A pair of eyeglasses.
In 66 days, that is the only trace found of the 70-year-old American-Canadian teacher who was shot by Hamas terrorists when out for a walk with her husband on the grounds of their southern Israel kibbutz the morning of October 7.
Judi Weinstein Haggai is currently the oldest woman among those kidnapped by Hamas that day whose fate is unknown.
In all, more than two months after the attack, 117 people are still being held by Hamas—along with the bodies of 20 people believed to have been killed in captivity.
As fellow kibbutz members of her age were released during last month’s short-lived cease-fire, her family’s hope turned into despair.
“There is not a second in the day that I don’t think about this dilemma,” her daughter Iris Weinstein Haggai, told JNS on Monday. “This question [of why she wasn’t released] eats at me every day, and rips my heart out.”
A morning walk turned into a nightmare
The couple, both nature and sports enthusiasts, were out on their regular sunrise walk at Kibbutz Nir Oz when Hamas rained thousands of missiles on Israel and stormed across the border. After taking cover on the ground when the sirens sounded, she began texting with her daughter on Whatsapp.
“There is a red alert, no?” her daughter, who was at her home in Singapore at the time, messaged her at 6:48 a.m.
“We’re outside. Face down in the field. We see tons of rockets” her mom replied at 6:49 a.m.
“How far are you from home?” her daughter asked.
“2 km” Weinstein Haggai answered at 6:50 a.m.
That was their last text message.
Last video and call
Shortly thereafter, Judi Weinstein Haggai managed to take a video of the incoming rockets while talking to her husband in a whisper.
Then, in her last recording, she connected with emergency officials to report that her husband had been gravely wounded by Hamas terrorists.
“They came on the street. There were many motorcyclists with automatic weapons. They shot us. We laid down. They shot me in the face and hand,” she told Magen David Adom.
“They shot you too?” the dispatcher asks.
“Yes I’m hurt.”
“Where did they shoot you?”
“They shot me in the face and hand,” she repeated.
The ambulance dispatched to them never made it—it got hit by gunfire and then burned.
Due to the gravity of his head wounds Gad Haggai, 73, is presumed dead, but the whereabouts and condition of Judi Weinstein Haggai remain unclear.
‘Just on a walk’
The New York native, who spent her childhood in Toronto, moved to Israel more than four decades ago. A mother of four and grandmother of seven, she taught English for decades in the Western Negev, and would also use music, art, dance and puppets in her classes, her cousin Ariel Duckler Levy recounted in an interview Monday at the Tel Aviv headquarters of the all-volunteer forum of missing hostages.
Levy, too, had texted her cousin to ask about her wellbeing when the red alert sounded across the country that autumn morning, but got no reply.
The phone was later traced to Gaza.
“She just happened to be on this walk,” Levy said. “She was in such good shape.”
Disappointment with the progressive left
The New York-born Levy says she feels betrayed and frustrated by the progressive left in North America who have failed to support Israel in the aftermath of the largest one-day attack on the Jewish people since the Holocaust.
“You don’t need to take a position on the war to condemn the heinous attacks committed against innocent Israeli civilians on Oct. 7, including brutal rape and kidnapping,” she said, reading some notes from a prepared notecard that she uses for international press who, she said, often press her on the Palestinian civilians killed in Gaza during the war.
As the war enters its third month, Judi Weinstein Haggai remains missing.
For her family, the agonizing days of anticipation when hostages were being released only to discover that she was not on the final list were the hardest since her abduction.
Ominously, even released captives her daughter met upon their return to Israel said they didn’t see her in Gaza.
Her daughter Iris said that the Americans have been very earnestly trying to assist, including a joint Zoom call with President Joe Biden the first week after the kidnapping, but so far to no avail. About eight Americans, including Judi, are among the hostages still being held.
“My heart is broken,” her daughter recounts. “There are three governments that are there for my mom and nobody knows anything.”