Israeli forces detained the head of Al-Shifa Hospital as he was evacuating to the south.

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By Ketrin Agustine

Israeli forces detained the head of Al-Shifa Hospital as he was evacuating to the south.

Tal Idan, her face tear-stained and exhausted but her voice unwavering, was clinging to a singular goal last week. “We are going to have a good celebration,” she said at the end of a five-day trip through Washington and New York. “I’m not giving up that we will be able to do that next Friday.”

Friday is the fourth birthday of Ms. Idan’s niece Avigail Idan, who is among the roughly 240 Israelis who were kidnapped by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7.

Before the attack, Ms. Idan was focused on her three children and the solar-panel cleaning company that she runs with her husband in northern Israel. But on that day, her husband’s brother Roy Idan, 43, and his wife, Smadar Idan, 38, were fatally shot at the Kfar Azza kibbutz. Ms. Idan’s life’s mission now is to raise Avigail’s siblings — Michael, 9, and Amelia, 6, both of whom survived the violence — and to help bring their sister home.

“I have a 3-year-old niece who has no parents anymore,” she said. “I’m her voice now.”

As Israelis and Palestinians wait anxiously for the implementation of a temporary cease-fire deal — in which Israel would swap 150 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the return of 50 kidnapped Israelis — Avigail’s family feels hope that she could be among the hostages freed. White House officials said on Tuesday that they expect the agreement to include the release of three Americans: two women and a toddler. Avigail, whose name has also been spelled “Abigail” in the U.S. media, is a dual Israeli and U.S. citizen.

On her trip to the United States last week, Ms. Idan met with journalists in New York and lawmakers in Washington, including Senator John Fetterman of Pennsylvania and Representative Ro Khanna of California. “I wanted them to know: How does it feel to wake up one morning and to realize you’re in hell,” she said.

A day after the hostage deal was announced, Ms. Idan was at home with her family, feeling anxious. “I find myself barely breathing through the last 24 hours,” she said. “Every hour that goes by feels like forever.”

On the morning of Oct. 7, as terrorists swarmed the kibbutz, Smadar Idan was shot in front of her children, Ms. Idan said she was told by Michael and Amelia. Roy Idan was outside the house, holding Avigail in his arms. As Michael and Amelia ran to their father, they watched him get shot and killed while holding their sister. They assumed she was dead too and raced back into their home.

Covered in her father’s blood, Avigail ran toward a neighbor, her aunt said. The man brought Avigail into his home to hide with his wife and children and then left the house to find a gun. “Ten minutes later, when he got back, all were gone,” Ms. Idan said.

After 14 hours of hiding in a closet, with their mother’s body on the other side of a fabric partition, Michael and Amelia were rescued by an Israeli soldier and brought to Ms. Idan’s husband, Amit, she said.

“They are not OK,” Ms. Idan said of Michael and Amelia. “They hear the wind blow, and they are shaking.”

But, she added, “they are survivors and heroes,” as is their sister.

“To be able to escape herself out of her father’s hands and to run away for life and to manage to rescue herself with nobody else out there — that’s amazing,” said Ms. Idan said of Avigail. “She’s a hero. But there is a long way for us. First of all, she needs to be back home. She needs to be with her brother and sister. That’s the only thing that’s left for her.”

A correction was made on 

Nov. 23, 2023

An earlier version of this article misidentified Ro Khanna’s political office. He is a U.S. representative, not a senator.

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