Sixty days after they last spoke to or saw their loves ones, several family members of those taken hostage by Hamas on Oct. 7 shared their pain and their hope at Kol Shalom in Rockville.
Through a combination of tears, fortitude and anger, the relatives urged everyone in attendance on Dec. 5 to do what they could to help bring home all 138 remaining Israelis who were still being held captive by the terrorist group Hamas. Email members of Congress and the White House. Seek assistance from any and all possible contacts, they urged.
And most important, keep the names and stories of their loved ones alive. They are more than hostages – they are family – said the speakers, who had spent that day at the Capitol, meeting with senators and representatives.
Both the visit to Congress and the program at Kol Shalom were sponsored by the D.C. Chapter of the Tel Aviv headquarters of the relatives of the hostages.
Jonathan Dekel-Chen’s 35-year-old son, Sagui, was taken from Kibbutz Nir Oz. The father of two young girls whose wife is due any minute now with their third child “was one of the first on our kibbutz to spot the terrorists.”
About 200 Hamas members, followed by hundreds more looters, “came to kill and to kidnap and to destroy.” Soon, about one-quarter of the community was either taken hostage or killed. Most of the buildings were destroyed.
Surviving community members are living temporarily in Eilat, Dekel-Chen said.
“Sagui is the son that anyone would want to have,” said his father.
His stepmother, Gillian Kaye, recalled how Sagui obtained old Israeli Egged buses, repurposed them and drove fresh produce to nearby areas without supermarkets or inexpensive markets.
“He was in love with old buses,” she said. “He was a builder, an inventor, a dreamer.”
Before marriage, he lived in a bus he had converted. “He is a person who has so much life, so much to offer the world.”
She urged everyone to tell his story. “We need to make every hostage alive and real. My ask of you is to take our stories home.”
Dalia Cusnir pines for her husband’s two brothers, both of whom were kidnapped from their kibbutz. Her husband is too devastated and heartbroken to speak out, she said.
Iair and Eitan Horn “are the most amazing uncles to my children,” she said. Iair Horn builds wooden toys for her children. Eitan Horn takes them to plays.
All she knows is that “they are being held in the dark and horrible tunnels of Hamas.” The family has been told by some of the freed hostages that the two brothers are not wounded, but she has heard such terrible stories of beatings, sexual abuse and starvation that she doesn’t know what to think.
“We are stressed. We are optimists. We are pessimists altogether.”
Cusnir described herself as a member of the peace camp. But now she is questioning “all my previous values.”
Moshe Lavi spoke about his brother-in-law, Omri Miran. He’s a son, a husband, a father, an uncle and a brother.
Terrorists barged into Miran’s home on a kibbutz on the morning of Oct. 7, and for four hours abused him, his wife and two babies. “At one point, they had an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) pointed at them, pointed at a two-and-a-half-year-old and an eight-month-old,” Lavi said.
Eventually, they took Miran away as his wife yelled for him not to be a hero.
“And that was just the first day,” Lavi said. Since then, he has been “living in limbo, a continuous nightmare that never ends.”
Nine days ago, the family received confirmation that Miran was still alive. But that was a lifetime ago, he said, questioning whether that was still true.
Jacob Bohbot’s brother, Elkana, was working at a music festival to make extra money when the terrorists started shooting.
Bohbot has heard absolutely nothing about his brother’s fate, but he did see a two-second glimpse of him on a Hamas video “in a very dark room, shirtless. He was handcuffed. His hands were behind his back.”
Elkana Bohbot has a three-year-old son, who keeps asking for his father. “What can I tell him? What to tell him?” Jacob Bohbot wondered.
“Do whatever you can to bring them back as soon as possible. Seriously, every minute matters,” he said, adding, “We are Jewish. We have connections. We need to use these connections.”
Seven of Inbal Zach’s cousins were taken forcibly from Kibbutz Be’eri. Six – all female or young – have since returned. Tal Shoham is still in Gaza as far as she knows.
“We would like to ask you to keep them in your hearts and minds. We just need your prayers,” she said.
As the emotional pleas ended, Rabbi Fabián Werbin declared, “We want to bring them home now. We came to embrace you, hug you. If we can, to try to give you some hope. We are with you. We are family.”
Suzanne Pollak is a freelance writer.