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Some Freed Hostages Are Now Learning of Loved Ones’ Deaths

When Noam Or, 17, and his sister, Alma, 13, were released from Gaza on Saturday, they hoped that their parents might be there to welcome them. They were kidnapped from Kibbutz Be’eri on Oct. 7 and held hostage for 50 days, and they had not heard any news about their mother, Yonat, or their father, Dror.

But shortly after they were freed, other family members told them more of what had happened the day they were taken: Their father was taken, too. And their mother had been killed.

Their uncle, Ahal Besorai, said the thought of being comforted by their mother and father had kept the teens going in captivity. “This was denied,” he said.

Dozens of Israeli and dual national hostages have been released since Israel and Hamas struck a temporary cease-fire deal last Friday. Many of them, including Noam and Alma, are now learning for the first time that their relatives were killed on Oct. 7 or are still being held hostage.

Channah Peri, 79, called her daughter, Ayelet Svatitzky, after crossing the border back into Israel, and immediately asked about her son, Roi Popplewell. Ms. Svatitzky did not want to tell her mother on the phone that he had been killed on Oct. 7. Instead, she told her mother she would be waiting for her at the hospital. But her mother understood what the deflection meant: Her son was gone.

Earlier, when guards told Ms. Peri that she was going to be freed, she tried to hold onto the arm of her other son, Nadav Popplewell, who had been kidnapped with her but wasn’t on the list to be returned to Israel. Mr. Popplewell was sleeping on mattresses on the floor in the underground room where they were being held, Ms. Svatitzky said.

Her daughter said she had to later explain to her mother that he was not eligible for release because, under the deal between Israel and Hamas, only women and children were freed.

“She is traumatized,” Ms. Svatitzky said. “And she is grieving.”

The path to recovery might be varied for each of the hostages, according to Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped from her bedroom in Salt Lake City in 2002 when she was 14 and held captive for 9 months.

“The initial emotions after being rescued are joy and relief,” she said. “It’s a miracle, and it’s an answer to prayer.”

She added that they may find that different memories and sensory reminders — images, smells and sounds — may unexpectedly trigger an emotional response.

Noam and Alma are now staying in Tel Aviv with their grandparents and their older brother, who was in northern Israel during the Oct. 7 attacks, said their uncle, Mr. Besorai. He said that the children asked that he not reveal too many details about their conditions in Gaza, beyond that it was “very unpleasant.”

Noam and Alma are trying to establish a sense of normalcy, Mr. Besorai said. They see friends and loved ones. They go to restaurants.

Still, nothing feels normal anymore, he said.

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Nathan is an experienced journalist. He's covered a broad spectrum of topics, including politics, culture, and human interest stories, always aiming to engage and inform his audience. Nathan has a degree in Journalism and upholds the highest standards of integrity and accuracy in his work.

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