Family of last American woman held by Hamas clinging to hope: ‘It’s been unbearable not knowing’

The family of Judi Weinstein Haggai and Gad Haggai spent the past 11 weeks praying and pleading for the return of their loved ones, two American citizens believed to be held hostage by Hamas.

On Friday, the news broke that Gad Haggai, a 73-year-old Israeli American, died while in Hamas captivity. His wife Judi is still believed to be among the hostages, and her family is clinging to the idea she will one day be freed.

“My hope is that that Judi will be released and that she has received some sort of medical attention, that she’ll be able to come home,” Andrea Weinstein, Judi’s sister, told CNN in an interview this week before news of Gad’s death emerged. “That we can embrace her and be there for however she needs to heal from this horrific situation that she’s had to endure.”

Judi – a 70-year-old with Israeli, American and Canadian citizenship – is the last remaining American woman believed to be among the hostages held in Gaza. Six other Americans, all men, also remain in captivity.

It was initially believed Judi could be part of the hostage deal for Hamas to free at least 50 women and children that was struck last month. While two Americans were released under the agreement, Judi was not. Israel proposed a one-week pause in the war for the return of 35 hostage, but Hamas is refusing any discussions about prisoner swaps until Israel ends its military operation, CNN reported Friday.

While US officials believe there is a pathway to get more hostages released, it appears Judi’s family can only wait.

“Our hearts are breaking. To think of anyone harming my sister and her husband who are such peaceful, loving, giving people is just unconscionable,” said Weinstein, who lives in New Haven, Connecticut. “It’s really very difficult to imagine what’s been going on and how they’ve been harmed.”

Judi’s 95-year-old mother told CNN in a statement, “I am very worried and concerned. I want to know if Judi is alive and if she’s being held hostage. It’s been unbearable not knowing.”

The family has pressed for more details about Judi’s whereabouts and condition but so far little is known. Her daughter, Iris Haggai Liniado, has been in touch with Israeli and US officials in the weeks since the October 7 attack, including a meeting with President Joe Biden over Zoom earlier this month.

“We continue to urge our leaders to do everything they can to bring our parents home to us,” the Haggai family said Friday. “This latest news of Gad’s death only reaffirms the urgency with which we need to bring all of the hostages home.”

Biden mourned the death of Gad Haggai in a statement Friday.

“Jill and I are heartbroken by the news that American Gad Haggai is now believed to have been killed by Hamas on October 7. We continue to pray for the well-being and safe return of his wife, Judy,” Biden said. “We are praying for their four children, seven grandchildren, and other loved ones and are grieving this tragic news with them. And I reaffirm the pledge we have made to all the families of those still held hostage: we will not stop working to bring them home.”

11 weeks of anxiety

Judi and Gad, who lived in Kibbutz Nir Oz near the Gaza border for decades, were on their daily walk on the morning of October 7. The couple sent messages in a family WhatsApp group saying they were laying in a field and saw rockets flying overhead as Hamas’ attack against Israel was in its early stages.

The family later learned Judi called their kibbutz paramedic saying the couple was shot by militants on a motorcycle, Gad more seriously, and needed help. But the ambulance was destroyed. Judi made another call to Israel’s emergency services, which was recorded, detailing what had happened.

“To our knowledge, no one ever was able to rescue them at that point,” Weinstein said. “No one in the family has had any contact with them since October 7.”

The Haggai family said Gad, a father of four and grandfather of seven, would be remembered as “as a gifted man, with sharp intellect and a love for wind instruments – which he played since he was a young child.”

The family recently released two songs Gad recorded in the 1980s. Haggai Liniado, who drew the artwork for the digital release, shared the songs with CNN, noting how the lyrics in his song “Big Man” are strikingly similar to what he endured the morning of October 7: “Here in the fields, we are full of fear. People are dying, and birds aren’t flying.”

Judi’s family describes her as a peaceful person. She’s vegan, writes daily haikus and has a creative spirit, they say, using poetry and puppetry in her work with children. She taught English for several years and eventually incorporated mindfulness into her lessons.

“She wanted to help them about their anxiety, about their stress … and she used to teach Palestinians and Jews, and she taught everybody,” Haggai Liniado recounted to CNN earlier this month. “My mother was all about peace but taken hostage and shot. … All she does is good things to people.”

Weinstein, the youngest of three siblings, said she still admires and looks up to her big sister Judi.

“I still have so much to learn from her. Really, truly every interaction is a gift,” Weinstein said. “She has a lot of wisdom to share, and it can be something very subtle or something philosophical and how she lives her life. And it’s really beautiful to have discussions with her and be with her and hug her and write haiku with her. And just learn, learn from her.”

Weinstein said she’s doing “a lot of work to try to not go down that rabbit hole” of wondering what has happened to her sister while in captivity. She’s turned to Judi’s practice of writing haikus to stay grounded amid the pain and uncertainty.

Weinstein said Judi shared haikus she had written each day online. The most recent haiku she shared spoke of new connections and life. It was posted online on October 7.

“pulse accelerates
mind makes new connections
as Fall shows her face”


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