At last Thursday’s men’s basketball game, Binghamton University’s Zionist Organization (BUZO) led a show of solidarity with Omer Neutra, an accepted student who joined the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) during his gap year and was taken hostage by Hamas following their Oct. 7 attack.
The event was spearheaded by members of BUZO’s E-Board, in collaboration with StandWithUs, an Israel education nonprofit. Organizers included Seth Schlank, a friend of the Neutra family and a junior majoring in psychology, Adira Greenwald, BUZO’s public relations chair and a junior majoring in business administration, Ethan Cantor, a junior majoring in history, and DJ Mevorah, a sophomore double-majoring in psychology and business administration.
Ronen, Omer’s father, was in attendance, emphasizing Omer’s love for basketball.
“He is such a connector and loves putting people together,” Ronen Neutra said before the game. “So you being together in his honor is really heartwarming. Omer has been in captivity for over 125 days — more than four months. As we all know, conditions are tough, and we have to be strong for him. We have to believe that any day he might be coming back and fight for it.”
Nearly 150 people united for Neutra, a Plainview, NY native, at the Events Center, according to BUZO President Saul Hakim, a junior double-majoring in Judaic studies and political science. Many wore T-shirts with a photo of Neutra reading “bring them home now” and “held hostage by Hamas.” As the group sat and watched the game, they held posters calling for Neutra’s release.
Schlank shared his personal connection with the Neutra family at a BUZO E-Board meeting. He then contacted Omer’s parents, who wanted to help plan the event. Schlank wrote that he hoped the event would remind the greater University community of the hostages still held by Hamas.
“We need to make sure that the world will not forget about them,” Schlank wrote in an email. “One of them is Omer Neutra, who could be sitting next to you in class, or in the dining hall or playing basketball in the East Gym. Omer’s story is just one of 136 worlds unto themselves who is being held hostage currently by a terrorist organization who is abusing, torturing and murdering innocent individuals.”
The Neutras intended to speak to the entire arena, but the Athletics Department did not want to be involved in the event’s planning, according to Schlank. A University spokesperson did not return Pipe Dream’s request for comment.
Hakim said that the event served to show the Neutra family that they were not alone in fighting for their son’s release. He called for further action, hoping to inspire others to spread awareness about developments in the Middle East.
“It provided a tangible way for our community to stand together in solidarity with a family enduring an unimaginable situation, reinforcing our collective commitment to supporting each other in times of need,” Hakim wrote in an email. “In another reality Omer could’ve been here with us. Instead he has spent over four months in captivity. This event provided our community with an outlet to channel the powerful emotions they are feeling.”
Neutra, serving in an armored unit at the time, was stationed on the Gaza border near the kibbutz farming communities when he was taken. He enlisted after participating in a service and education program followed by military service mandated for Israelis.
Since their son was taken hostage, Ronen and his wife Orna, have been lobbying in Washington D.C. They spoke with President Joe Biden on Zoom and attended marches and vigils to raise awareness.
“This gathering was a unifying event for the whole Jewish community, and a stark reminder for all of us that life has not been the same since Oct. 7,” Schlank wrote. “The event was a way to bring us closer to Omer and to share his story with many others.”
Editor’s Note: Seth Schlank is a sports writer for Pipe Dream.
Editor’s note (2/12/24): This article has been edited to reflect the correct organizers of the event.