DENVER — Rotating in and out of conference rooms at JEWISHColorado in Denver, a group of Israelis from six different families relived the day they learned their loved one was taken hostage or killed in the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Ayelet Samerano was wearing a picture of her son, Jonathan, on her shirt. She described her oldest son as charming and a successful producer in Tel Aviv.
Jonathan was 21 years old when he decided to attend the Nova Music Festival in October 2023. His mother has not had one full night of sleep since.
“I don't have any sense of time... I lost my happiness," Ayelet said.
She never expected the music festival to end in a terrorist attack. Ayelet said Jonathan was one of the first cars to flee the festival, and they were on their way back to Tel Aviv. She said police directed them to turn around and find shelter.
Jonathan and his friends went to Kibbutz Be'eri, and at the gate, they rolled down the windows of the car for people they believed to be police. Ayelet claims they were terrorists who shot at the car.
"For some reason, they took just Jonathan. There was three [people in the car] and they took just Jonathan and kidnapped him," Ayelet said. "We don't know why. So, we thought he is alive, and we hoped he is alive. And after 57 days, the army came and said he’s not alive.”
Noa Argamani was also at the music festival, according to her father, Yaakov. Noa turned 26 on October 12 after she was kidnapped by Hamas.
Yaakov said the family first heard alarms in the early morning and thought it was a mistake at first.
“I told my wife, who is very sick with advanced-stage brain cancer, to stay in bed, that it was probably nothing. My wife is getting treatment from some of the best doctors in Israel at a hospital I love. But they've told me in very clear terms that she doesn't have very long," Yaakov explained. “We stayed in bed and then a few minutes later, there was a rapid series of additional missile warning sirens and I knew that something was wrong. And I got my wife out of bed and we went into our fortified safe room in our home.”
Yaakov said he went to check his daughter's room and realized she was not there. He learned later Noa and her boyfriend went to the music festival. He went to the hospital to search for Noa.
“When I got to the hospital, I saw many, many injured and dead people. And I asked them to check for my daughter and her boyfriend and their names weren't on the list at this hospital or at Barzilai Hospital. And I allowed myself to hope that she was fine," Yaakov remembered. “My wife called me a little while later and told me that she had heard that there was a video showing our daughter, Noa, being taken into Gaza, but I didn't believe it. Like any father has hope until the end. Until a man at the hospital came over to me and told me he had the video of my daughter. I agreed to watch it because I thought it was going to prove to me that that wasn't my daughter they were talking about, but as I watched the video, I saw my own daughter being taken away on the back of a motorcycle into Gaza.”
Yaakov said at that moment, he lost all his senses. He felt as though his entire world had crumbled around him. The family has not seen or heard from Noa since then.
“My wife's only wish, all she asks for at this point, is to be able to see her daughter Noa one more time before she departs from this world," Yaakov said. “We're a very humble, simple family. It was the three of us. We had our own little corner of the earth. We had our own little piece and that was all we needed.”
If Noa were to somehow see her father's interview, he wanted her to know their entire world stopped on the day she was taken.
“We are broken people. There's no day, there's no night. We have nothing without her," Yaakov said. “I believe that there will be a miracle and she will come back to us.”
Yaakov prays for peace in Israel and Gaza constantly.
“I know that war only creates loss for everyone. That war is creating widows and orphans on our side, just like it is in Gaza. And that the only way we're going to put an end to this is through dialogue," said Yaakov. “I believe that in Gaza, there are people who want peace and who believe in dialogue and want to live out their lives without this war.”
The Israeli Consulate brought the families to Denver from Israel for a conference on Monday.