hochul in the holy land

New York governor grieves personal loss alongside Israelis

Hochul: ‘The stories are just ripping me apart as a human being, to know that one human being can be so cruel to another human being’

Melissa Weiss

Gov. Kathy Hochul in Jerusalem on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023

When New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced earlier this week that she would be traveling to Israel for a solidarity mission, she could not have imagined that the show of solidarity would go both ways.

But on Thursday afternoon, in a hotel conference room in Jerusalem, Hochul received hugs and words of consolation from American Jewish leaders, in Israel for their own solidarity mission, over the sudden death of her father, John Courtney, who died on Wednesday evening.

Earlier that day, Hochul had visited the Western Wall, where, per tradition, she left a note in a wall crevice. “I pray for my father,” she wrote, “who cherished his visit to this Holy Land, and who passed during the night.”

Courtney, who died of a sudden brain hemorrhage, had encouraged Hochul to make the trip to Israel, her first international trip since assuming the governorship two years ago, and her first to Israel. 

“It is with a heavy heart that I am here,” Hochul, clad in black, told the delegation convened by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “Not for my personal loss, but to see and hear and so deeply feel the pain of the Israeli people. It’s profound.”

Upon landing, she met with the families of hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza. Earlier Thursday, the Israeli government said that at least 203 people are believed to be in the terror group’s captivity.

“The stories are just ripping me apart as a human being, to know that one human being can be so cruel to another human being, and that shakes you to your core,” Hochul told the American Jewish leaders.

The governor spent Thursday morning at Kfar Aza, a kibbutz that sustained heavy losses on Oct. 7. Nearly a quarter of the kibbutz’s 400 residents were killed or taken hostage in the attack. “What I saw there — the horrors innocent people had to endure at the hands of terrorists — is something that I will never forget,” she posted on X, formerly Twitter.

Calling Oct. 7 “the most deadly, horrific, disgusting attack that the 75-year-old State of Israel has ever felt,” Hochul noted that the carnage “harkens back to images of the Holocaust.”

But, she said, “the images of the Holocaust are ones where people saw and knew what was going on, and too many were silent. That silence cannot define our time right now. What we see, and I came here to bear witness. I must speak about, I will talk about and I will help fortify the efforts and rally the world around the people of Israel at this time.”

Hochul reassured the group “that you have political leadership, the leadership of the United States of America and the state of New York, who are in full support of our efforts here to help bring back sanity here in this region, and to let Israel know that our words of support and friendship are not just there during good times. They’re there during the tough times as well.”

Hochul also met separately with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog. On Wednesday night, she visited a distribution center run by Leket, an NGO that has been distributing thousands of meals per day to families displaced by the terror attacks. 

She addressed concerns emanating from New York’s Jewish community over the rise in antisemitism associated with the Israel-Gaza war, pointing out that the state had reinforced security measures at religious institutions and reactivated its task force focused on hate crimes.

“I know it’s a stressful time,” she told JI. “Everybody in [the] New York Jewish community knows of someone, [or] has a family member here in Israel, and they are under traumatic, tremendous stress. I want to come here in person so I can go back and reinforce our undying commitment to Israel’s right to be free and to defend itself whenever it’s under attack.”

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