Home Top Stories ‘It’s tearing me apart’: A week on, hope wears thin for families of those taken hostage by Hamas

‘It’s tearing me apart’: A week on, hope wears thin for families of those taken hostage by Hamas

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‘It’s tearing me apart’: A week on, hope wears thin for families of those taken hostage by Hamas

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TEL AVIV — A Bar Mitzvah is meant to be a time of ceremony and celebration marking a child’s coming of age, but for one family on Saturday, the young man at the center of the ritual may have already been forced to grow up far too fast after his older brother was one of dozens of people taken hostage by Hamas one week ago.

“Itay was very missed,” Orly Chen, the aunt of Itay Chen, a 19-year-old U.S.-Israeli dual citizen who was working for the Israeli military when he was believed to have been taken hostage by Hamas during its deadly ambush on Oct. 7.

Itay Chen had been looking forward his little brother’s Bar Mitzvah and had worked to prepare for it “for so long,” his aunt said. “You know, I was looking at the door saying maybe he will be walking in every second and saying ‘here I am’.”

‘It’s already a week … where is he?’

The Bar Mitzvah came as Israel marked one week since Hamas militants swept through the country’s south, killing hundreds of people and taking dozens more hostage in an attack that shook the nation and shocked the world, with families like Orly Chen’s still desperate for answers.

“The days are going by and you know, it’s already a week. The question is again, where is he?” Orly Chen, 56, said.

Ruby Chen, Itay Chen's father, with his eldest and youngest sons. Itay, the middle son, was missing at his younger brother's Bar Mitzvah on Saturday.
Ruby Chen, Itay Chen’s father, with his eldest and youngest sons. Itay, the middle son, was missing at his younger brother’s Bar Mitzvah on Saturday.Courtesy Orly Chen

Itay Chen is one of more than 100 people who were taken hostage by Hamas in last Saturday’s attack, with some families receiving the unimaginable news since then that their loved ones have died, with at least 1,300 people in Israel killed in the current conflict, while more than 1,900 people have been killed in Gaza.

The military arm of Hamas, the Al-Qassam Brigades, said some hostages had died as a result of Israeli airstrikes on places where they were being held. It further said in a post on Telegram that it had killed nine hostages, including four foreigners, in retaliation for the continued bombing of Gaza. NBC News was not immediately able to independently verify either claim.

‘We’re still waiting for an answer’

Orly Chen’s family was one of the U.S.-Israeli families whom President Joe Biden met with for more than an hour in a Zoom call on Friday.

Orly Chen said the call brought her and her loved ones some relief, saying the president “gave hope.”

“He was very supportive,” she said, adding that Biden seemed to want to “hear what’s going on with the families,” with the call stretching longer than she had initially expected.

Orly Chen, 56, stands in a stairwell, taking shelter as sirens warning of a possible air attack sound in Tel Aviv on Tuesday following a news conference her family gave about her nephew, Itay Chen.
Orly Chen, 56, stands in a stairwell, taking shelter as sirens warning of a possible air attack sound in Tel Aviv on Tuesday following a news conference her family gave about her nephew, Itay Chen.Chantal Da Silva

Orly Chen said her family still has yet to hear from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however.

She said she was disappointed by the lack of communication, saying: “President Biden has a few other things to take care of, but he had the time to sit for an hour and a half with the families … The president of Israel doesn’t even have five minutes.”

“We’re still waiting for Itay to come home,” she said. “We’re still waiting for an answer. Where is he?”

‘I try to stay optimistic’

Dozens of families are similarly waiting to learn whether they will ever be reunited with their missing loved ones again.

“Still no news from Celine,” said Ido Nagar, 33, whose wife, Celine Ben David Nagar, 32, was taken hostage last Saturday morning as she drove into southern Israel toward the festival where dozens of revelers were killed.

Ben David Nagar was traveling in a car with two friends when she told her husband that she was turning back after hearing sirens. The last thing he heard from her was that she was afraid turning back had been a “mistake” and that armed men were on the road.

Celine Ben David Nagar, 32, is still missing.
Celine Ben David Nagar, 32, is still missing. Courtesy Ido Nagar

Nagar was the one to find his wife’s car with bullet holes visible on the driver’s side of the vehicle, its windows smashed and blood outside the car.

Just on Friday, Nagar said he was at a funeral to bury one of the two friends she had been traveling with after they were found dead. “The other friend is still missing,” he said. “I try to stay optimistic … that maybe she’s alive,” Nagar said of his wife, with whom he recently welcomed a baby, Ellie.

“If I start thinking about it all, what can happen to her there, the negative that can happen, it’s tearing me apart,” he said. “I don’t know what to tell you. I just hope that she comes back.”

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