Five hostages of Hamas have been released, but the families of those still in captivity have questions, such as why progress has been so slow, why some and not others are being released and whether Israel's punishing bombardment of the Gaza Strip puts their loved ones in danger.
Israel on Oct. 30 announced its first hostage rescue — that of army Pvt. Ori Megidish. Hamas had earlier released Americans Judith Raanan, 59, and her daughter, Natalie, 18. Also let go were Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, along with Nurit Cooper, 79. Their husbands remain in captivity.
Hamas has said it would let the others go in return for thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, which has dismissed the offer.
Here are stories of some of the 239 hostages still being held.
Oded Lifshitz has spent his life fighting for Arab rights, but that didn’t prevent him from being abducted by Hamas militants who raided Israel on Oct. 7.
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 last week in London. “I am his daughter. 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, were among the founders of Kibbutz Nir Oz, from which they were abducted when Hamas militants raided the community and killed dozens of residents. Yocheved Lifshitz and another elderly woman, Nurit Cooper, were freed last week. Oded Lifshitz remains in captivity.
In a lifetime devoted to building better relations with the kibbutz’s Arab neighbors, 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.
Even after last month’s events, 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.”
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 on Oct. 7 from the Nir Oz kibbutz, where he carried out academic work while also contributing to the communal sowing and harvesting of potatoes, peanuts and other produce, his son Yuval Danzig told The Associated Press. 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 late last month in front of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, calling for the hostages to be released. Balloons in Israel’s blue and white colors were released into the air. Dancyg’s son, standing next to Israel’s ambassador, held a photo of his father.
His son described his father as an Israeli Zionist who remained attached to his Polish heritage, reciting Polish poetry to the point of annoying his family and dressing him 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% Israeli and 100% 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 living on falsified Ukrainian documents, but almost everyone else in the family was murdered.
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, helping the institution to create an educational program for educating Israeli guides.
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 knew vaguely about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. He knew of occasional rocket attacks from the air, of skirmishes and of tensions. But the capacity to earn a living was limited 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 in November 2022 to earn wages that would give him and his loved ones a brighter future.
But Gong’s plan went horribly awry on Oct. 7, when Hamas militants slipped into southern Israel and launched a series of coordinated attacks that ultimately claimed nearly 1,400 lives. Kibbutz Be’eri, where Gong worked, was one of the targets.
Wanwarin Yensuk of Chiang Mai, Thailand, works as the Thailand program manager for the U.S.-based Global Fund for Children. A fluent English speaker, she stepped forward to help Gong’s wife communicate with non-Thai speaking officials.
According to Wanwarin, the 26-year-old Gong was on Facebook Live talking to other Thai migrant workers in Israel 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.
Four of the Thai workers in Gong’s tight-knit group, including Gong, 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.
No one from either the Israeli or Thai government has contacted Gong’s family. A local official contacted his mother about collecting a DNA sample, presumably to help identify him if his body is found.
Clemence Mtenga and Joshua Mollel
Agriculture is Clemence Felix Mtenga’s love.
The shy, studious Tanzanian skipped his graduation ceremony from Sokoine University of Agriculture near home in the Kilimanjaro region for a year-long internship in Israel. It was his first time out of the country.
“He was so excited to learn and meet new people,” said his sister, Alphoncena Mtenga. “He wanted to start his own agri-business.”
Clemence, 22, and another Tanzanian agriculture intern, 21-year-old Joshua Loitu Mollel, were working on cow farms and living in separate kibbutzim not far from the Gaza Strip when they were taken in the Oct. 7 rampage by Hamas militants.
Clemence had been placed at the kibbutz Nir Oz. Joshua was living at Nahal Oz. They had arrived in Israel in mid-September. Loitu Sindoeni Mollel had last spoken to Joshua, 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 about three hours from Dar es Salaam. Like Clemence, he had never traveled outside of Tanzania. And he, too, had dreams connected to the land. “He wants to be a big farmer,” his father said.
Clemence is the youngest of four siblings in a tight-knit family, his sister said. Socially, he often kept to himself. He attended church every Sunday back home and sang in the choir.
“He has a beautiful voice,” she said. “He dreams of being a very successful person.”
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.
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 recalls.
Keeping in close touch online became especially important in recent years as she found it harder to walk beyond her home in Nir Oz. Amid that physical struggle, 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 Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre at Nir Oz ended and no one could find Adar, 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.
The footage was among the first evidence that Hamas fighters had not only killed Israelis — more than 1,400, the vast majority civilians — but had dragged dozens back to Gaza, regardless of their age, in the most complex hostage crisis the country has ever faced.
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 doesn’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.”
David Moshe was born in Iraq. Decades later in Israel, his wife, Adina, cooked 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 says, 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. Adina Moshe “would make him his favorite food, Iraqi food. Our Shabbat table was always so full.”
It will be wracked with heartbreak now.
On Oct. 7, Hamas fighters shot and killed David Moshe, 75, as he and Adina huddled in their bomb shelter in Nir Oz, a kibbutz about 2 miles from the Gaza border. The militants burned the couple’s house. The next time Anat Moshe saw her grandmother was in a video, in which Adina Moshe, 72, 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.”
Ada Sagi was getting ready to travel to London to celebrate her 75th birthday with family when Hamas militants 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, told The Associated Press. “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 the Palestinians who live near Kibbutz Nir Oz, on the southeastern border of the Gaza Strip.
That was, for many years, her mission, Noam said.
While he hopes his mother’s language skills will 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.”
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, in southern Israel, when he saw intruders on the grounds and sounded the alarm. After running home, he rigged the door of the 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 by the Hamas militants.
“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-Ch is a project manager for the U.K. branch of the Jewish National Fund, organizing the construction of schools and youth centers in the underdeveloped Negev Desert. That included collaboration 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 non-profits, 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,” he added.
A small forest of candles melted into the chocolate icing of a birthday cake in New York’s Long Island last week, but the guest of honor wasn’t there.
Omer Neutra, an Israeli soldier, turned 22 seven days after Hamas ′ attack on Israel on Oct. 7. Israeli officials told his parents that Hamas 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 U.S. 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.
The scene is a glimpse of the difficult limbo in which the Neutras find themselves as they and the families of more than 200 other Israeli hostages — and dozens more people who remain missing — await word on their loved ones’ fates, with hope.
“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. Also 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.”
“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 militants 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 just before they crossed into the nearby Gaza Strip, Yarden’s brother, Gili, said during a recent visit to New York in support of hostages taken in the monthlong war.
Alon, who ran faster as he carried Geffen, emerged with their daughter from a small forest when he thought it was safe. On foot, the two made it back to Be’eri, where Israeli soldiers had arrived. The last Alon saw of his wife, she was hiding behind a tree as he fled 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, Carmel Gat, is also missing and Yarden’s mother-in-law, Kinneret Gat, was murdered at the kibbutz, Gili said.
To 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," he said. "When we grew up, she was the tomboy.”
The two, with two other siblings, are dual citizens of Israel and Germany. Alon, a tour guide, and Yarden and Geffen had lived at Be’eri until recently.
“They left the kibbutz just in the beginning of September because Yarden was not willing to live under the missile attacks anymore. She couldn’t accept the breaches of security,” Gili said.
Alon and Yarden stashed their belongings in Tel Aviv with Yarden’s father, then took off on a three-week caravan trip through South Africa with Gili and other loved ones. Said Gili: “We came back just a day before it happened."
Or and Eynav Levy
For at least a week, 2-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 militants carried out the deadliest civilian massacre in Israeli history. 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?” said 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 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. The family hasn’t heard from him since.
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.”