Father of Gov. Hochul dies unexpectedly during her solidarity trip to Israel
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s father died overnight while she was visiting wartime Israel, with the governor slipping a note grieving her loss into Jerusalem’s Western Wall holy site on Thursday.
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.
At the Western Wall, Hochul appeared to wipe away a tear before placing a handwritten note with prayers for Israel and for her father into a crack in the limestone wall.
“I pray for my father, who cherished his visit to this Holy Land, and who passed during the night,” the note partially read.
Hochul told reporters she spoke to her father from the airport just before she departed for Israel earlier this week, a small smile peeking through as she recalled how he still talked in “his gruff Irish way.”
The governor’s sojourn comes as the Israeli military has relentlessly attacked Gaza in retaliation for a bloody cross-border massacre by Hamas militants in southern Israel almost two weeks ago.
Gaza’s Health Ministry said Thursday that 3,785 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 12,500 others have been wounded since the outbreak of the war.
More than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed and roughly 200 others were abducted and taken into Gaza by Hamas.
Hochul met with Israeli families displaced by the conflict, and heard painful stories from families of American citizens taken hostage by Hamas and from Israelis who have been wounded during the fighting.
She 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.
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.'”
Hochul also held meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog, and Israeli President Isaac Herzog, reiterating New York’s solidarity with Israel.
Later, the governor set out from Jerusalem south toward Kfar Aza, a kibbutz of about 750 people about a mile east of the Gaza border where 70 people died, according to officials.
“For them to have to endure the horrors of what this terrorist group has brought these innocent people is something that we must never forget,” Hochul said. “We speak about the Holocaust in terms of we must never forget, that is taught in the schools of the state of New York, so we never forget. But this day can never be forgotten because this will go down in history as a slaughter of innocents.”
“I’ll will live the rest of my life seared with the knowledge of what happened in this place but shame on all of us, as the civilized world versus the uncivilized world, if we ever forget this either,” she said.
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.
Biden flew to Israel for a 7 1/2-hour visit Wednesday that offered support for the Israeli people and urged the delivery of humanitarian aid into Gaza.
During his address, the president also plans to discuss “Russia’s ongoing brutal war against Ukraine,” in addition to the Israel-Hamas war.