The mood in the Tel Aviv apartment where 26-year-old Meytal Weiss spends much of her days is decidedly somber. Meytal is currently sharing the apartment with her younger sister Maayan, 23, who had traveled to Washington the previous evening to raise awareness about the Israeli hostages.
Though it is midday in Tel Aviv and the sun is shining, the blinds are drawn, and it is quiet inside. Meytal is clad in a black T-shirt and jeans, thus adding to the subdued atmosphere. Around her neck hangs a chain with a silver-colored metal square with inscriptions in Hebrew and English. The English inscription boldly demands in all caps, “BRING THEM HOME NOW!” The Hebrew words, perhaps more poetically, read “Our hearts are captive in Gaza.”
Perhaps more than most, Meytal’s heart has truly been taken captive in Gaza. Her mother and her 18-year-old sister, Noga, were taken captive by Hamas; and her father has not been seen since the morning of October 7. Meytal and her sisters Maayan and Noga were born and raised in Kibbutz Be’eri by her parents, Ilan and Shiri. Her mother was born in Be’eri. Ilan manages the infrastructure of the kibbutz, and Shiri is an account manager for its agricultural endeavors.
A brief smile flashes across Meytal’s face when recalling her childhood in Kibbutz Be’eri. “It is an amazing place,” she says. “From time to time, there were security issues,” she notes, “but we never thought anything like this would happen.”
Meytal lives alone in an apartment near her parents’ home – “two or three minutes by bike” – and Maayan lives in her own apartment on the kibbutz. Noga, who graduated from high school in June, lives with her parents.
On the morning of October 7, Meytal was awoken by the sounds of explosions and red alert alarms. “We didn’t know that it was anything unusual,” she recalls. “There are a lot of explosions in Be’eri.” The alarms and explosions continued, but Meytal was still not unduly concerned. Eventually, she realized that terrorists had broken into Be’eri, but no one had yet understood the scope and seriousness of the situation.
“At 7:15 a.m., my father, who is on the emergency response squad of the kibbutz, left with his gun,” she continues. “We have not heard from him since then. All we know from his neighbors is that they saw him go out in his golf cart, holding his gun, and they said to him, ‘Be careful.’” Her father was on his way to unlock the kibbutz armory, but he never arrived there.
Meytal, Maayan, and Noga maintained communication by WhatsApp throughout the tragic events of the morning. “At 10:30 a.m.,” recounts Meytal, “Noga sent a message that the terrorists were breaking into the house.” Noga hid under the bed in the safe room, and her mother joined her in the room and closed the door. The Hamas terrorists broke through the safe room door and seized the girls’ mother.
FROM HER hiding place under the bed, Noga reported what was happening to her older sisters, who were still in their apartments. “They are kidnapping Ima! They are kidnapping Ima,” she frantically wrote to her sisters. The terrorists went through the house, taking whatever caught their fancy, and then they set the home ablaze.
“The door to the safe room was open, and the safe room had filled with smoke,” says Meytal. “After an hour, Noga wrote, ‘I can’t breathe.’ We wrote to Noga and told her to open the safe room window and go outside. She went out through the window, and we told her to run to the neighbors.”
Noga responded that she couldn’t go anywhere because everything was burning, and the area was swarming with terrorists. Meytal resumes her narrative of the WhatsApp exchange. “We wrote, ‘Hide in a bush, and sit quietly there.’” Earlier, Meytal had told Noga to send her location via WhatsApp so she and Maayan could find her.
“Because of all the craziness,” rues Meytal, “we didn’t see that she had sent us her location.” Eventually, Meytal and Maayan noticed that Noga had sent the location of her phone and saw it moving in the direction of Gaza. “At that time,” she says, “we thought that perhaps they had just stolen her phone.”
Meytal and Maayan remained locked in the safe rooms of their apartments until late Saturday evening. “The electricity in my safe room went out that afternoon, so I was trying to squeeze every bit of electricity from my phone to keep in touch with Maayan. We sent messages to each other every five minutes, indicating that we were okay.”
Meytal explains that while the terrorists spread throughout the kibbutz in their acts of random killing, for some reason they never attempted to enter the apartments where Meytal and Maayan were living. “It was just sheer luck,” she says.
IDF soldiers finally arrived at Meytal’s apartment at 5 p.m. that afternoon. “They knocked on the door and said, ‘It’s Golani. Open up.’” Meytal was concerned that they might be Hamas terrorists impersonating Israeli soldiers, so she didn’t answer the door.
Finally, at 11:30 that night, the soldiers returned. One of her friends called and told her that genuine IDF soldiers were at her door. She opened her apartment door and ran with them to an armored personnel carrier. The IDF also evacuated Maayan at that time.
Meytal had just enough time to grab her iPhone and charger when she left and had to leave everything else behind. “I was afraid for my life,” says Meytal, recalling her experience in the safe room on that day. “I never heard so many explosions and bullets. Even when they [the soldiers] took us out, there was still shooting.”
MEYTAL AND Maayan’s grandmother and uncles, who were visiting Kibbutz Be’eri for Simchat Torah, were not evacuated until Sunday afternoon. The Hamas terrorists in Be’eri murdered her uncle Gil Buyum and cousin Inbar. Twenty-nine of the captives are from Be’eri, and four residents are still missing.
The Hamas brutality extended to Ketem, the family dog, who was in the safe room with Meytal’s mother and sister. After the terrorists had seized Meytal’s mother, leaving the door ajar, the dog ran out of the room. They shot Ketem, and the dog’s charred body was later found outside the house.
A week after the horrific events, Meytal and Maayan received official word from the IDF that their mother and sister were among the 240 people who were kidnapped and that their father was officially missing. “Maayan and I are already mourning for him for a month because we don’t know if he is alive or dead,” says Meytal.
Still searching for answers
A month after the attack, Meytal is angry and searching for answers. “We thought that they abandoned us,” she relates. “It took the security forces a tremendous amount of time to arrive.”
She feels a similar sense of abandonment regarding the captives. “We feel that they are continuing to abandon us. There are 240 hostages. The longer it goes on, the harder it will be to free them,” she says.
Meytal is grateful for the support that she has received from organizations and the Israeli public. The apartment where we are speaking was lent to her by a Tel Aviv resident who offered it so that she and her sister could be near the center to participate in events held on behalf of the hostages. Meytal and Maayan divide their time between the Tel Aviv apartment and the Dead Sea hotels, where most of the Be’eri survivors are housed.
“We have to apply pressure to free the captives as soon as possible,” she says. Their father has Hungarian citizenship, and they recently obtained Hungarian citizenship for Noga in the hope that Hamas will treat them as Hungarian citizens and perhaps lead to an earlier release. They are in the process of obtaining Romanian citizenship for their mother, she reports.
Meytal dreams of seeing her parents and sister freed from Hamas captivity in Gaza. On that day, she says, “We will be with them, and we will be strong for them.”
Can she foresee the day when she can return to a rebuilt Kibbutz Be’eri? “Initially, says Meytal, “when we left Be’eri, they asked me if I would go back to Be’eri. At the time, I said I would never return to Be’eri or the South.”
“Now that time has passed,” she says, almost in wonderment, “I would return there. I don’t know if my mother and Noga will want to go back, but if it were up to me, I would return.” ■
The Jerusalem Post and OneFamily are working together to help support the victims of the Hamas massacre and the soldiers of Israel who have been drafted to ensure that it never happens again.