“How has another day passed and still our daughter and all the other hostages remain captive in Gaza?” This was asked in a packed hall at Edgware United Shul, Monday evening relayed by the visiting speaker Rachel Bar Chen, by message from Israel.

Merav, mother of Agam Berger, a 19-year-old girl soldier, asks this question every day.  Agam, who had just arrived at her new army base the previous day, 6th October, had had some instinctive misgivings about the transfer, her mother messaged to the Edgware community as she recalled a phone call from her daughter, just before Agam was posted to the south.

The Berger family is one of five families that Rachel Bar Chen supports as a full-on volunteer with the Hostages and Missing Families Forum in Tel Aviv.  Rachel’s close support relationship with all these hostage families gave those attending the talk, an insight into what actually happened to the hostages on that fateful 7th October, to which Israelis refer to as the “Black Shabbat”.

Judi and Gadi Haggai, a peace-loving and caring couple from Kibbutz Nir oz who had been on their regular walk early morning in the beautiful fields of the kibbutz, sent a frantic message at 06.45 a.m. to their children to say they were face down in a field and there were hundreds of missiles overhead. Their children urged them to be in contact as soon as they arrived home, but no further communication was ever received. For 83 excruciating days, the four children of Judi and Gadi, told all present (in their message) how they had frantically tried to find their parents and clung on to the hope that Judi and Gadi were still alive. Finally, there was certain proof that the parents had been brutally murdered along with many others from their kibbutz, some burnt alive and others taken hostage.

Ophir Kaldron from his home that morning where he and his two sons had been asleep, texted his brother on that fateful day to say a terror attack was in progress and he and his teenage sons, Sahar and Erez would be in touch once they had escaped from their home. This they did by climbing through a window once a firebomb had been thrown at the house, whereupon they hid amongst the bushes in the garden. A further message to his ex-wife Hadas, described that whilst in hiding, a young Palestinian teenager who they guessed was only about 14 years of age, had gone to check out and try the exercise machine he had spotted behind the house.  The two boys later told how the Palestinian boy had caught sight of them in the bushes and alerted the other terrorists to attack Ophir.  By force, Ophir and his two sons were taken hostage, separately, while their home was burnt to the ground. Sahar and Erez were released after 55 days in captivity, while the family pray that Ophir is still alive in Gaza. The last news of him was on the 55th day from some freed hostages who had seen him in Gaza. Since then, his family say they live between despair and hope and wait for a miracle that tells them he is on his way home.

These were just some of the heart-rending stories that families of the hostages had asked Rachel Bar Chen to share with those attending the talk at Edgware United Shul, Monday evening.

With many questions from the audience, the highly charged event came to an end, well over time, with a fitting rendition of Ha-tikva.