His first name roughly means “first crop,” which is what first-born son Omer was for Ronen and Orna Neutra 22 years ago.
The photos his family shares show a young man bursting with life and possibility, broad smiles at the community center where he volunteered after school, pictures with his father attending their beloved New York Knicks games, and a shot of him donning a Binghamton University athletic sweatshirt after being accepted to the New York College.
Omer Neutra never got that chance to attend Binghamton. He had decided to hold off for a year so he could serve in the Israeli army after spending a gap year in Israel. Then, everything changed on Oct. 7, 2023, when he went missing while serving as a tank commander near the Gaza border.
The last time his parents, both children of Holocaust survivors, spoke to him was just hours earlier on Oct. 6, when they enjoyed their daily conversation over the phone. The last time they saw a glimpse of him came late on Oct. 7 when they saw a Hamas video of their son as he was being taken prisoner by terrorists into Gaza.
Ronen Neutra explains Omer Neutra was part of a team that was based on the border with Gaza that was considered to be relatively safe. “We spoke to him the day before, and as we often did, we spent time together, talked a lot, played all kinds of digital games together, and just hang out and be connected,” he explained. “That night told us he was expecting a quiet weekend.”
As they went to sleep, they were checking their phones as they normally did when they saw something big was happening in the south of Israel.
“Rockets flying all over the place,” Orna Neutra said. “That’s kind of a normal thing, unfortunately. But what wasn’t normal was the fact that there was a ground invasion just where Omer is. We tried to call Omer. We tried to text him and ask him, ‘Hey, Omer, what’s going on? Are you OK? What’s happening?’ Since then, at that point, we didn’t get any reply and the phone showed that he didn’t read our message.”
Orna Neutra is American Israeli, and Ronen Neutra was born in Israel. Both consider themselves adventurers who met on an airplane in the 1990s, married, settled in Israel and then decided after a couple of years to move to New York for their next adventure.
“That is the adventurous part. We moved here in 1999, and Omer was born a few years later. I was nine months pregnant with him, working in New York City on 9/11. He was born on 10/14,” Orna Neutra explained.
“I clearly remember that day; there was no public transportation,” she said. “We lived in Queens, and I was nine months pregnant walking across the bridge to meet Ronen on the other side, just getting out of the city. Coming from Israel just a few years before, we just couldn’t believe that this was happening in New York.”
Now, 22 years later, they cannot believe what has happened to their son in Israel.
Their son Omer Neutra, the former captain of his high school basketball team, volleyball team, and soccer team when needed, a gregarious young man who made friends wherever he went, is one of six American hostages held hostage in Gaza since the Oct. 7 massacre. Another two are believed to have been murdered in captivity.
On Sunday morning, a rally was held by the Plainview community on Long Island, where he grew up. Much of his parents’ time is spent going to Washington, D.C., to plead with government officials to bring home their son and the rest of the American hostages.
Ronen Neutra explains going to Washington and meeting with anyone who will listen to them is a routine they have done at least every two weeks, sometimes more often, in the 123 days since Omer Neutra went missing.
“We’ve been running across the Capitol corridors, meeting to a meeting, telling the story about Omer, leaving posters and books, and making sure that nobody forgets,” he says.
“Also, we don’t want anybody to forget that 40 American citizens were murdered on Oct. 7, and we can’t afford that six more are part of that list,” Ronen Neutra said.
Orna Neutra said they are compelled to make sure everybody’s aware and working nonstop to try to bring them back “and help negotiate a deal between Hamas and Israel, which we are cautiously optimistic that that’s where we are heading in the next few weeks.”
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced at a press conference that Hamas had replied to a proposal aimed at the release of the remaining hostages in Gaza.
“The reply includes some comments, but in general, it is positive,” al Thani said at the event, adding he was optimistic and had delivered the response to the Israeli party. “However, given the sensitivity of the circumstances, we will not tackle details.”
Blinken said at the same event that the United States is reviewing the response from Hamas now and on Wednesday would detail it with the officials in the Israeli government.
For parents who have suffered with the reality but also the fears of what their child is going through, the wait and worry have pushed their emotions beyond the brink.
“It has been such a long time since Omer was abducted, and from stories that we hear from hostages that have come back, this is not a place where there’s any comfort,” Orna Neutra said. “It’s horrible, the conditions that they’re being held there. They’re at gunpoint; they’re being terrorized. There’s not enough food, there’s not enough — “
Her voice trailed off as she imagined the possibilities of what he is going through.
Ronen Neutra says this has to come to a resolution:
“Every day that goes by, their life is in danger. Please just bring them home.”
Salena Zito is a CNN political analyst, and a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner. She reaches the Everyman and Everywoman through shoe-leather journalism, traveling from Main Street to the beltway and all places in between. To find out more about Salena and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.