Ruth Kaplan

Ada Sagi: Former Hostage Shares her Ordeal With an American Jew from Boston

Last October, I wrote about Ada Sagi, one of the 240 hostages captured by Hamas terrorists in their surprise massacre of Israeli civilians on October 7.

In late November, I learned—to my great excitement and relief—that Ada was released in a hostage deal.  After trying unsuccessfully to contact her through her family, I chose not to pursue it further because, after all, Ada did not know me, and she was surely contending with so much.  But then, in typical Israeli fashion, I managed to connect!  My Israeli friend Rina, who only now read my original article, thought it was worth another effort.  She thought Ada might appreciate knowing that a world away in Boston, a nice Jewish lady like me, who cares deeply about Israelis and the Jewish state, actually took a special interest in her, was praying for her safe return and in fact rejoiced when she was released.

So, through the modern miracle of FaceTime, Ada and I “met” and talked.  it was a very moving experience and I think it’s important to share Ada’s story with a wider audience.

Ada lived her entire adult life on Kibbutz Nir Oz located less than two miles from the Gaza border. She has been a life-long “peacenik” who speaks fluent Arabic which she studied at the University in order to promote coexistence with her Gazan neighbors.  Ada was 75-years-old when violently abducted from her kibbutz home and thrust onto a motorcycle between two Hamas captors.  There she was driven to Khan Yunis in Gaza, a short ride from the Kibbutz but clearly a world away.

Ada had been a dedicated high school teacher at Nir Oz, and also served for a while as headmaster of the school.  Eligible to retire at age 62, she chose to remain in her job another eight years and retired at age 70.

On the morning of October 7, Ada was alone in her home desperately texting with her family and other kibbutz members.   She was captured at 9:27 a.m., about 3 hours into the Hamas onslaught. As she was being taken away, Ada remembers seeing the graveyard where her beloved husband Danny had been buried the year before, and saying to him that this was probably the end.

Ada, who was released in a hostage deal on November 28, spent 53 days in captivity alongside Meirav, another woman who she had never met before.

The two were taken to an apartment building where they learned they were being held by members of Islamic Jihad.  Their captors told them not to worry because they were “diamonds” to Hamas, i.e., they were so valuable that no harm would befall them.  Small comfort under the circumstances. Ada believes that her Arabic language skills helped her throughout in her communications with her captors.

The two women were confined to a small children’s bedroom and only left the room to use the toilet.  Guards were present at all times.  They were only allowed to rinse off with water once a week.  Regarding the food, Ada reported that at the outset, they had some vegetables but over time, their ration’s consisted of an afternoon meal and small portions of pita bread in the morning and evening. Ada’s leg was burned by the exhaust of the motorcycle In transport.  She did get treated for the burn and she was also provided with an inhaler for her asthma.

So how did Ada and Meirav spend their time in captivity cooped up in a small room with windows shielded to the outside?

Meirav, who comes from the large city of Rishon LeTsiyon, knew very little about Kibbutzim, so Ada described her way of life at Nir Oz.  They also talked about their families and cried a lot.  Since they had no books or writing utensils, they played many games in and did crossword puzzles in their heads.  They were of course very frightened throughout although their captors repeatedly reassured them not to worry since as “diamonds,” they would be traded for Hamas prisoners in Israel.  Every time there was a knock on the door, they were terrified that this might be their end.

Surprisingly, they were provided with a radio toward the end of their captivity and were allowed to hear the news broadcast from Israel every night at 8 pm on Kol Yisrael.  This was how they first heard about how many other innocent Israelis and other nationalities had either been taken hostage or been murdered.

The total losses for Kibbutz Nir Oz are staggering.  Approximately 100 out of 400 kibbutz members were either killed or taken captive.  A total of 74 were hostages.  Among the most well-known are the Bibas family:  Shiri and her redheaded baby Kfir and 4-year-old son Ariel whose fates are still tragically unknown.

This is a community that has been utterly devastated, and I’ll circle back to that monetarily.

Ada and Meirav were eventually released from captivity, a process that took several grueling days.  At first, they were dressed in burkas typically donned by Muslim women and taken to the basement of a hospital.  But then they were sent back to their apartment.  The following day they were released again and held in a location where for several days they were told they would be released “tomorrow.”  Every tomorrow turned into another tomorrow until they were actually delivered into the custody of the International Red Cross.  That experience was particularly terrifying since hundreds of Gazans surrounded their transport vehicle banging on it and yelling.  They did not feel secure until they crossed into Israel and saw IDF soldiers.  They had been transported by the Red Cross to the Rafah crossing, then into Egypt, and finally into Israel at the Keren Shalom border crossing where they were taken by helicopter to Sheba Hospital.  Ada noted that all the while she had trouble walking since she had no exercise during her lengthy captivity.

After a reunion with her family and three days of a hospital stay, Ada was released to Kfar Maccabiah, where 1000 apartments were made available both for released hostages and internal Israeli evacuees. The number of displaced Israelis from both the northern and southern borders is staggering.

About Kibbutz Nir Oz:  this is one of the most tragic aspects of the October 7 massacre in my opinion.  The Israeli government has provided comfortable shelter for the survivors of Nir Oz in a new high rise apartment complex located in Carmey

Gat, a new neighborhood in the working-class city of Kiryat Gat in central Israel.  When I face timed with Ada, she gave me a quick virtual tour of her bright and cheery apartment on the 12th floor.  All the furnishings are new, and the setting seems very comfortable.  But Ada is a kibbutznik.  Since age 18, she has lived in a collectivist community in nature where you walk out your door into a garden.  Choosing to live on a kibbutz is an ideological choice.  A high rise is not a kibbutz and Ada is 75 years old.

Most of the remaining kibbutz members are likewise housed temporarily in Carmey Gat.  When asked if she has been back to see Nir Oz, or whether she has any desire to do so, I received an emphatic “no.”  The devastation and destruction there is too painful.  Half the village was destroyed by fire on October 7.  Her family retrieved some books, but that’s it.  But Ada is not alone:  Kibbutz Nir Oz has been decimated and no one is currently planning to return.  Apparently, a group of thirty-six families are seeking to find a new home on an already established kibbutz.  Integrating into a new kibbutz also presents challenges.  But as for the elders of Kibbutz Nir Oz, this is not an option.

Ada is a very strong and resilient woman.  She attended several therapy sessions addressing post-traumatic stress, but felt that they were no longer needed.  She is putting her teaching skills to good use by working with students on remedial education.

She mentioned that recently a group of about ten kibbutz members gathered in a new community room for an activity, and one of the women bemoaned the fact that more people didn’t attend.  Sadly, Ada reminded her fellow kibbutznik that this was not due to lack of interest, but rather they have lost the others perhaps forever.

The destruction of this kibbutz community is a profound loss that can’t really be adequately fixed.  Honestly, it makes me want to scream.  Does the world yet comprehend this??? With all the criticism of Israel’s military response in Gaza, do people still not understand that no nation in the world can tolerate a threat of this magnitude to its residents living within their recognized borders?  And Hamas has made it clear, that given the chance, they’ll do it again, since their goal is the eradication of Jewish Israel.

Ada is trying to keep hope alive for the return of the remaining hostages, but admits that that hope is dimming as more and more days pass.

Ada is surrounded by loving family:  two sons and a daughter and six grandchildren.  As terrible as her ordeal was, she survived and is doing the best she can and is living a purposeful life.  When I asked her to describe how this ordeal has changed her, she replied: “It’s too soon to say.  But all my life has changed…my home, my kibbutz and my Israel.”

Hearing her first-hand account was so meaningful, and I hope she has the strength to continue to share it.  Hers is a story of heroism and resilience in the face of unspeakable and cruel terror.  Who kidnaps an elderly widow?  It’s a question with no answer but there is simply no “context” to excuse such a morally reprehensible act.  None.



About the Author
Ruth is a writer and consultant with a varied career including academic pursuits in Jewish history, social services and governmental work, private practice as an attorney, and public service as an elected and appointed official dealing with public education. For the past 15 years, she has served the Jewish and Israeli communities in a variety of leadership roles, including Director of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies Boston-Haifa Connection and Director of Community Relations for the Consulate General of Israel to New England.