‘We’ve run out of tears’, says kidnapped couple’s family
It has been almost four excruciating weeks since South African born grandmother and nursery school teacher Aviva Siegel and her American-born husband, Keith, were kidnapped by Hamas terrorists and taken hostage into Gaza.
The loving couple were abducted from their home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza near the Gaza border following the most heinous massacre in Israel’s history on 7 October.
In their sixties, the couple have four adult children and five grandchildren whose lives have been brought to a virtual standstill as they anxiously await news of their status. Each day is a relentless struggle to divert their minds from imagining the worst-case scenario, clinging to every thread of hope, said family members this week.
“We’re in the dark. We don’t even know if they are alive,” said Yuval Bar, who is engaged to the couple’s daughter. The Siegels were last seen by a neighbour as they and other neighbours were being kidnapped by terrorists.
“If you look on a map, they are close by. It’s a terrible feeling to know that we cannot get in our car and go fetch them. They are so close yet so far,” he told the SA Jewish Report.
“We try to remain positive and hopeful, that’s all we can do, and we’re doing everything in our power to bring them back. However, with every passing day, it becomes harder to remain hopeful, it becomes more dangerous, and their safety is compromised,” he said.
Aviva, 62, was born Adrienne Kuritzky. She grew up with her twin sister, Fiona Wax, and their younger sister, Sandy Feldman, in Randfontein on the West Rand. Their parents made aliya in 1970 choosing a simple, communal life on Kibbutz Tzora, where they forged ties with other recently emigrated South African families as well as Israelis and settled down. They led a simple, peaceful farming existence.
It was during those early years when Aviva met Sheli Siegel, also from Johannesburg. The two became close friends and married the Siegel brothers, Lee and Keith, who come from Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
“I know in my heart that Aviva is looking after those little children who have been taken hostage in Gaza,” said Sheli Siegel, 64, who grew up in Northcliff.
“She will do this however difficult the circumstances. She has the biggest heart, and looking after children has been her life’s work and passion for 40 years.”
She described the situation as an “out-of-body experience”.
“It’s a horrible waiting game,” she said.
Aviva’s twin sister, Fiona, told the SA Jewish Report that if she could send a message to her sister, she would say, “Stay strong, look after yourself, we love you, and soon you will be united with your family.”
“My sister is the warmest, most loving, kind person. She found life in Kibbutz Kfar Aza had become very stressful because of the constant threats and missiles from Gaza. It troubled her,” she said.
The Siegels raised their four children on the kibbutz, but most had left choosing safer neighbourhoods up north. According to the family, one of the children witnessed a neighbour across from them being killed by a rocket several years ago, which had been traumatic.
The Siegels were described this week as “salt of the earth, modest people” who relish the simple pleasures in life including visits to the ocean, spending time with family, and surrounding themselves in nature, often taking family camping trips around the country.
“Aviva has been a nursery school teacher for 40 years. She has helped educate hundreds of children, who love and adore her. We’ve had so many calls from the families of past pupils and children all waiting for her return,” said Bar.
“Aviva and Keith do anything for their family. They drive cross country from the south to the north just to spend an hour with them. They encourage us to go on camping trips to be together as a family in nature. They live for their family.”
He said the couple had visited South Africa together over the years and loved the Kruger National Park, the Garden Route, and Cape Town.
Kfar Aza was their special place, a sanctuary they’d helped establish over many years.
However, the peaceful haven had been plagued in recent years by frequent threat of attack from Hamas terrorists in Gaza.
“Even before the Holocaust of 7 October, they experienced regular rocket and missile attacks. One of their neighbours who lived across the street from them was killed by a missile attack. Living in that area comes with a price. However, nothing prepared them for this onslaught,” said Bar.
Recalling the 7 October massacre, Bar said the family last heard from Aviva and Keith at about 10:30.
“We all knew they were locked in their safe room from early that morning. They told us not to call, rather to WhatsApp as they had been warned to keep quiet. They also said their cellphone was low on battery,” he said.
“Aviva sent us messages on the family group every 15 minutes saying they were fine. When things went quiet, we thought that the phone battery had died.”
They later learnt that they had in fact been taken hostage. They haven’t heard from them since.
Bar said the family stayed together during this time of distress. “Only together are we able to get through this,” he said.
The grandchildren, aged between four and nine, are heartbroken.
“When we heard they had been taken, the family sat around in a circle and held hands. We tried to explain to the children what happened, that bad people had taken their beloved grandparents out of their home. It’s every child’s worst nightmare to be stolen by a bad person.
“They are very sensitive and pick up on our anguish, but we’re trying not to increase their fear. They make colourful drawings which we put on the fridge, we send text messages to their grandparents, and tell them we’re waiting for them to come home.
“Every day is hard. We’re together and try keep ourselves busy to stop sinking into terrible thoughts, which are difficult to get away from. I may sound emotionless, but it’s because we’ve run out of tears. They are the heart of the family. There is a huge, gaping hole, and we cannot continue without them.”
At the time of going to print there were 240 hostages.