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Day 52: Iron Swords War

By Leah Garber

The tired hours that won’t let time pass
The heavy legs that find no reason to walk
The days and nights, like the faces in the pictures
Everything stops when you are not here.

And I wake up from a dream, feeling you are close
And then I call you out of the night

Come back, come back today
I so want you to return
I wish you would come unannounced today
I am a Light Tower
From afar you will appear again
I wish you would come unannounced today

This beautiful new song was written by Israeli musician Idan Raichel and performed by Roni Dalumi. When releasing the song, Raichel said: “We are a bereaved country, which will rise and flourish, out of the strength of longing, out of the hope that they [the 240 abductees] will return, out of the pain and respect for those who will no longer return and will live in our hearts forever.”

Even in the midst of deep grief and unrelenting sorrow, there are moments of true joy. Our human heart is capable of containing endless pain alongside moments of sincere happiness.

It’s been four days since we could once again breathe a bit deeper, allowing more air to fill us with some comfort.

To date, 76 abductees have been released from Hamas’s captivity, including six foreign workers and 11 Israelis—two moms and nine children—who were just released tonight and are on their way back home. But neither 4-year-old Jordan nor his 10-month-old brother, Kfir, the two red-headed brothers who captured our hearts, or their parents are among them. In what world is a 10-month-old baby—and other young children still in Gaza—held captive for 52 days?!

The cease-fire is expected to continue for at least two days with 20 more abductees who will be released. Days of hope.

Among the returnees were many whom I had written about here, sharing their heartbreaking stories. One of them, Abigail Idan, involuntarily, became a symbol.

Abigail celebrated her fourth birthday last Friday.

It was a sad birthday, one with no chocolate cake decorated with candles, no new dress to swing, no gifts wrapped in colorful ribbons.

Abigail’s sad birthday was her first as an orphan, without her parents by her side to envelope her with love. She marked her birthday while hidden in captivity under the cruel enemy that uprooted and destroyed her childhood.

On the morning of October 7, after her mother, Smadar, was murdered, Abigail’s father, Roy, held her in his arms, trying to escape, but the terrorists’ cruelty was faster, and they shot him as he carried his child. It is not clear how she survived, but minutes later, while covered in her father’s blood, crying, and speechless, she arrived at a neighbor’s house. The neighbors took her into their house, and hours later, they were all kidnapped to Gaza.

Abigail’s two siblings managed to hide in a closet while their parents were slaughtered. The two children must have heard the gunshots and their mom and dad’s last cry. They must have smelled death, the smell of mourning and bereavement.

And so, hours later, when Israeli rescuers finally arrived, after pleas and promises that they were the good guys who had come to rescue them, the two children agreed to come out of their hiding place and thus were saved.

Abigail, who also holds dual Israeli and American citizenship, made her way into the hearts of all of us, including President Biden.

Yesterday, upon her release, the president stated with a warm smile that he would have loved to be there to welcome her. We would all have liked to welcome home little Abigail, an orphan who doesn’t even know that her Mom and Dad are now angels watching over her from above.

Following the massacre, Israeli soldiers found her pacifier, which probably fell while her father tried to escape seconds before his murder. Among the other objects found was Brian Biggs’s book, “My Hero,” which was translated into Hebrew as “Abigail the Mighty” and tells the story of Abigail, an ordinary little kid who may be a superhero.

There is nothing ordinary about little Abigail Idan, who became the symbol of all the war -orphaned, kidnapped, and displaced children. The world wrapped her in love and looks into her eyes and asks for forgiveness. We ask for forgiveness for allowing absolute evil to reach children, robbing them of their innocence, murdering their parents, and trampling on their happiness. Forgive us, sweet Abigail, for having to celebrate your birthday in captivity. May you celebrate your next birthday surrounded by your loving family, wrapped in warmth and care, and with your angelic parents’ tears sprinkled as magic fairy powder that protects you from painful memories.

Abigail stayed in captivity with her good neighbors, Hagar Brodach and her three children, Ofri, Yuval, and Uriah. Until Hagar’s return yesterday, after 51 days in captivity, this kind neighbor thought her own husband had been murdered. In all the days of her captivity, she never imagined that his loving hug would be waiting for her outside, where the sun shines.

But for others, the worst news awaited them. Sisters Dafna, 15, and Ella, 8, were with their father, stepmother, and half-brother on Kibbutz Nahal Oz when the massacre began. The two sisters were dragged to Gaza. Only with their mother’s long embrace upon their release did they learn the heartbreaking news that their father, his wife, and their brother did not survive.

After 51 days underground, with only two hours of light a day, no medicine, no showers, and a diet of rice and hummus, the returnees now must deal with the reality that their homes were burned, their kibbutzim destroyed, their friends and family members violently killed. The Israel they knew until that day has changed forever.

As in the films staged by the Nazis, the Hamas terrorists also dressed the captives in clean clothes for their release, ordering them to clean up and comb their hair and wave and smile as they said goodbye to the murderers who robbed them of their freedom. Worst of all, in the twisted world in which we live, there are those who will see in this monstrous staging by Hamas, only the lies they seek to spread—pushing away the painful truth that emerges from the eyes of the abductees.

Eighty-four-year-old Elma Avraham, who was released from Hamas captivity last night, was flown straight from Gaza to a hospital in Israel and was admitted to the intensive care unit in serious, life-threatening condition. For 52 days in captivity, Elma did not receive the life-saving medication she needs to live.

And so, while all of us—Israelis, North Americans, Jews and others around the world—are glued to screens and pictures of the first hugs of newly freed hostages and the smiles that hide great suffering, one of our eyes smiles, shedding tears of happiness, the other eye can’t stop crying.

These children and their moms didn’t return from a long pleasure trip. They are back from over 50 days of hell! They were kidnapped from their homes, tortured, cut off from their families, and hidden in underground tunnels.

The story of their return is a happy one, surely. But this is the saddest comeback story ever. The kind of story we didn’t think we’d ever tell and one that we didn’t ever imagine possible. These are stories that will stay with us for years to come and have scarred us forever.

The sky is cloudy, and the rain doesn’t stop. Tomorrow, though, the sun will come out again to warm those who have returned from captivity. Although they have returned to a broken country in pain, a traumatized country, it is the best one in the world. It is a country in which they are all our sons and daughters, our parents, our loved ones. This country is our only home and nothing, no one, not even the evil of Hamas, will take it away, or break our unity or our spirit.

Together, united, we will overcome.

Leah Garber is a senior vice president of JCC Association of North America and director of its Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem.

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