Father of 19-year-old Israeli-American held hostage by Hamas praying for miracle of son's return

A woman holds a poster of Israeli hostage Omer Neutra during a memorial vigil for the Israeli people killed by Hamas during the October 7 attacks, in New York City on November 1, 2023.
A woman holds a poster of Israeli hostage Omer Neutra during a memorial vigil for the Israeli people killed by Hamas during the October 7 attacks, in New York City on November 1, 2023. | Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Ruby Chen, the father of a 19-year-old Israeli-American who has been held hostage by Hamas for over 80 days, asked that families celebrating the Christmas season to leave an empty seat at the table for his son and other remaining hostages.

Chen’s son, Itay Chen, is a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen and solider for the Israel Defense Forces. On Oct. 7, Itay was on active duty when Hamas carried out its terrorist attacks against Israel, an onslaught that resulted in the deaths of at least 1,200 people. The terror group also seized around 240 individuals as hostages and injured thousands of others. 

Itay had been part of a tank unit that included three other soldiers before he went missing from his post near the Gaza border on the day of the attacks. 

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In an interview with The Christian Post, Ruby Chen recalled that his son had sent him a message the morning of Oct. 7, telling him that there appeared to be a missile attack. As Ruby Chen explained, missiles launched from Gaza are a regular occurrence in Israel, but he soon realized that something was wrong. 

Chen attempted to make contact with his son, and when that failed, he tried to assure himself that his son was probably preoccupied since he's an IDF soldier. But as the days passed, there was no indication that Itay was being treated at a hospital and his name wasn't on the deceased list. 

“And after a couple of days, we got a knock on the door from two IDF officials,” the father said, recalling what he felt that day. “And that’s when you go through a process of denial. You want to just disappear; you definitely do not want to open that door.” 

“Then you need to collect yourself and, somehow, open that door,” he said, adding that he wouldn't wish this experience on anyone.

The IDF officers said Hamas had taken Itay captive, which Chen said was the “good news,” as it could’ve been news of Itay’s death. However, he also hasn't received any notice that his son is alive after being taken captive 81 days ago. 

During the interview with CP, Chen reminisced about his son and how he liked to sing and dance. He also revealed that Itay is skilled at doing magic tricks with cards. 

“I’m trying to keep a positive image of him in some dark place,” he said, adding that he hopes someone gave Itay a deck of cards “so at least he’s entertaining or keeping busy and helping others to pass this nightmare.”

While over 100 hostages have been released, Hamas and other radical jihadist groups in Gaza continue to hold hundreds of people captive, including Itay. Hamas released multiple hostages, such as 4-year-old Abigail Mor Edan, an American-Israeli, during a temporary ceasefire. 

As The Times of Israel previously reported, the terror group declared that it won’t release more hostages unless the fighting in Gaza ends and Israeli forces retreat, a proposition that Israel rejected.

Regarding what should be done to secure the release of the remaining hostages, Chen believes that more pressure must be applied to international communities, such as Egypt and Qatar, whose governments the father believes can influence Hamas.

“And my question to the international community is: How do you think that’s OK?” Chen asked. “And why do you not think that if that happens here, it will not happen in your backyard in the near future?” 

Earlier this month, the father met with President Joe Biden alongside the family members of eight other Americans believed to be held captive by Hamas. Regarding how the Biden administration has handled the situation, Chen said the families had been “blessed with a president that is totally behind the hostages.” 

“But I think we also need not forget that 76 days have passed, and still, the significant majority of U.S. hostages that were taken are still in custody,” he told CP last week. 

He also asked for people to pray for his son and the remaining hostages. He noted that the Jewish people have finished commemorating the miracle of Hanukkah, and now, Christians are celebrating the Christmas season. 

“When celebrating the Christmas holidays, please leave an empty seat for my son, who is not going to be with me, and for all the other hostages,” Chen said. 

“And remember that there are U.S. citizens that have been abducted,” he continued. “Kidnapped. Nobody knows where they are; nobody has given a sign of life. And we need you to pray for us. To give us that miracle, a big miracle again.”

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: Follow her on Twitter: @Samantha_Kamman

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