Michael and Amalia Edan, ages 9 and 6, hid in a closet for over 14 hours on Oct. 7. Mere hours before, they had watched in fear as their mother, Smadar, and father, Roy, were killed by Hamas. Their younger sister, then-3-year-old Abigail Mor Edan, had been taken by Hamas. The siblings thought that they might never see Abigail again, and that she had also been killed.
As the youngest U.S. citizen held hostage, Abigail was released as part of a temporary cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas in November, shortly after her fourth birthday. Now, her great-aunt Elizabeth Hirsh Naftali is telling her story of survival.
“Abigail coming home is a symbol of the fact that if we can bring these people home, a family can move on, as tragic and terrible as this is,” Naftali said in a speech. “I spend a lot of time with the families of other hostages. All they need is for their loved ones to come home so they can move forward.”
Naftali recently spoke as part of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore’s second The Braided Candle event, held at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Pikesville on Wednesday, Feb. 7. These events, held jointly with the Macks Jewish Connection Network and meant to raise awareness of the hostages being held by Hamas, are set to take place around the 7th of every month during 2024 and are planned to continue even after the hostages are eventually released.
Attendees at these events listened to local speakers and participated in a group bracelet-making activity, creating bead bracelets with the names of the over 132 Israeli hostages still being held by Hamas.
A real estate company owner from Los Angeles, Naftali serves as a member of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, which focuses on preserving historic buildings and landmarks in Europe, often relating to the Holocaust. She has also been a deputy finance chair of the Democratic National Committee since 2018.
Naftali had actually just arrived in Israel on Oct. 6 to visit her daughter and family. At 6:30 a.m. on Oct. 7, she and other guests at the hotel she had been staying at were forced to pile into the hotel’s safe room. It was there, several hours later, that she learned what had happened to her niece, Smadar Edan, and her family.
“I called my sister-in-law to ask what was happening, and she very directly told me that my niece Smadar was killed by Hamas terrorists,” Naftali recalled. “And the way we learned this was from a 6- and 9-year-old who were locked in a closet.”
Michael and Amalia were eventually rescued, but Abigail’s fate remained uncertain. Eyewitnesses later relayed that Abigail went to neighbors for help, but they did not recognize her because she was covered in blood. They took her in, but another eyewitness later saw Hamas leading Abigail, the neighbor’s wife and her own children off the kibbutz campus.
Naftali soon took action, advocating for Abigail because she no longer had parents to advocate for her. She started to give out pictures of the Edan family to politicians and reporters in order to spread her story.
“I took this picture out and I put it in my apartment. I looked at Abigail’s face and said ,‘I am going to bring you home,’” Naftali said. “My daughter said on the phone, ‘Isn’t it depressing to look at Abigail’s photo?’ and I said no, it’s what inspires me. It’s what gets me to think that I can do something.”
At The Braided Candle event, Naftali relayed an experience she had while meeting Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). She had given Collins a photo of Abigail when they had met at a gathering of women Republican senators. A few weeks later, when Collins was in Tel Aviv on a visit, she was approached by Naftali’s daughter, Noa. When Noa went to give Collins the photo, the senator pulled out her own copy and told her she was praying for her and working to get her home.
Abigail was released on Nov. 26, returning to relatives after 50 days in captivity. Her release was remarked upon at the time by President Joe Biden in a speech.
“A little girl named Abigail, who turned 4 years old, spent her birthday … and at least 50 days before that, held hostage by Hamas. Today, she is free,” Biden said. “I wish I were there to hold her.”
While Abigail is now happy and healthy, she still bears the scars of what happened to her, and Naftali continues to advocate for the hostages even after her own has returned home. She noted at the event that she does not want the hostages’ stories to be used to attack any other people or countries; she just wants Israel and the U.S. to make their return a priority.
“It’s not my favorite thing, speaking to over 200 people on such a subject. But I understand the value,” she said. “A few hundred of you sharing Abigail’s story, and all the hostages’ stories, starts a ripple effect that turns into a wave and can make a huge difference.”