‘Age doesn’t matter’: Mothers want their abducted adult sons back home

Parents of hostages Alon Ohel, 22, and Yotam Haim, 28, speak about their boys, their musical dreams, and the last time they spoke

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Yotam Haim, left, and his mother, Iris Haim. Yotam was taken captive by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023, to Gaza. (Courtesy)
Yotam Haim, left, and his mother, Iris Haim. Yotam was taken captive by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023, to Gaza. (Courtesy)

Alon Ohel, 22, a budding pianist who plays any keyboard he encounters, was abducted by Hamas terrorists from a crowded shelter in a field on October 7. Yotam Haim, 28, a heavy metal drummer with big musical dreams, was alone in his Kibbutz Kfar Aza safe room when he was taken hostage to Gaza on the same day.

Both are victims of the vicious attack launched by Hamas on October 7 in Gaza border communities and the Supernova music rave, in which terrorists killed some 1,200 people, the vast majority of them civilians massacred amid brutal atrocities, and abducted over 240 people to Gaza.

In recent weeks, 105 civilians — almost exclusively women and children — were released from Hamas captivity, during a week-long truce that ended December 1. That leaves 138 people still being held.

Haim and Ohel are two of the remaining hostages.

Their mothers, Iris Haim and Idit Ohel, have found solace in one another during the last 60 days of torturous waiting, and they want their sons back.

“Think what a mother feels when her son is not with her. His age doesn’t matter. He’s 28, a young person, he needs his family,” said Haim, weeping at times during a Tuesday press conference.

Haim spoke about Yotam, her middle child, who dreams of being a famous musician, and struggles with some medical and mental health issues.

He had plans to perform at a music festival in Tel Aviv on the night of October 7, a gig he’d booked weeks earlier, said his mother.

Yotam’s brother, Tovel ‘Tuvi’ Haim, is also a drummer, and plays with singer Netta Barzilai, who sang a prayer for Yotam.

At 6:30 a.m., Yotam was in touch with his family by WhatsApp, letting them know he was in his safe room, updating them as the situation worsened and terrorists — some 300, said Iris Haim, who lives in a nearby moshav — attacked Kfar Aza, killing 62 people and kidnapping 18 others.

Heavy metal drummer Yotam Haim has been missing from his home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza since October 7, 2023. (Courtesy)

“At the beginning, he was upset that he couldn’t go to the festival — that’s what bothered him,” she said.

Iris Haim played a recording of her son’s voice on the phone from that morning:

“I’m more pissed off that they canceled the festival,” he said.

As the morning wore on, Yotam remained in his safe room, playing drums to keep himself calm. The situation worsened, with terrorists shooting at his safe room door and burning his house.

His mother told him to climb out the window but he couldn’t, said Yotam, because the terrorists were waiting for him outside.

“He called me, he said, ‘Maman,'” — Haim explained that they call each other by the French word for ‘mother’ following a trip to France — “‘I don’t know if I will survive, but I love you.'”

Yotam couldn’t breathe, and his parents felt helpless, knowing the road from their nearby moshav was full of terrorists and impossible to travel.

They last spoke to him at 10:44 a.m.

“Even though he’s 28, we’re very connected to him,” said Haim. “We’re in touch with him every day, a few times a day to support him.”

The Ohel family whose son, Alon, featured in the poster, was taken hostage by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023. (Courtesy)

The mothers know exactly what time they last communicated with their loved sons.

The last text message from Alon Ohel was at 8:08 a.m. His mother knows now that it was after he was dragged by Hamas terrorists to a pickup truck.

Alon, who went to the Supernova desert rave, had texted his family earlier that he was hiding in a field shelter and was “fine.”

They later found out that he had been crammed in with 29 others, including four of his friends, and attacked by Hamas terrorists with grenades and an RPG.

Most of the people in the shelter were killed. Alon and three others were taken out by the terrorists, and Alon’s phone fell to the ground.

His last message didn’t get sent until after Alon was kidnapped.

“We don’t know where he is, how he is, with who he is,” said Ohel, weeping.

Ohel and her family have leaned into Alon’s love of music — setting up a yellow piano in Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square that’s been played by everyone from famous musicians such as Rami Kleinstein (in video below) to teens and children.

The yellow light illuminating the piano is like a bolt of energy, a tent of light, said Ohel, referring to the family’s name, which means tent in Hebrew.

Posted by Gili Papura on Wednesday, November 29, 2023

“The way we are fighting is by asking for help and asking the community to think and do good for them,” said Ohel. “When people play the piano, we’re thinking of Alon coming back to play for them.”

Idit Haim pointed out that her family name means life in Hebrew.

“I don’t want to be afraid, I want to live, I want them to live,” she said. “They will always be our children, and we as mothers have to fight always. We’ll never stop fighting to bring our sons and daughters and our mothers and our fathers home.”

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