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Rollercoaster ride of baby Avigail’s return from Gaza



The story of Avigail Idan, who was orphaned and kidnapped on 7 October while her siblings survived by hiding in a cupboard, has captured the hearts of everyone from President Joe Biden to Jewish communities the world over. But for South African Linda Friedland, who now lives in Australia, it’s personal.

Avigail, who is called “Gooli” by her family, is the niece of Friedland’s own niece, Ella Mor. The child was returned by Hamas in a deal with Israel on Sunday, 26 November, two days after she turned four. Avigail’s mother, Smadar, who was murdered on 7 October, is Mor’s sister-in-law. Mor’s husband, Nimi Mor, grew up on kibbutz Kfar Aza, and it was there that his sister and her family faced the unthinkable.

In many ways, the Idan family’s story captures the full horror of what Israelis endured on that day. It was at 06:00 Israeli time that Mor called her aunt, Friedland, screaming that her nephew, Micha’el, had called to say that his parents were dead, he didn’t know where his baby sister was, and he and his other sister, Amalia, were hiding in a cupboard in their safe room alongside their mother’s dead body. At that time, the massacre wasn’t even in the news. But from that moment on, the Idan children and their family around the world have faced an endless nightmare.

Smadar was murdered in the early hours of 7 October, when her husband, Roee, a well-known newspaper photographer for Ynet and Yehidot Aharonot, went out to capture what was happening with his camera. He took some of the first photographs of terrorists invading the kibbutz, entering via gliders. When he returned home, he picked up Avigail, and was shot on his doorstep, protecting her body with his. “Her name mean’s ‘father’s joy’,” says Friedland. Even in their last moments together, her father protected his pride and joy.

Avigail crawled out from under his body, covered in blood. Three years old at the time of her kidnapping and an American citizen, she ran to the neighbouring Brodutch family, and was abducted by Hamas with them. She was released with this family about 50 days later.

Friedland says that the family lost contact with Micha’el (8) and Amalia (6) on 7 October, and endured agonising hours of not knowing their fate. They were finally rescued after 14 hours. However, the family continued to go through the nightmare of knowing Avigail was a hostage, the double funeral of her parents, and being a refuge for her siblings, who were evacuated to the north and are in the care of grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

Friedland says that over the past 50 days, she has absorbed her niece’s pain from afar, offering support for the family as they held each other up. She has been on a rollercoaster ride along with Avigail’s family, as they got no news about her fate, to hoping she would be released on her birthday, to the hours of agonised waiting when the hostage release was delayed on 26 November.

“The phone call I got from Ella saying Avigail was safe was in such contrast to the phone call on 7 October when this all began,” says Friedland. Biden also called the family, and later told reporters, “Thank G-d she’s home. I wish I was there to hold her.”

Many people feel the same, but Friedland emphasises that Avigail is now safely in the arms of loving family who will raise her as their own. “She’s surrounded by love, including her own family and the kibbutz community,” she says.

She says Avigail is “frail”, and wasn’t fed well in captivity and hasn’t yet eaten well upon her return. As of Tuesday, 28 November, she hadn’t yet seen her siblings, but Friedland says she thinks “today’s the day” [28 November] that they will be reunited. She says that because the children were raised in such a communal environment, she thinks they will have the resilience to adapt to a community of love around them. And if one day their kibbutz is rebuilt, it’s likely they will return there.

But for now, everyone is taking it one step at a time. “It’s bittersweet because there’s such deep sorrow,” says Friedland. “But she’s healing. She will be warmly enveloped in the love of her community.”

In the seven weeks that have passed, Friedland has felt the emotions that other Jews have felt, from anger to despair to heartbreak to frustration, but possibly more intensely as she felt so close to the situation.

“As a writer, my wildest imagination could never have plunged the depths of this real-life horror,” wrote Friedland on Facebook. “As Jews, we value life above all else. Saving one life is tantamount to saving the entire world. Our prayers continue for beloved Avigail, who has deeply touched the hearts of so many. It will be a long journey of physical and emotional healing for this sweet, innocent child who has endured repeated and multiple losses and traumas. A three-year-old experiencing the death of her parents, being kidnapped, and kept in captivity alone for seven weeks is beyond even the most experienced trauma counsellor.

“We pray for Abigail and her siblings’ slow and steady healing from this unfathomable loss and trauma, and we pray too for her beloved grandparents, aunties, and uncles,” wrote Friedland. “Nothing can counter the enormous loss of their parents, their home, and their community. May they be enveloped in our love and always surrounded by warmth and healing. Precious Gooli, we’re all your family, and love you now and forever.”

If you want to help the Idan children, please donate here:

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