ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 141

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As Calderon family rejoices at Sahar and Erez’s return, fight continues for dad Ofer

It’s complicated and happy and sad at the time time’: Family member Abbey Onn cites conflicted emotions as two children welcomed home

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

FILE - Sahar Calderon, right, hugs her mother after being released from Hamas captivity on November 27, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
FILE - Sahar Calderon, right, hugs her mother after being released from Hamas captivity on November 27, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

As brother and sister Erez and Sahar Calderon were released from captivity Monday night, they were holding hands, and it’s that image that stuck in their cousin Abbey Onn’s mind.

“It’s heartwarming and chilling; they’re led by terrorists,” said Onn, an American-born Herzliya resident who has been representing the extended family in the media since October 7. “It really drives it home.”

The siblings, ages 12 and 16, respectively, were released without their father, Ofer Calderon, along with five other fathers who weren’t released Monday night with their children.

Ofer Calderon and Erez and Sahar, two of his four children, escaped from their shelter through the window during the Hamas onslaught, into the fields of Kibbutz Nir Oz, where they were later taken hostage.

Hadas Calderon, Ofer’s ex-wife, was in the sealed room of her home on the kibbutz, holding the handle against the terrorists. Her elder son, Rotem, 19, also survived in the safe room of his apartment, in the kibbutz area for young adults, while his older sister Gaya, 21, was in Tel Aviv.

“It’s all the mixed emotions,” said Onn. “There’s lots of joy that the kids are home, but their dad is still there. As much as it’s a relief, it’s complicated and happy and sad at the time time.”

Carmela Dan, 80, whose remains were identified after she was initially declared missing following the Hamas terrorist massacre in Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7, 2023. (Courtesy)

Carmela Dan, their grandmother and Hadas’s mother, and Carmela’s 12-year-old granddaughter Noya Dan were killed in Nir Oz — a fact that the family found out only later.

“For us, this is a story that isn’t finished, there’s no clean end to this,” said Onn. “As much as we all prayed and wanted this release, we also know that a lot of trauma comes with it and healing won’t begin until the family is whole again.”

Sahar and Erez Calderon lost a significant amount of weight during their 52 days in captivity. “They weren’t fed a lot,” said Onn, “about half a piece of bread each day.”

The family hadn’t heard yet where they were kept hostage, and Onn didn’t know if they were kept with their father.

For now, they’re with their mother and siblings, but they don’t have a home to return to.

Ofer Calderon, taken captive by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023 from Kibbutz Nir Oz. (Courtesy)

“I will fight until Ofer is released, I’ll use whatever advantages I have,” said Onn. “We are part of a family that we never asked to be part of,” she added, referring to the Hostages and Missing Families Forum that’s been helping and organizing all efforts for the representatives of the hostages.

And then there’s Onn’s extended biological family with its Boston roots: Onn immigrated to Israel from Brookline, Massachusetts.

Dan, Hadas Calderon’s mother, was born in Israel to an American father who was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, and immigrated to Israel 100 years ago, becoming a founding member of Kibbutz Ein Hashofet.

Abbey Onn, cousin to the Calderons, has been their English-speaking voice as they battled for the release of Ofer, Sahar and Erez Calderon from Hamas captivity. (Courtesy)

“We are a big family in Israel,” said Onn. “We are together in big celebrations and in small moments.”

While Onn is personally closer with other parts of the extended family, she and her own family have visited Kibbutz Nir Oz many times.

Right now, said Onn, she’s using her American English to fight for Ofer Calderon.

“I think we have a new definition of family for all of us,” she said.

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