It took 58 days for Yael Nidam to hear the news she’d been desperately hoping for since the Hamas terror attacks in Israel.
The UC Berkeley doctoral student’s sister-in-law, Rimon Buchshtav Kirsht, was being released — nearly two months after being kidnapped from her southern Israel home.
“We didn’t have a long conversation, because it was very obvious that the first thing we needed to do was get on the next plane over,” said Nidam, speaking of the hurried trans-Atlantic call with her mother-in-law in Israel.
Within hours, Nidam and her husband, Lotem Kirsht, were catching the next flight from San Francisco to Israel. By Wednesday afternoon, they were holding Kirsht’s sister, Rimon — who’d been relocated to a hospital room in Tel Aviv — in their arms.
“We went directly from the airport to the hospital,” Nidam said Thursday in an interview with the Bay Area News Group. “And once I saw her, I gave her the biggest hug I could ever give.”
The hug was long, Nidam said, and maybe a little too tight. Kirsht’s dog, Tova, had taken up permanent residence beside her, following Kirsht everywhere — even to the bathroom. But seeing her sister-in-law in person was also indescribably difficult, Nidam said.
They had all been changed by the Oct. 7 attacks. The whole country has.
Kirsht is one of more than 100 hostages who have been released by Hamas since last Friday in exchange for more than 200 Palestinians during an ongoing cease-fire. Still, at least 140 hostages are still in Gaza, including Kirsht’s husband, Yagev Buchshtav.
“When a person goes through that much time being held captive, you can’t come back as the same person who left,” said Nidam. “She didn’t know if her family was alive for two months. She didn’t know if she could come back. And she didn’t know who she would meet, even if she did.”
To protect Kirsht’s privacy, Nidam didn’t want to discuss what her sister-in-law had been through. But she had lost weight, Nidam said, around 25 pounds. Three days after her release, Kirsht was still in the hospital, and Nidam said she would be there for the foreseeable future. And though Kirsht had been released alongside 11 other hostages — including an 84-year-old woman — her husband, Yagev, was not one of them.
“The first thing Rimon did (when she got to her hospital room) was to hang the poster of Yagev on her door,” said Nidam. “She put it directly opposite her bed so she could always look at him.”
Still, Kirsht’s fight hasn’t seemed to waver. Earlier this month, she was one of three women to appear in a hostage video published by Hamas, and on Tuesday she was celebrated on social media after her release. As a masked Hamas militant unloaded Kirsht from a van, she held her head high, stared down her captor and put an arm around a fellow hostage as they were led to members of the Red Cross.
More than 1,200 Israelis were killed in the Hamas attack on October 7, which led to the kidnap of Kirsht and some 240 others. And in the two months since, 14,800 Gazans have been killed by Israel’s counteroffensive, along with an additional 215 Palestinians in the West Bank, according to the latest figures from the United Nations’ agency focused on Palestine and its refugees, UNRWA.
More than one million are also estimated to be displaced in the Gaza Strip, which has been shattered by Israeli airstrikes.
Nidam knows her family is only one of too many to count who are suffering through the trauma of the last 58 plus days.
“We will have a long, long, long plan for her recovery,” Nidam said of her sister-in-law. “The physical injuries will heal at some point. But the mental injuries are the ones that will take the longest time to recover from.”