A 78-YEAR-old grandmother, one of the hostages abducted to Gaza on October 7, refused to panic, instead making it her goal to help other hostages in their plight, her Melbourne cousin has said.
Margalit Moses, 78, first cousin of Benny Monheit, who is president of B’nai B’rith Australia and New Zealand, gave an upbeat wave to TV cameras as she emerged from seven weeks of captivity in Gaza on Saturday (Australian time).
Joy and elation swept the Monheit household after news that Margalit was among the first group of hostages to be released by Hamas.
Monheit said the family were “so ecstatic”.
“I think they were worried that she wouldn’t come out alive,” he told The AJN.
News that Margalit, from Kibbutz Nir Oz, was among the freed hostages came in a text from a family member in Australia, and then family in Israel confirmed it.
“We didn’t know how she was looking and whether she’d been cared for. But at least she was coming out,” Monheit said.
“She was able to walk unaided. So physically she was in good shape. We were over the moon. I don’t know what the decision-making process was that she should be in that first group but it was a miracle really.”
However, with some 240 hostages believed to have been captured on October 7, Monheit and his family were mindful of the plight of other hostages who have not been released.
“There is always that nagging feeling – what about all the other hostages? They need to come out as well,” said Monheit.
As of Monday, Australian family members had not yet managed to get in touch with Margalit, as she was still in hospital for medical checks.
Margalit made aliyah before World War II and moved to Nir Oz in the 1950s, preferring its pioneering lifestyle to city life.
Monheit has been told his plucky cousin helped boost the morale of other hostages while they were in captivity. “She maintained a positive attitude and helped others, which was probably a good strategy for her to not get depressed and feel hopeless.
“She looked really smiling and confident in the way she was moving and she was hugged by Israeli soldiers. We don’t know psychologically if any damage was done, but there’s an extensive recovery process for people in this situation.
“She has always been a resilient person but this sort of experience would be a challenge for anyone, no matter how strong they are.”
Also released were six members of Melissa McCurdie’s family who had been kidnapped from their homes on Kibbutz Be’eri.
Shoshan Haran, 67, was freed along with her daughter Adi Shoham, 38, and her children, Naveh, 8, and Yahel, 3. Shoshan’s husband Avshalom was killed in the Hamas attack, while Adi’s husband Tal remains in captivity.
Shoshan’s sister-in-law Sharon Avigdori, 52, was released with her daughter Noam, 12, but Shoshan’s sister Lilach Kipnis, 60, was killed alongside her husband Eviatar Kipnis, 65.
McCurdie, who lives in Sydney, told The AJN she is incredibly relieved and grateful her relatives are home safely.
“They were released from hospital on Tuesday and they are all together,” McCurdie said.
“We’re very sad that the seventh one of our family group, Tal, wasn’t also released, but equally sad that the rest of the hostages aren’t released and we don’t know where all of them are.”
McCurdie said it is a “bittersweet” homecoming for Shoshan, who has returned to the news that her husband, sister and brother-in-law were all murdered. Her home was also torched.
“It’s a very complex time,” McCurdie said.
Shoshan, the founder of a not-for-profit organisation to help feed those in poverty, met with Israeli President Isaac Herzog soon after her release to urge the government to do everything possible to free the remaining hostages.
Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Alex Ryvchin said, “We feel relief and gratitude that some of the most vulnerable hostages including babies and the elderly are now free, away from the hell of Hamas captivity. But it is difficult to feel joy knowing that some of the hostages are orphaned or the last surviving members of their families. It is difficult to feel joy knowing that on October 7 so many children were tortured, raped and burned alive. And that [many]hostages remain in Hamas hands.”
Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler, who is currently in Israel and met with President Herzog, said he is relieved to see some hostages return, but he wants every hostage released “without conditions”.
“Taking hostages is a war crime for which Hamas must be held accountable,” Leibler said.
“Given how many years Hamas has held previous Israeli captives, that these hostages will be released within two months shows that the Israeli military operation in Gaza is achieving its objectives.”
Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council executive director Colin Rubenstein said he has “mixed feelings” about the release of hostages.
“On one hand, I was elated to see the release of the young children, mums and the elderly, but on the other, I felt sadness when I thought of the other hostages who are still being held,” he said.
“Yes, we welcome their release, but we cannot celebrate until all the hostages are freed … and Hamas has been removed from Gaza.”