The distraught parents of a US-born Israeli soldier believed to be missing have had formal confirmation from Israeli officials that their son is among the hostages held by the Hamas terror group in Gaza.
Ronen and Orna Neutra told CNN’s Anderson Cooper Thursday evening that someone from the Israeli consulate came to their home Monday evening to share the devastating news that their 21-year-old son, Omer Neutra, has been kidnapped.
“Someone gave us the formal news that he was considered kidnapped by Hamas, but they gave no further explanation,” a somber Orna said.
Israeli officials estimated that at least 150 people were being held captive as of Thursday by the Palestinian militant group.
EAccording to Israeli media, the Neutras were among 97 families who had already been notified by officials of their loved one’s captivity.
Omer was serving as a tank commander near the Gaza border when he was captured by Hamas
Orna and Ronen Neutra (photo) speak with Anderson Cooper on Thursday evening
The family sent a statement on Facebook on Thursday with the hashtag #BringOmerHome
Omer took a gap year off from college and deferred his admission to Binghamton University so he could join the Israeli army and follow in his parents’ footsteps.
He started as an officer in the IDF and worked his way up to become a tank commander.
Omer’s father said they spoke with their son on Friday afternoon, a time difference of seven hours. He said his son sounded good, but a little tired. He said he had been very busy the past two weeks with the Jewish holidays.
“He was looking forward to a quiet, peaceful weekend — Shabbat and the Simchat Torah holiday — and just relaxing with his friends,” Ronen said.
Around midnight, they saw on a news app that something was happening in the southern part of Israel and said they called him immediately but couldn’t get through.
They waited and prayed as they watched the horror unfold.
Ronen said one of Omer’s friends showed him a video two days after the attack.
He recalled: “It was quite shocking,” he said. ‘I asked a good friend to come and watch. I knew it was something I wasn’t ready to watch. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he saw Omer in the footage.’
He later learned more details about his son’s whereabouts from a close friend as they tried to piece together the timeline of the ambush.
Orna said, “Omer was in a tank, so we know he was taken out of the tank.”
His father added: ‘We saw him walking in the video. He was doing well… he was standing… and we expect to get him back the same way.”
“They were ready to defend the border, but unfortunately they seem to have been caught by surprise.”
Omer at a sporting event with his parents and brother
Oren, a native of Plainview, Long Island, graduated from Solomon Schechter, a yeshiva in Williston Park, where he was an honors student.
An avid athlete. He was also captain of his basketball, soccer and volleyball teams and very active in several Jewish community organizations, including serving as Jewish Community President regional president of the Metropolitan New York Region of United Synagogue Youth, his parents said.
After graduating high school, they said their Omer wanted to defer his college admissions so he could spend a gap year in Israel to connect with their family’s roots.
“The experience influenced his decision to stay in Israel and do what he believed in: serving and protecting the people of Israel.
On Thursday, they posted a statement on Facebook with the hashtag #BringOrenHome.
“He is a born leader and a great son, friend and a passionate, giving person,” they said. “This is what he did on Saturday morning, October 7, at the Gaza border, when Hamas took him away.”
“We ask Hamas leaders to continue treating Omer and all hostages in a humanitarian manner, in accordance with international law,” they said in part.
And sent a message to their son, who turns 22 in two days: “Omer – we love you and look forward to bringing you and the others home.”
On Thursday, the news of Omer sent shockwaves through the Solomon Schecter community, sharing in a statement that they were “heartbroken” by the news of their alum.
“We join the Neutra family in being proud of this great young man, a born leader and a great friend to all who knew him,” they wrote.
The Midway Jewish Center in Plainview placed a sign outside the synagogue with the words “Bring Omer Home” and posted it on their website, which received hundreds of views.
During the week, several rallies and prayer vigils were held in support of Israel in the three states.
On Tuesday evening at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, Long Island, Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman spoke about the horrific attack witnessed by thousands of supporters.