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Counting the days: Families of Hamas hostages prepare to mark loved ones’ 100th day in captivity

LONDON — It has become a daily ritual.

Every morning, before she’s even out of her pajamas, Rachel Goldberg-Polin tears a piece of masking tape off the roll, grabs a marking pen and in thick black strokes writes down the number of days her son, Hersh, has been held hostage by Hamas terrorists. Then she sticks the tape to her chest.

“I find it so remarkable how nauseating it is every single time,” she said. “And it’s good. I don’t want to get used to it. I don’t want anybody to get used to the fact that these people are missing.”

Hersh Goldberg-Polin, 23, was last seen Oct. 7, when terrorists loaded him into the back of a pickup truck with other people who were abducted from a southern Israel music festival where over 300 attendees were killed. The native of Berkeley, California, lost part of an arm when the attackers tossed grenades into the shelter where a group of young people had taken refuge.

Sunday will mark 100 days since he and about 250 others were taken hostage by the terrorists who stormed across the border from Gaza, triggering the latest war between Israel and Hamas. While dozens of women, children and foreigners were released during a weeklong November cease-fire, and a number of hostages have been confirmed dead, 132 others remain in captivity. The Red Cross hasn’t been permitted to see them, and almost nothing is known about their conditions.

Rachel Goldberg-Polin, 54, now spends her days trying to bring Hersh and the other hostages home.

The mother of three has spent the past three months in relentless motion, crisscrossing the globe, reminding anyone who will listen that her child is more than just an inconvenient statistic: He is her only son, a music lover, a young man who deserves the chance to fulfill his dream of traveling the world.

Goldberg-Polin and her family, who moved to Israel from the United States when Hersh was 7, have met with President Joe Biden, Pope Francis, Elon Musk and dozens of journalists. She’s spoken at the United Nations, gone to protests and carried placards.

The plight of the hostages has gripped Israel’s attention, and the tireless campaign by families has gained widespread support and sympathy, ratcheting up pressure on the Israeli government to make concessions to win their release.

The Goldberg-Polin family plans to attend the start of a 24-hour rally for the hostages in Tel Aviv on Saturday and another Sunday on the Jerusalem Promenade, a collection of parks and walkways overlooking the city. Similar events are scheduled in cities outside Israel, including London, New York and Paris.

But so far, nothing has stopped the number on the masking tape from going up.

The ritual began on Day 26, when Goldberg-Polin stuck the makeshift badge to her chest to show everyone that the excruciating, ever-increasing tally was the focus of her life, not just a factoid for news stories.

“It defines me anyway,” she told The Associated Press on Wednesday, when her badge read 96. She likened it to a name tag, in the fashion of “Hello my name is.”

“This is who I am,” she said. “My identity is the number of days he’s been stolen.″

Ahead of the 100-day milestone, Goldberg-Polin asked people around the world to adopt her routine on Sunday, hoping the show of solidarity would help her and the other families bear the pain and anguish of waiting yet another day for their loved ones to return.

Goldberg-Polin’s masking tape badge was inspired by childhood memories from 1979, when America was transfixed by the fate of 52 people held hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Iran. ABC News opened its coverage every night with a running count of how many days the crisis had lasted. The hostages were finally released after 444 days.

“This makes people very uncomfortable because you know what? Human beings like a countdown,” Goldberg-Polin said. “We like to countdown to vacation. We like to count down in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

“We do not like a count-up. A count-up of humanity’s failure of getting these human beings out of captivity is something that makes people very uncomfortable. And you know what? Join the club. I’ve been uncomfortable for 96 days.”

Even so, the 100-day mark has offered a moment to direct the world’s attention back on the hostages. Goldberg-Polin hopes that someone, somewhere is caring for her injured son.

She has a message for Hersh, just in case it might reach him.

“I would say: There has not been one second since you were taken that we are not working, turning over every single stone on the planet Earth and running to the ends of the Earth to get you back,” she said. “So we need you to stay strong. And survive and stay alive. And we are coming.”

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