A temporary cease-fire deal that would facilitate the release of dozens of hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza offers a glimmer of hope to families and friends of those who have been held captive since their abduction from southern Israel by terrorists on Oct. 7.
In all, roughly 240 people were taken to Gaza by terrorists in Hamas’ deadly rampage. Israel and Hamas agreed to a four-day halt that would also see the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Under the deal announced by Qatar on Wednesday, 50 hostages would be released in exchange for what Hamas said would be 150 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. Those released by both sides would be women and minors. Israel said the truce would be extended by a day for every 10 additional hostages released.
While several families will be thrilled to have their loved ones back, if the deal goes through, a significant number of hostages will likely remain in captivity. The plight of the families has gripped Israelis and they have widespread support.
Here are stories of some of the hostages.
Emily Tony Korenberg Hand celebrated her eighth birthday last year romping with friends and family among the jugglers, acrobats and stilt walkers for her circus-themed party at Kibbutz Be’eri, not far from the Gaza Strip.
There was no party when she turned 9 on Nov. 17. Emily is believed to be somewhere in Gaza, taken by terrorists who swarmed her kibbutz.
“She won’t even know it’s her birthday. She won’t know what day it is,” her tearful father, Thomas Hand, 63, said. “Can you imagine the fear?”
Thomas Hand originally was told by Be’eri leaders that Emily was among the dead after she had spent the night at a friend’s house on the kibbutz. His grief was tinged with comfort.
“I was sort of relieved because I’d rather that than have her taken hostage,” he recalled thinking.
Then, on Oct. 31, Hand’s world turned upside down once again.
That’s when the Israeli military informed him Emily’s body had not been recovered, nor was her DNA found among the blood and many dead at Be’eri.
“I had to shift my whole brain and digest this new information. And when they told me, I just went, ‘No, no, no no,’” he said, his voice cracking.
Emily’s half-sister Natalie, 26, told The Times of Israel: “I want to tell you that we are doing everything to get you home. We know you are being held hostage. We love you so much and miss you.”
Thomas Hand was in New York to unveil a billboard of Emily in Times Square. It’s the first of hundreds to go up around the United States with images of the hostages as some protesters continue to tear down “kidnapped” posters. A billboard, Hand said, can’t be ripped apart.
“Can you imagine what that poor little child is going through every single day, terrified for her life?” he said.
At 5-foot-9, Itay Chen is short by basketball standards. But he earned his minutes on the court by being fearless and taking the big outside shot.
It’s a character trait Ruby Chen said his son needs in captivity. Itay, a 19-year-old Israeli-American, was taken captive while on military duty.
“He needed to be spunky. He used it against larger kids,” Ruby said of his son’s time on the court. “He never backed down. He always had the fight in him to do what he can.’’
Maybe it came from what Ruby called the “New York tough” attitude he sought to instill in his son. Ruby, who grew up in New York, nurtured grit in Itay with frequent trips to the city, visiting Coney Island and Madison Square Garden. Dad was a Knicks fan. Itay idolized Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
He’s still just a kid, Ruby said. He wasn’t a commando attacking enemy positions the day of the Hamas attack. Just a teenager doing his mandatory military service. Not that long ago, he was a Boy Scout.
Itay wasn’t even supposed to be on duty when the onslaught began. He had switched weekends with another soldier so he could attend his brother’s Bar Mitzvah, the ceremony marking a Jewish boy’s passage into manhood.
The family insisted on going through with the service a week after the attack. It was cathartic and spiritual. There are plans for another celebration when Itay returns, Ruby said.
“You cannot stand still because if you stand still in hell you get burned,” Ruby said. “So you need to keep on walking.”
Liat Beinin and Aviv Atzili
The bond between Liat Beinin and Aviv Atzili is clear in their photographs.
There’s a tender image of the couple posing under a tree during a recent trip to Oregon in a space both beautiful and green. There is the selfie during the same trip, Aviv’s arm draped across Liat’s shoulders as they both grin at the camera. And one in the shadow of New York, perfect for the pair with wanderlust.
Liat is an Israeli-American teacher who volunteered to give tours at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance center, certain that she could reach visitors with her positive attitude and flawless English. Aviv is an artist and mechanic who kept the farm machinery at Kibbutz Nir Oz in tip-top shape and used old equipment as a canvas for his paintings.
Both were taken hostage when Hamas terrorists rampaged through the kibbutz, a horror that is incomprehensible for friends and family.
“They’re really peace-loving, compassionate people,’’ said Boaz Atzili, Aviv’s cousin. “A really good example of that is that they adopted this dog who is like a special [needs] dog with three legs, and they gave her like a really warm and nice family.’’
Terrorists killed the dog during the attack.
Liat and Aviv, both 49, have been partners ever since they met as youth counselors. After completing their military service, they travelled for three years, visiting India and Australia, where they married. Returning to Israel, they settled at Kibbutz Nir Oz, where they raised three children.
Liat’s father, Yehuda, said he is trying to remain calm, visiting world leaders and talking to the media so he can keep the names of his daughter and son-in-law in the public eye.
He also hopes Liat may hear his words.
“The ultimate greeting that I can pass on to my daughter, are Hebrew words from the Bible,’’ he said. “What Moses said to Joshua is to be strong and courageous … and if Liat hears this, she knows that this is my ultimate blessing.”
Luis Har isn’t just a grandfather to his own 10 grandchildren, said his daughter, Rinat Sheleg. In their kibbutz, “he’s like the grandfather of all.”
Har, 70, had been visiting another kibbutz near the Gaza border with his longtime partner, Clara Marman, for a child’s birthday party. The couple were taken hostage in the attack, along with Marman’s brother Fernando Marman, her sister Gabriela Leimberg, and her niece Mia Leimberg, 17.
Sheleg said she and her two young children were visiting friends in another part of Israel when her father texted her around 10 a.m., saying there were attackers. An hour later, he texted that the terrorists had come into the house. That was the last she heard from him.
Sheleg and her sister made a short visit to the United States recently to talk about their father and the others taken hostage.
Her children, 5 and 2, have been asking about him, she said. “My dad all the time takes them from kindergarten. Every day we eat dinner together, we are all the time together. For them it’s like their father more than grandfather.”
Har spent his childhood in Argentina, then came to Israel for military service and never left, Sheleg said.
He’s an avid dancer and a committed cook, she said. “All our life, he makes us the best pasta and pizza and empanadas and all the great food.”
She said his return will bring a huge celebration. But can’t even begin to imagine what he’s gone through—or that “he will not come back to the same person that he was before.”
Consumed with worry, she hasn’t been sleeping well.
“He’s amazing person, he’s our best friend, he’s not only our dad.”
Alex Dancyg left Poland at age 9, sailing by ship to a new life in Israel in 1957. But Poland never left him. With a love of Polish poetry and culture, the son of Holocaust survivors returned often in past decades in a mission to promote Polish-Israeli dialogue.
The retired 75-year-old Yad Vashem historian was abducted from the Nir Oz kibbutz, where he carried out academic work and contributed to the communal sowing and harvesting of potatoes, peanuts and other produce, his son Yuval Danzig said. He is the only known Polish-Israeli among the hostages still held, according to the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw.
In Warsaw, his Polish friends are fearful over the fate of a man whom they describe as erudite, open-minded and warm.
A demonstration was held in October at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, calling for the hostages to be freed. Balloons in Israel’s blue and white colors were released into the air. His son, standing next to Israel’s ambassador, held a photo of his father.
His son described Alex as an Israeli Zionist who was proud of his Polish heritage, reciting Polish poetry to the point of annoying his family and dressing Yuval in the soccer shirt of the Polish national team as a boy.
“All his life he felt that Poland was his second love after Israel,” said Danzig, who spells the family name differently from his father. “He was 100 percent Israeli and 100 percent Polish.”
Poland has a complicated relationship with Jewish history. For centuries it was home to Europe’s largest Jewish community due to the greater tolerance it offered Jews, compared to other places in Europe. The Jewish community numbered 3.3 million on the eve of World War II.
Most were murdered after Nazi Germany occupied Poland and established ghettos and death camps in the country. Dancyg’s parents survived in Ukraine using falsified Ukrainian documents, but almost everyone else in the family was killed.
Some Poles risked their lives to help Jews but others were participants in persecution. The resulting fraught relationship between the two peoples has led to diplomatic crises between Poland and Israel.
Dancyg worked to encourage his fellow Israelis to see Poland in all its complexity. He trained Israeli guides who lead Israeli youth to sites like Auschwitz. He also worked with the POLIN museum, which tells the story of the centuries of Jewish life in Polish lands.
Gong Sae Lao
Gong Sae Lao of Thailand wasn’t worried when he traveled a year ago to Israel to work as a farmhand.
Gong, 26, knew vaguely about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. He knew of occasional rocket attacks, of skirmishes. But earning a living was hard at home in northern Thailand, where Gong delivered fruits and vegetables to market. Moreover, his family was in debt, and Gong—with his father long dead and a brother in prison—was the main provider.
So he headed for Israel to earn wages that would give him and his loved ones a brighter future. But when Hamas terrorists slipped into southern Israel, Kibbutz Be’eri, where Gong worked, was one of the targets.
Wanwarin Yensuk, who works as the Thailand program manager for the U.S.-based Global Fund for Children, has helped Gong’s wife communicate with non-Thai speaking officials.
According to Wanwarin, Gong was on Facebook Live talking to other Thai migrant workers when the attack began. Loud shooting was heard in the background. Gong’s wife was listening in. She urgently called her husband. That was the last time she heard his voice.
Three Thai workers in Gong’s tight-knit group also were taken hostage, Wanwarin said. Their living quarters were burned to the ground.
Gong’s family is from the village of Mae Fah Luang, in northern Chiang Rai province. They are members of the Hmong minority. A local official contacted his mother about collecting a DNA sample, presumably to help identify him.
Oded Lifshitz has spent his life fighting for Arab rights, but that didn’t prevent him from being abducted.
Throughout a long career in journalism, he campaigned for the recognition of Palestinian rights and peace between Arabs and Jews. In retirement, the 83-year-old drove to the Erez border crossing on the northern edge of the Gaza Strip once a week to ferry Palestinians to medical appointments in Israel as part of a group called On the Way to Recovery.
“My father spent his life fighting for peace,” his daughter Sharone Lifschitz, who spells her surname slightly differently, told reporters in London. “We are all his children. When we ask for peace, we ask to see the human within each of us.”
Oded and his wife, Yocheved, helped found Kibbutz Nir Oz, where they were abducted. Hamas terrorists killed dozens of residents there. Yocheved Lifshitz and another elderly woman, Nurit Cooper, were freed Oct. 23. Oded Lifshitz remains in captivity.
Oded was most proud of his work on behalf of the traditionally nomadic Bedouin people of the Negev Desert, Sharone Lifschitz said, describing a case that went to Israel’s High Court and resulted in the return of some of their land.
Sharone Lifschitz believes her father still supports reconciliation—just like her mother, who shook her captor’s hand and said “shalom,” the Hebrew word for peace, as she was released.
“We should celebrate, you know, the people that are working for peace—not the people just that are working for war,” Sharone Lifschitz said. “I think that was my father’s life story.”
Tanzanian agriculture intern Joshua Loitu Mollel, 21, was working on a cow farm and living in Kibbutz Nahal Oz not far from the Gaza Strip when he was abducted.
Loitu Sindoeni Mollel last spoke to his son, the eldest of his five children, on Oct. 5.
“I told him, you’re in a foreign country, you have to have good behavior so you can succeed,” the father said by phone from his home in Tanzania’s Manyara region. “Now, my other children ask me every day, ‘Where is my brother? Where is my brother?’ But I have no answers.”
Joshua, kind and outgoing, had just graduated from an agriculture college. He had dreams connected to the land. “He wants to be a big farmer,” his father said.
Thirty-six agriculture interns from Tanzania were living near Gaza at the time of the attack, according to the human rights organization Hotline for Refugees and Migrants. The rest have been accounted for.
Ofri Bibas couldn’t bring herself to tell her brother, Yarden, she loved him when his home came under attack, fearing that might signal some kind of irreversible finality, she said.
Yarden Bibas, his wife, Shiri, and their sons, 4-year-old Ariel and 9-month-old Kfir, were snatched from their home in the Nir-Oz Kibbutz.
Her brother initially believed the volley of rocket fire was “just another bombing like we’re used to,” said Ofri Bibas, who lives elsewhere in Israel.
But he soon realized it was “something much bigger and much worse,” she said, speaking at a rally in support of Israel in Larnaca, Cyprus, that she and other relatives of the hostages attended to raise awareness of the plight of their loved ones.
Ofri Bibas said she communicated with her brother in a flurry of texts as Hamas gunmen roamed outside his home. She said her brother and his wife did their best to keep their sons quiet.
“Try to imagine keeping a 9-month-old and a 4-year-old kid quiet so the terrorists won’t come in,” she said.
Yarden Bibas told his sister he had a gun in the house, but couldn’t use it to defend his family against so many gunmen armed with automatic rifles.
Then her brother said he loved her. “I just said, ‘Shut up it’s going to be okay, shut up. Just be quiet and follow the security and everything will be all right.’”
Later that night, Yarden sent a final text that the gunmen had entered the family’s home.
Ofri Bibas said she and her family learned that Shiri and the boys were taken by Hamas through a video released by the Islamic terrorists on social media. Later, Hamas released an image showing her wounded brother held by his throat by a terrorist holding a hammer in his other hand.
Ofri Bibas said every time she hears children playing, she thinks of her little nephew, Kfir, hungry and afraid.
“They must be terrified. We just ask everyone to help us bring them back home,” she said.
A small forest of candles melted into the chocolate icing of a birthday cake in New York’s Long Island, but the guest of honor wasn’t there.
Omer Neutra, an Israeli soldier, turned 22 seven days after the Hamas attack. Israeli officials told his parents that terrorists took Neutra and his unit hostage, Orna and Ronen Neutra said in a telephone interview. They were told he was seen on video footage released by Hamas.
At their home in the United States on Oct. 14, the family took a break from doing what they can to secure Omer’s release by celebrating his birthday. They did not blow out the candle flames, because, they said, Omer wasn’t there to do so.
“Omer is tough,” said his dad, Ronen. “We feel that he is well.”
Omer Neutra was born in Manhattan a month after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the son of Israeli-born parents. A dual citizen, he attended a conservative Jewish school and “knew all of the statistics of the New York Knicks,” Ronen said.
He lists Omer’s leadership positions as captain of the basketball, soccer and volleyball teams at the Schechter School of Long Island, as well as a regional president of United Synagogue Youth. Omer, Ronen said, was offered admission to the State University of New York at Binghamton—but instead deferred, took a gap year and then moved to Israel to join the army.
The Neutras last spoke to their son on Oct. 6, the night before the incursion, as he patrolled the Gaza border. Omer was looking forward to Shabbat, which on that weekend was also the start of a weeklong celebration of the harvest season in Israel.
“He was tired—motivated but tired—after a few weeks of lots of action on the border,” Ronen said. “He was hoping for a peaceful weekend to relax a little bit.”
For days after the Hamas attack, Shaked Haran sought any clues she could about the fate of her missing parents, sister, little niece and nephew, two aunts, an uncle, a cousin—10 family members in all, spanning three generations.
There were strong signs that at least some had been taken hostage. Her parents’ house at Kibbutz Be’eri was burned but the shelter was intact and there were no bodies found in it. Phone locations were tracked to Gaza. Haran’s brother-in-law had been seen being put in a Hamas car. And after a friend called the father’s phone more than 100 times, someone finally answered in Arabic and then referred in Hebrew to a hostage situation.
If captivity was a terrible outcome, the alternative would be worse.
Then Haran, a 34-year-old attorney who grew up on the kibbutz but now lives in Beersheba, got the devastating news that the body of her father, Avshalom Haran, had been identified—he’d died in the violence at Be’eri. The news came shortly after her uncle, Eviatar Kipnis, had also been confirmed dead.
Now, Haran can only pray her other relatives are alive—and tell the world their stories. They include her mother, Shoshan, a longtime social activist who founded the nonprofit Fair Planet, which works to fight food insecurity in the developing world by helping farmers.
“She’s really dedicated her time to this, trying to get as many people out of the poverty cycle as possible,” Haran said, adding that her family had been committed to peace, with many active in peace organizations, and raised her “to think about the person on the other side of the situation.”
Also missing: Haran’s sister, Adi, a psychologist; her husband, Tal, and their children Naveh, 8, “a bright, open-hearted boy that makes friends in an instant,” and Yahel, 3, “creative and full of life.” Also believed abducted are Haran’s aunt Sharon, her 12-year-old daughter, Noam, and another aunt Lilach Kipnis.
Asked if she has a message on behalf of her family, Haran preferred to speak about all the hostages and victims.
“I love my family, but they’re one small story in this huge catastrophe,” Haran said. “They’d want the message to be that they’re part of the family of the kibbutz—and the family of Israel.”
“It’s a pity that we did not bring water with us,” 3-year-old Geffen told her father, Alon Gat, as they hid in brush from Hamas terrorists for 18 hours on the morning of Oct. 7.
The two, along with Alon’s wife and Geffen’s mother, Yarden Roman, had been dragged into a car at Kibbutz Be’eri when Hamas attackers showed up. The family made a run for it under fire, Yarden’s brother, Gili, said during a recent visit to New York in support of the hostages.
Alon later emerged with their daughter from a small forest when he thought it was safe. The two made it back to Be’eri, where Israeli soldiers had arrived. Alon last saw of his wife hiding behind a tree as he ran with their child, Gili Roman said via Zoom.
The family believes Yarden deliberately lagged behind to give her family a better chance to get away.
Yarden’s sister-in-law is also missing and her mother-in-law was murdered at the kibbutz, Gili said.
To the 36-year-old Yarden, family is everything, her brother said. She is also dedicated to her work as a physical therapist specializing in elder care.
“She is very timid and mostly introvert. She’s open and fun and communicative, mostly with our own small circle of family and friends,” Gili said.
Yarden is also an avid rock climber. “She did a lot of hikes around the world,” Gili said. “When we grew up, she was the tomboy.”
Or and Eynav Levy
Two-year-old Almog Levy has been asking for his mom and dad, and no one knows what to tell him.
His parents, Or and Eynav Levy, did everything together. They kept a tent in their car for spontaneous road trips, and they recently took a family trip to Thailand. They also loved music festivals, and drove to the Tribe of Nova festival in the Israeli desert.
They arrived minutes before Hamas terrorists carried out their massacre. Eynav Elkayam Levy, 32, was confirmed dead. Or, 33, is missing.
“How can you tell a 2-year-old boy he won’t see his mother anymore?” asked Or’s older brother, Michael Levy. The family is stuck between heartbreak and hope, and they pray that Or makes it home alive.
Photos from happier times show the couple beaming at the beach and cafes.
“Or is always smiling, always happy, not just in the pictures,” said Michael Levy, 40, who thinks of his brother as a child genius who would break things so he could fix them. Or taught himself computer programming and is part of a successful startup, and he and Eynav dreamed of having a bigger family.
A patchwork of text messages captures the couple’s chaotic final minutes together. Eynav texted her mother, who was babysitting Almog, shortly after daybreak to say they’d arrived at the festival site.
Soon after, Or texted his mother to say they were driving back home. It was 6:51 a.m. and sirens were sounding as Hamas rockets flew over the desert party.
Or’s mother texted back: “Watch out and call me when you can.” He called at 7:39 a.m. to say they were hiding in a bomb shelter. She asked how they were. “Mom, you don’t want to know,” he replied, before phone service cut off.
Several days later, the Israeli army informed the family that Eynav’s body was found inside the shelter, and that Or had been kidnapped and taken hostage. The family has no other details.
Almog’s grandparents are taking turns watching the boy, Michael said. They are trying to stay positive, for Almog’s sake. “He is calling out for his mom and dad all the time.”
Sagui Dekel-Chen is a builder of things. He’s as gifted with his hands as he is at managing community development projects, his father says.
Early on the morning of Oct. 7, Sagui was tinkering with an engine in the machine shop at Nir Oz, when he saw intruders on the grounds and sounded the alarm. After running home, he rigged the door of a safe room so it couldn’t be opened from the outside, kissed his pregnant wife and told her to lock herself and their two daughters inside.
Then the 35-year-old father borrowed a gun and tried to protect his community. He hasn’t been seen since. His family believes that the Israeli-American, like several members of the kibbutz, was abducted.
“This is a guy who has so much to give,’’ said his father, Jonathan Dekel-Chen. “He’s already proven it. Ironically not just to Israelis and his family, his children, but to all of our neighbors.”
Sagui Dekel-Chen is a project manager for the UK branch of the Jewish National Fund, organizing the construction of schools and youth centers in the underdeveloped Negev Desert. That included collaborating with both Jewish and Muslim nonprofits that worked in Arab communities near the kibbutz.
“Every day was something different. Every day he was helping other people make their nonprofit goals come alive,” his father said.
The work was an avenue for Sagui Dekel-Chen’s “extraordinary creativity” as he advised nonprofits, launched his own projects and built coalitions to get things done, his father said.
“It is a crime that Hamas has made it so that Palestinian people will never be able, I fear, to benefit themselves from my son and people like him because their brains have been poisoned,” his father added.
Meirav Leshem Gonen says she feels like she failed to do her job as a mother to protect her 23-year-old daughter, Romi Gonen, who vanished on the day Hamas unleashed its onslaught.
Speaking in Cyprus at a support rally for Israel, Gonen fought back tears as she recounted her daughter’s frantic call from an outdoor music festival and her description of missiles falling followed by volleys of automatic gunfire.
“We assumed, OK, a few terrorists, the army will come and everything will be finished in a few minutes,” Gonen said. “But the shooting kept on and on, and we are on the phone hearing the shootings, and Romi is terrified.”
Gonen and her eldest daughter spent nearly five hours speaking to Romi, who told them that roads clogged with abandoned cars made escape impossible and that she would seek shelter in some bushes.
“She’s afraid and she has to hide from bush to bush so the terrorists will not find her. Just imagine where she was, what she felt,” Gonen said.
A friend who rescued a few other revelers went back in search of Romi and her friends.
But then, the call came that changed everything. “Mommy I was shot, the car was shot, everybody was shot. … I am wounded and bleeding. Mommy, I think I’m going to die,” the mother recounted her daughter saying.
Gonen told Romi that she wasn’t going to die, to stop crying, start breathing and to treat her wounded friends.
“And they knew I was lying because I didn’t have anything, anything I could do to help her,” Gonen said.
“If I cannot help her, I will tell her how much I love her. She’s my kid. I wanted her to remember my words, and then told her how much I love her and how much she’s loved, and what we will do when she comes back home.”
Romi’s last word during the call was “Mommy,” as approaching gunfire and the men’s shouts drowned out everything.
Then the phone shut off.
Judith Weinstein and Gad Haggai
Judith Weinstein and her husband, Gad Haggai, were on their morning walk when gunfire erupted and missiles streaked across the sky. Taking cover in a field, they could hear a recorded voice from an alert system for their kibbutz in southern Israel.
“What did she say?” Weinstein, 70, asked in Hebrew as she captured the scene on video.
“Red alert,” her 72-year-old husband said.
Weinstein shared the 40-second video clip in a group chat when Hamas attacked Kibbutz Nir Oz. That was their last contact with their family.
The family used the video to pinpoint the couple’s last known location and shared it with the Israeli army, but a search came up empty.
A daughter, Iris Weinstein Haggai, has been relentlessly looking for answers from her home in Singapore. The family heard ominous news from a paramedic, who said Weinstein had called for medical help.
“She said they were shot by terrorists on a motorcycle and that my dad was wounded really bad,” said Weinstein Haggai, 38. “Paramedics tried to send her an ambulance. The ambulance got hit by a rocket.”
The paramedic lost contact with Weinstein, leaving her family grappling with worst-case scenarios.
Haggai is a retired chef and jazz musician. Weinstein, a New York native, is a retired teacher. Both are pacifists who raised their children at the kibbutz, where everybody knows their neighbors.
Yaffa Adar loved reading, writing and keeping connected. Even at 85 she often sent her family messages and GIFs on WhatsApp. She was active on Facebook, her granddaughter recalled.
Keeping in close touch online became especially important in recent years as she found it harder to walk beyond her home in Nir Oz. But she kept her mind busy and knew what she wanted, her granddaughter said.
“She loved reading,” Adva Adar recalled. “So we were like, ‘We’re going to get you a Kindle.’” What did her grandmother say? “‘No, I like the smell of the paper in books.’”
When no one could find Yaffa Adar after the attack, her family worried. That concern turned to horror when video surfaced showing her being driven in a golf cart in Gaza, wrapped in a pink flowered blanket.
Some people speculated that Yaffa Adar’s unflinching demeanor in the video perhaps meant she didn’t understand what was happening.
Not her family, which includes three children, eight grandchildren and seven great-grandkids.
“She absolutely knew what was going on around her. She wasn’t going to panic,” her granddaughter said.
What’s frightening now is that her grandmother didn’t have her medication for blood pressure and chronic pain.
“She was really the glue of our family. She loved her life,” Adva Adar recalls. “She liked good food and she liked good wine. She was very young-minded.”
Roni Eshel, a 19-year-old Israel Defense Forces soldier, was stationed at a military base near the Gaza border when Hamas attacked. Although she didn’t answer her phone when her mother called to check on her that morning, she later texted to say that she was busy but OK.
“I love you so much,” Eshel told her mother, Sharon, about three hours after the attack started.
Her parents haven’t heard from her since, and Eshel’s family is desperate to know happened. Her father, Eyal Eshel, describes the wait for news as “hell.”
“I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to think, actually. Where is she? What is she eating? If it’s cold for her? If it’s hot? I don’t know nothing,” Eyal Eshel said.
Her father says the IDF has told them she is considered missing; he believes she has been kidnapped.
“Otherwise, where is she?” he asked.
Roni grew up in a small village north of Tel Aviv. She reported for military service two weeks after finishing school. She was three months into her second year of mandatory military service.
“It’s part of our life here in Israel,” her father said.
She was in a communications unit at a base near Nahal Oz. She had returned to the base from a brief vacation three days before the attack.
Roni was proud to be a third generation of her family to join the Israeli military. Her father, uncle and grandfather also served.
“She was very happy to serve the country,” her father said.
Her father said she has planned to travel and enroll in a university after completing her two years of service. But he can’t think about her future while she’s missing. Eyal Eshel says he isn’t sleeping, eating or working while he waits.
“I’m not ashamed to ask [for] help. Please help us,” he said.
Maya and Itay Regev
“Mom, I’ll unpack my suitcase when I get back,” Maya Regev told her mother that Friday night, in a rush to get going. “See you tomorrow.”
And within a half-hour of returning to Israel from a family trip overseas, 21-year-old Maya and her brother Itay, 18, were on their way to the Tribe of Nova music festival, planning to dance the night away.
It was a typical activity for the duo, who both love to be on the move, gather with friends, and especially travel, said their parents, Ilan and Mirit Regev. Maya had already bought her ticket for an extended trip to South America in December.
But early the next morning, Ilan Regev’s phone rang. It was a frantic Maya. “Dad, they shot me, they shot me!” she screamed in a recording the family has released. “He is killing us, Dad, he is killing us.”
Her father begged her to send her location, to find a place to hide. “I’m coming,” he said.
Ilan Regev jumped in his car from his home in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv, and sped south to the festival site, where he was barred from entering. Soon, the Regev family discovered a Hamas video that showed Itay in captivity in Gaza.
Maya was not pictured, but the army has told the family both were hostages in Gaza. Officials gave no further information.
“I want to know that my kids are alive,” said Ilan Regev. Added their mother: “We don’t know if they are eating. We don’t know if they are drinking. If they are hurt.”
His mother describes Hersh Goldberg-Polin as like a lot of other young people.
The 23-year-old from Jerusalem loves music, wants to see the world and, now that he’s finished his military service, has plans to go to university, his family said. But first he has to come home.
Goldberg-Polin was last seen on Oct. 7, when Hamas terrorists loaded him into the back of a pickup with other hostages abducted from the Tribe of Nova music festival.
Despite those harrowing accounts, his mother, Rachel Goldberg, holds out hope she will see him again.
“He’s a survivor,” Goldberg said of her son, whose grin beams out from behind a sparse, youthful beard in family photos. “He’s not like this big, bulky guy. But I think that survival has a lot to do with where you are mentally.”
Born in Berkeley, California, Goldberg-Polin moved to Israel with his family when he was 7 years old.
As a child, he wanted to learn about the world, poring over maps and atlases to learn the names of capital cities and mountains. Later he became a fan of psychedelic trance music and once took a nine-week trek through six European countries so he could attend a series of raves.
Not surprising, then, that he and some friends headed to the festival, billed as a place “where the essence of unity and love combines forces with the best music.”
Witnesses said Goldberg-Polin lost part of an arm when attackers tossed grenades into a temporary shelter where he and others had taken refuge, but he tied a tourniquet around it and walked out before being bundled into the truck.
Family and friends have organized the “Bring Hersh Home” campaign on social media, hoping he will still be able to take a planned backpack trip through southern Asia.
But first his mother hopes someone helps her son.
“It will require like the biggest heroism and strength and courage, but I want someone to help out and I want someone to help all of those hostages.”
Ada Sagi was getting ready to travel to London to celebrate her 75th birthday with family when Hamas terrorists attacked her kibbutz and took her hostage.
The trip was supposed to be a joyous occasion after a year of trauma. Her husband died of cancer last year, she had struggled with allergies and was recovering from hip replacement surgery. But the grandmother of six was getting through it, even though it was hard.
“They had a very, very, very strong bond of 54 years,” her son Noam, a psychotherapist in London, said. “And my mum, this is her main thing now, really, just getting her life back after dealing with the loss of my dad.”
Ada Sagi was born in Tel Aviv in 1948, the daughter of Holocaust survivors from Poland. She moved to a kibbutz at the age of 18 because she was attracted by the ideals of equality and humanity on which the communal settlements were built.
A mother of three, Ada decided to learn Arabic so she could make friends with her neighbors and build a better future for her children. She later taught the language to other Israelis as a way to improve communication with Palestinians who live near Kibbutz Nir Oz.
That was, for many years, her mission, Noam said.
While he hopes his mother’s language skills help her negotiate with the hostage-takers, he is calling on the international community for assistance.
“The only hope I have now is … for humanity to do something and for me to see my mother again and for my son to see his grandmother again,” he said. “I think we need humanity to actually flex its muscle here, and”—by telling her story—“that is all I’m trying to do.”
David Moshe was born in Iraq. Decades later in Israel, his wife, Adina, would cook his favorite Iraqi food, including a traditional dish with dough, meat and rice.
But what really delighted the family, their granddaughter Anat recalls, was Adina’s maqluba—a Middle Eastern meal served in a pot that is flipped upside-down at the table, releasing the steaming goodness inside. Pleasing her husband of more than a half-century, Anat Moshe said, was her grandmother’s real culinary priority.
“They were so in love, you don’t know how in love they were,” the 25-year-old said. “Our Shabbat table was always so full.”
It’s wracked with heartbreak now.
On Oct. 7, Hamas terrorists shot and killed David Moshe, 75, as he and Adina huddled in their bomb shelter in Nir Oz kibbutz. Terrorists burned the couple’s house. The next time Anat Moshe saw her grandmother was in a video, in which the 72-year-old, in a red top, was sandwiched between two insurgents on a motorbike, driving away.
Her grandmother hasn’t been heard from since, Anat Moshe said. She’d had heart surgery last year, and is without her medication.
Still, Anat Moshe brightened when she recalled her family life in Nir Oz. The community was the birthplace and landscape of Adina and David’s romance and family. The two met at the pool, Anat said. Adina worked as a minder of small children, so generations of residents knew her.
But all along, low-level anxiety hummed about the community’s proximity to Gaza.
“There was always like some concern about it, like rumors,” Anat Moshe recalled. “She always told us that when the terrorists come to her house, she will make her coffee and put out some cookies and put out great food.”
Moran Stela Yanai
Delicate pearls peek out from silver and stainless steel chains—bits of brightness and optimism among Moran Stela Yanai’s jewelry designs that reflected cultures around the world.
Creating art to wear has been Yanai’s passion, but not the only one, her brother-in-law Dan Mor said. Yanai, a 40-year-old Israeli who disappeared after the desert music festival, also fiercely protected people and animals.
“Moran is the softest soul,” recalled Dan Mor, whose wife, Lea, is Moran’s sister. “She could almost be annoying with how much she was so kind and sensitive to animals. You couldn’t eat meat because she was so sensitive to animals being harmed—not just pets but farm animals and wild animals.”
The family was horrified to recognize her in a video on social media that surfaced after the attack. In it, Yanai is sitting on the ground, looking terrified, amid derogatory Arabic text about Jews.
Days earlier, Yanai had posted a video on Instagram on her way to the festival, where she hoped to sell her designs. She posted a second video, recorded by a friend, of her art displayed on a table at the festival.
“Moran, kind-hearted, never caused pain to anyone, not even a fly,” read the accompanying text. Her work, Mor said, is inspired by cultures around the world, including Chinese and Arab.
Mor, an actor, said his family in Tel Aviv feels Moran’s absence deeply and tries to fill the wait by telling the world about her.
“My beautiful dear sister-in-law, auntie to my kids,” he said. “She had a big heart, she has a big heart, and I’m hoping that heart is still pumping.”