On Oct. 7, a pineapple farmer opened his door to Avigail Idan, a three-year-old girl covered in blood. Quickly, he ushered the little girl, his wife and their own three children into the home’s safe room.
With his family and their young charge locked indoors, the farmer, Avichai Brodutch, who is training to be a nurse, left his home to determine what was happening outside and to try to help.
Unbeknownst to Avichai, Hamas terrorists had invaded Kibbutz Kfar Aza, extinguishing the peaceful existence of the farming community where he lived with his family. The kibbutz, located in southern Israel, is just four miles from Gaza.
The village massacre left approximately 52 to 60 people dead, including tiny Avigail Idan’s mother and father. Tragically, she was present when Hamas murdered her parents during the early morning rampage.
About 17 others from Kibbutz Kfar Aza were kidnapped by Hamas, transported to Gaza, held as hostages and then used as human bargaining chips.
By the time the terrorists withdrew, Kibbutz Kfar Aza, once home to about 765 residents, was left in ruins.
Avichai, 42, the patriarch of the Brodutch family, survived the brutal attack on his village, although he sustained an injury from shrapnel. Sadly, by the time he returned home, it became apparent that his wife, three children and Avigail, the bloodied little girl who had hidden with them, had fared far worse. They were among those kidnapped.
Many know Avigail Idan’s name. President Joe Biden has recently spoken of the young child, who is also called Abigail Edan, as she holds dual American and Israeli citizenship. But other hostages aren’t as well-known to the public.
One person who grew up in Marin, however, is very familiar with Avichai Brodutch and his family—wife, Hagar, 40; daughter, Ofri, 10; and sons Yuval, 8, and Oriya, 4. The Brodutches have kin from Marin.
The local family member, an Israeli-American, fears revealing their identity due to the chaos of the conflict. We will call them “Ariel.”
About a week after the Hamas attack, Ariel, who was living in Israel, relocated temporarily to the North Bay with their children. Ariel’s spouse remains in Israel.
“Everything shut down in the entire country,” Ariel said. “Schools stopped. We went into emergency mode, with only supermarkets and medical facilities open. We wanted to shelter our children.”
However, Ariel and their spouse can’t shield themselves from the news of the Israel-Hamas war. During the last seven weeks, the couple has quietly suffered, feeling constant terror over the fate of their kidnapped family members, stolen away from the kibbutz where they’d lived for years. Avichai, the pineapple farmer, is their cousin.
In October, after Hamas kidnapped his family, Avichai and his dog, Rodney, sat outside Israel’s Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv to draw attention to his family’s plight, according to Ariel. At first, Avichai sat alone in a plastic chair, dog at his side, but soon many others came to support him with signs and chants, telling the Israeli government to bring the hostages home.
Finally, on Sunday, Ariel learned that their four relatives were among the 17 hostages released earlier in the day. Avichai was reunited with the rest of his family, who were flown by helicopter to Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel. The hospital is equipped to deal with the immediate physical, mental and emotional needs of the former hostages.
Avigail, the orphaned little girl, was also brought to the same hospital. Her extended family is now by her side.
Physically, the Brodutch family members who were held hostage appear to be in good condition, Ariel said. But the emotional trauma that will haunt the kidnap victims remains unknown, and the scars may never disappear.
“One can only imagine what they are going through,” Ariel said. “But they are all now surrounded by loving family and communities who will rally to do everything possible to care for them. But who really knows what to do? There is no playbook for child hostages. Nothing prepares you for this.”
Some of the children’s life milestones passed while they were in captivity. Avigail turned four years old without her family to make her birthday wishes come true. She also missed her parents’ funerals.
The day after being kidnapped, Ofri had her 10th birthday. The Brodutch family had planned a special celebration lasting more than a day.
“They were supposed to start celebrating [Ofri’s birthday] the morning of Oct. 7, but instead they were kidnapped by Hamas,” Ariel said. “Her birthday cake and candles were later found by soldiers, who broke down crying when they opened the refrigerator and saw her cake.”
The impact of the attack will continue to weigh on civilians and soldiers. Israel is small enough, according to Ariel, that most everyone either knows someone who was killed or held hostage—or they are acquainted with someone who does.
For the Brodutch family and others who lived on Kibbutz Kfar Aza, the egalitarian, agrarian lifestyle they endeavored to live is gone—at least for now and the foreseeable future.
“They’re not going home because their homes were destroyed,” Ariel said. “The villagers have been displaced. People can’t go back. Each village is temporarily housed elsewhere. But we will do everything we can to help them recover and rebuild. The people in this farming community really lived peacefully with the neighbors across the border.”
The current ceasefire between Israel and Hamas has helped bring home some of the hostages, who are being traded for Palestinian prisoners being held by Israel. While the ceasefire is scheduled to end Wednesday, negotiators working with both Israel and Hamas say they hope it will be extended to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza and the release of the remaining hostages.
Clearly, there are too many variables to predict whether the ceasefire will continue and for how long.
“You can’t go down the slope of your fears because these feelings are just too much,” Ariel said. “Life was suspended. It still feels like that. There is a sense of helplessness. No one really knows what to do. Of course, we’re relieved our family has been released, but we can’t be happy, because there are so many people still being held hostage.”