NEW YORK (WABC) — An emotional Governor Kathy Hochul mourned her 87-year-old father, who died suddenly overnight, with a message she put in the Western Wall at the start of her second day in Israel.
John Courtney died from a brain hemorrhage in Florida Wednesday night. Courtney, who is Irish Catholic, had previously visited Israel and encouraged his daughter to make this trip.
Dressed in all black in mourning, Hochul wrote a note referencing both Israel and his passing to place in a crack in the wall, as is tradition.
“I pray for my father, who cherished his visit to this Holy Land, and who passed during the night,” the note partially read.
Governor Hochul then made an impromptu stop at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of the holiest sites of Christianity, where according to scripture, Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected.
Next, Hochul visited Shaarei Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem, where she saw the aunt and uncle of Omer Neutra, the missing IDF solider from Plainview, Long Island, currently being held hostage in Gaza. She also visited the injured and ran into a nursing student originally from Woodmere.
On Thursday afternoon, at her hotel in Jerusalem, Hochul met with families of American citizens taken hostage by Hamas.
Among the relatives she met with was Ruby Chen, a New Yorker whose son, Itay Chen, a 19-year-old Israeli soldier, was officially declared a hostage on Wednesday.
“You wake up in the morning and you think it’s a nightmare,” Chen said in an interview after the meeting. “You have this black hole in your soul and you think, ‘This is hell.'”
In the meantime, President Joe Biden is back in the United States and is planning to speak to the nation with a primetime address Thursday night from the Oval Office.
While in Israel on Wednesday, the president visited a nation at war and warmly embraced Israel’s prime minister before meeting with victims of the Oct. 7 terrorist invasion that shook Israel to its core.
His visit to Israel lasted about eight hours.
Biden’s trip was an urgent mission to keep the Israel-Hamas war from spiraling into a broader regional conflict. The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that limited humanitarian aid would be allowed into Gaza from Egypt following a request from Biden.
The president’s visit came after hundreds of people were reported killed in an explosion at a Gaza Strip hospital. There were conflicting claims of who was responsible for the hospital blast. Officials in Gaza quickly blamed an Israeli airstrike. Israel denied it was involved and released a flurry of video, audio, and other information that it said showed the blast was due to a missile misfire by Islamic Jihad, another militant group operating in Gaza. The Islamic Jihad dismissed that claim.
The United States is promising $100 million in humanitarian assistance to help Palestinian people who have been displaced or otherwise affected by conflict in Gaza and the West Bank. Biden announced in a news release Wednesday that the assistance would be provided through trusted partners, including U.N. agencies and international NGOs.
“Civilians are not to blame and should not suffer for Hamas’s horrific terrorism,” Biden said. “Civilian lives must be protected and assistance must urgently reach those in need.”
The president discussed how the October 7 attacks were equivalent to “15 9/11s” for Israel and its size.
Biden’s meetings with Arab leaders were called off after the Gaza Health Ministry reported 500 Palestinian civilians were killed by a rocket that struck a hospital.
During his address, the president also plans to discuss “Russia’s ongoing brutal war against Ukraine,” in addition to the Israel-Hamas war. It’s scheduled to begin at 8 p.m.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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