Relatives of hostages taken in the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in southern Israel spoke to a packed room in the Freeman Center Wednesday evening, sharing their stories and calling on audience members to spread awareness of the hostages remaining in Gaza.
The event was hosted by Jewish Life at Duke and featured Moshe Lavi and Yair Finkelstein, members of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum’s delegation to North Carolina who recently met with senior state officials, including Gov. Roy Cooper. Lavi is the brother-in-law of hostage Omri Miran, 46, while Finkelstein is the son of hostage Gadi Moshe Mozes, 79.
An estimated 240 hostages were kidnapped in October 2023. Since then, 110 hostages have been freed, most of whom were released during a temporary cease-fire in Gaza in late November. At least 33 of the hostages have reportedly died, and as of Wednesday evening, there are an estimated 107 living hostages remaining in Gaza.
Anna Shteingart, deputy consul general of Israel to the Southeast, opened the event by pointing to the “loud voices” denying the kidnapping of innocent civilians, referencing instances of people tearing down posters of hostages.
“I know that campuses all over the country and outside the country became an additional battlefield fighting against antisemitism and misrepresentation,” she said. “That's why it's so important to hear the stories firsthand and for you to use your voice to help us to win this war and to bring our hostages home now.”
Lavi spoke about how he got to know his brother-in-law Miran during the COVID-19 pandemic. He described Miran as a “very spiritual man,” who was connected to both Judaism and various East and South Asian religions and cultures.
“He was known for his smile. When people didn’t know his name, they could recognize his smile,” Lavi said.
Finkelstein described his father as a “world expert in potatoes” who spent the last 30 years traveling to developing countries to lecture on how to improve agricultural practices.
According to Finkelstein, Mozes used to drive his students living in Gaza across the border for humanitarian aid or to get treatment at a hospital, and then drive them back to Gaza because he believed it was “the right human thing to do.”
“He wanted to live in peace with our neighbors across the border,” Finkelstein said.
Lavi and Finkelstein then shared how they learned that their relatives were taken by Hamas.
Finkelstein recounted how he woke up to the sound of sirens on the morning of Oct. 7 and began calling and texting his parents, who he soon lost contact with. He later learned that his father left a safe room he was hiding in to give himself up and protect other family members he was with.
Hamas militants also kidnapped Finkelstein’s mother, who lives separately from his father and was in her own safe room when she was taken. His mother spent 49 days in captivity before she was released.
Lavi, who was in New York City at the time of the attack, learned of the news while out at a nightclub. He described how initial news reports of rocket attacks didn’t alarm him as such attacks had been “normalized” for him growing up.
“It was probably the most surreal and horrific night in my life, and I wasn’t even there,” he said. “I can only imagine what it was for those who were there surviving and witnessing their communities burn literally and figuratively.”
Lavi recounted a story of how Hamas attackers had held a teenage boy at gunpoint after killing his mother and her partner, and instructed him to go to his neighbors’ homes and ask them to open their doors. The men of the kibbutz, including Miran, were then gathered together and told to follow the militants into Gaza following threats to kill their families.
After the stories of the two hostages were shared, Lavi called on audience members to support the release of the hostages, including contacting elected officials and spreading awareness.
“You can emphasize that this is a humanitarian issue, this is a multifaith issue, this is a multinational issue,” he said. “There are hostages of various nationalities and various religions held captive by Hamas terrorists.”
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Jazper Lu is a Trinity junior and managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.