Neutra was part of a team stationed at the border with Gaza, considered relatively secure: “We conversed the day before, as we often did, spent quality time together, engaged in lengthy conversations, played various digital games together, and simply enjoyed each other’s company,” he explained. “That night, he conveyed that he was anticipating a calm weekend.”
As they prepared to retire for the night, they habitually checked their phones and noticed significant unrest in the southern region of Israel.
“Rockets were consistently being launched,” Orna Neutra recounted. “Regrettably, this has become a regular occurrence. However, what was atypical was the ground invasion occurring exactly where Omer was situated. We attempted to reach out to Omer, repeatedly sending texts, asking him, ‘Hey, Omer, what’s happening? Are you okay? What’s going on?’ However, from that point onward, we did not receive any response, and our message remained unread by him.”
Orna Neutra has American-Israeli heritage, and Ronen Neutra was born in Israel. Both consider themselves as adventurous individuals who crossed paths on a flight in the 1990s, subsequently marrying, settling in Israel, then relocating to New York for their next chapter.
“This is where the adventure truly unfolds. We made the move in 1999, and Omer was born a few years later. I was heavily pregnant, with him, while working in New York City during 9/11. He was born on 10/14,” Orna Neutra recounted.
“I can vividly recall that day; there was a complete shutdown of public transportation,” she recollected. “We were living in Queens, and I was in my ninth month of pregnancy, walking over the bridge to meet Ronen on the opposite side, endeavoring to leave the city. Having recently relocated from Israel, we simply couldn’t fathom that this was occurring in New York.”
Now, 22 years later, they find it unfathomable what has occurred to their son in Israel.
Their son, Omer Neutra, the former captain of his high school basketball, volleyball, and soccer teams when needed, a sociable young man who effortlessly formed friendships wherever he ventured, is one of six American hostages detained in Gaza since the calamitous events of Oct. 7. Another two are feared to have perished while in captivity.
A gathering was held on Long Island, where he grew up, organized by the Plainview community on Sunday morning. A significant amount of his parents’ time is spent commuting to Washington, D.C., to implore government officials to facilitate the return of their son and the remaining American hostages.
Ronen Neutra described their routine visits to Washington, meeting with anyone willing to lend an ear, a practice they have diligently upheld in the 123 days since Omer Neutra vanished.
“We have been darting across the corridors of the Capitol, bouncing from one meeting to the next, recounting the tale of Omer, distributing posters and literature, ensuring that his story is not forgotten,” he expressed.
“Moreover, we are anxious about the possibility of six more individuals being added to the list of the 40 American citizens who were claimed on Oct. 7. We need to ensure that this is not overlooked,” Ronen Neutra remarked.
Orna Neutra affirmed their relentless commitment to raising awareness and tirelessly working towards the safe return of Omer and the others, “endeavoring to broker a resolution between Hamas and Israel. Cautiously, it seems that we are progressing in this direction in the upcoming weeks.”
During a press conference, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed that Hamas had responded to a proposal aimed at securing the release of the remaining hostages in Gaza.
“The response includes some feedback, which, on the whole, is encouraging,” al Thani divulged during the event, expressing optimism and delivering the response to the Israeli party. “However, given the delicate nature of the circumstances, we will refrain from delving into specifics.”
Blinken articulated that the United States is currently examining the response from Hamas and is scheduled to confer with Israeli officials on the matter on Wednesday.
For parents who have endured the harsh reality and the torment of contemplating their child’s experiences, the protracted wait and anguish have intensified their emotions, pushing them beyond their limits.
“The time elapsed since Omer was abducted has been extensive, and the accounts we have heard from individuals who have returned from captivity have indicated that it is an incredibly distressing environment,” Orna Neutra disclosed. “They live under constant threat, are subjected to terror, and suffer from inadequate food and resources—”
Her voice trailed off, haunted by the potential ordeals her son might be enduring.
Ronen Neutra asserted that a resolution is imperative at this point:
“Each passing day places their lives in jeopardy. Please help in bringing them home.”
Salena Zito, a CNN political analyst, serves as a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner. She engages with the everyday individual through thorough journalism, navigating from local communities to the political hub and all territories in between. To learn more about Salena and peruse her previous columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.