WASHINGTON – For Ruby Chen, this Thanksgiving holiday served as a reminder of the dark reality his family has faced for 54 days.

“We celebrated Thanksgiving with an empty chair,” Chen said. 

Chen’s 19-year-old son, Itay, has been held hostage by Hamas since its Oct. 7 attack on Israel, when about 1,200 people were killed and 240 were captured, according to Israeli authorities. Itay is a dual American-Israeli citizen and a soldier with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). He is one of eight American hostages currently held by Hamas. 

At a House Foreign Affairs Committee roundtable discussion on Wednesday, three families of hostages being held by Hamas called on Congress to do more and to continue pressuring Hamas for the immediate release of their loved ones. 

“Time is running out,” Chen said after placing an hourglass on the table in front of lawmakers. 

Ruby and Hagit Chen, the parents of 19-year-old Hamas hostage Itay Chen, speak with Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), chairman of the subcommittee on Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia chairman. (Cate Bikales/MNS)

The roundtable comes amid a temporary truce between Hamas and Israel that began on Friday and has been extended through Thursday. Since then, Hamas has released 102 hostages, two of whom are dual American-Israeli citizens. 

Israeli officials have publicly acknowledged that Hamas will demand the release of more Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Israeli men and soldiers, like Itay, according to CNN. Currently, three Palestinian prisoners are to be released for every one hostage freed by Hamas. ​​

Only one male Israeli hostage has been released, as of Wednesday, according to NBC

Four-year-old Abigail Edan was in captivity for 50 days after her parents were killed during the Oct. 7 attack. She was the first American hostage released during the pause in fighting.

“Abigail is the hope. We see that people are coming out. We need to keep them coming out,”  Liz Hirsh Naftali, Abigail’s great aunt, said during the roundtable. 

Lawmakers say they are doing everything they can to secure the release of all hostages. On Tuesday, the House unanimously approved a resolution condemning Hamas for its attack and calling for the release of all hostages in Gaza in a 414-0 vote. 

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), who is chairman of the Subcommittee on Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia, said Congress should continue its bipartisan efforts. 

“You can see it’s heartfelt by Republicans and Democrats who stand with you and stand for the release of the hostages kidnapped so mercilessly,” he said. 

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) said that every member of Congress “has the hostages on their minds,” adding that he has been critical of the Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because it did not prioritize the release of hostages in the early stages of the war.

Chen also urged Congress to pressure the International Red Cross to provide greater medical care to hostages. 

“The International Red Cross needs to be vocal,” Chen said. “They are the witnesses. They are the ones who see the hostages going out.”

(From left to right) Ronen Neutra and Ruby Chen, whose sons are being held hostage by Hamas, speak with Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas). (Rachel Schlueter/MNS)

Orna and Ronen Neutra, whose son Omer is also an American-Israeli soldier for the IDF and is currently being held hostage, also expressed concern about medical attention for hostages. Orna Neutra said Congress should prioritize uniting the international community and demanding Hamas provide basic necessities, including food and medicine, to its hostages.

Ronen Neutra described Omer as a good friend “always with a smile on his face.” A true leader, he said, Omer joined the IDF after graduating high school on Long Island, N.Y. Orna Neutra last spoke to her son on Oct. 6. Omer said was looking forward to what was supposed to be a relaxing weekend. 

“It is unimaginable that after 54 days, not only is [Omer] still held hostage, but that the Red Cross has not been allowed access,” Orna Neutra said. “It is unimaginable that we find comfort in the fact that he was taken hostage and not murdered on that day.”

Abigail’s relatives said that many families of the hostages feel helpless, and that it is up to Congress to fix the problem.

“We’re not politicians or military strategists,” Noa Naftali, Abigail’s cousin, said. “We really trust you to get that work done. All we can do is continue to tell our stories and continue to carry this pain.”