Meeting Family Amid the Hostage Crisis
From Where I SitOpinion

Meeting Family Amid the Hostage Crisis

Dave's professional and personal lives intersect with the unexpected appearance in Atlanta of Israeli cousins.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Dave Schechter
Dave Schechter

The moment the young woman said, “This is my family,” I looked up from my laptop, saw the poster she was holding, and stopped typing. I looked across the room at my wife, who had the same stunned, emotion-laden look on her face as I probably had on mine.

Until that moment I had been diligently taking notes as Israel’s consul general and then Israeli hostage families addressed an Oct. 30 luncheon at the Atlanta Press Club.

But after the young woman said, “This is my family,” I could not type another word. My brain was no longer connected to my fingers and my heart had other priorities.

The young woman’s name is Dafna, and the poster she held showed photos of 12 people, each a leaf on my family tree. I see this checkerboard of photos multiple times each day, usually posted on social media by members of the hostage families.

Dafna handed the microphone to her cousin, Or, and when he talked about being a musician, I knew without a doubt who they were.


I have written about discovering that members of my extended family, descended from or married to descendants of my great-grandfather’s twin brother, were among the more than 230 men, woman, and children kidnapped on Oct. 7 when Hamas terrorists rampaged through communities in southern Israel and a dance party in the desert — a modern pogrom.

I have come to know their names, recognize their faces, and learn about their lives through articles in the Israeli press and social media posts. When I see that grid of photos, my eye is drawn to 3-year-old Yahel, whose smiling face and mass of blond curls remind me of our daughter at that age, and to her 8-year-old brother, Naveh, said to be a soccer fanatic.

I have corresponded, by email and social media, with a few of the Israeli cousins, offering what solace and encouragement I can, letting them know that descendants of my great-grandfather and his twin brother living in the United States are following the news and thinking of them.

Dave shows Dafna (left) and Or (right) their family tree.

That a dozen people — about whom I was unaware three weeks ago — are among the victims of Hamas has added a personal layer to my professional work as a journalist writing about the impact of the war on segments of the Atlanta community.

But I never expected to meet any of the cousins in Atlanta. This extraordinary coincidence was an unexpected ray of sunshine amid the gloom of the circumstances that brought them here.

Indeed, they were not supposed to be here. The Israeli government has arranged for the families of hostages to visit Jewish communities in the United States, where they also are meeting with public officials and civic leaders. Three hostage families were slated to come to Atlanta but when one dropped out, Or and Dafna were substituted.

When the program at the press club ended, I walked over to their table. I was as delighted to see the last name on their badges as they were surprised to see the name on mine. My wife joined us and a “reunion” of a sort ensued.

My great-grandfather’s twin brother, who emigrated from Romania in 1882 and was among the founders of the Israeli town of Zichron Yaakov, had 11 children, so there are descendants scattered throughout the country. At a Schechter family party in Israel in 1985, I was amazed to meet 150 of them, only to be told that another 300 were unable to attend. There are undoubtedly many more now.

On Oct. 7, I wondered whether any of the family had been caught up in the tragedy.

I looked at Or and Dafna and said, “Yes, mishpocha,” Hebrew for family. Or asked about the lines of relation and I invited them to where I was sitting and, on my computer, pulled up a family tree that began with my great-great-grandparents, his great-great-great-grandparents.

That a dozen people — about whom I was unaware three weeks ago — are among the victims of Hamas has added a personal layer to my professional work as a journalist writing about the impact of the war on segments of the Atlanta community.

First, we traced his path. Along the way, he corrected a couple of names and gave me several more to add to the tree.

Then, I showed them my path, including our three children. Dafna looked at a picture on my wife’s phone of our now adult daughter and thought she resembled someone else in the family.

We joked about a similarity in the eyes that runs through much of the family. Or saw it in me and I saw it in him.

Moving across the famiIy tree, I am on the same line as Or’s late father, who hosted that family gathering 38 years ago. Or shares a line with my children, as does Dafna, whose connection may be less direct, but – as Or’s sister told me in a message – anyone who is even a third or fourth cousin is considered close family.

Dafna said the happenstance of meeting family in the midst of this ordeal was the first time she had smiled in a while.

When Dafna and Or spoke that night at a well-attended vigil for the hostages, held at the Ahavath Achim Synagogue, I sent Or’s sister a link to the program and, despite it being 2.30 a.m. in Israel, she watched.

I left Or and Dafna with hugs and assurances that — now equipped with phone numbers, emails, and social media addresses — we will stay in touch.

As I write this, seven of the 12 — three of whom are children — remain missing and are presumed to be hostages in Gaza. Two of the 12 were released by Hamas. The bodies of three others were recovered and funerals held.

Or’s sister and I have messaged about how nice it would be, once this horrible affair is over, to have another family gathering. We would gladly travel for that reunion.

But, for now, such talk will have to wait.

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