'He wants to be able to go buy a schwarma'

Rescued hostage Almog Meir Jan grapples with return to freedom

Meir Jan’s uncle, Aviram Meir, discusses his nephew’s physical and emotional health, his need to see his fellow hostages and the embrace he receives from the Israeli public

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

Aviram Meir (left), rescued hostage Almog Meir Jan, and his mother, Orit Meir after his June 8, 2024 rescue from Gaza (Courtesy)
Aviram Meir (left), rescued hostage Almog Meir Jan, and his mother, Orit Meir after his June 8, 2024 rescue from Gaza (Courtesy)

It’s been a little more than 10 days since Almog Meir Jan was rescued by Israeli security forces from Gaza along with fellow hostages Shlomi Ziv, Andrey Kolzov and Noa Argamani, after eight months of hellish captivity.

“Physically, he feels good,” Meir Jan’s uncle, Aviram Meir, told The Times of Israel Wednesday.

“All of our attention is on Almog,” said Meir, whose sister Orit is Meir Jan’s mother.

The days since the successful operation to rescue Meir Jan and the others from apartments in Gaza have been filled with doctors’ checkups, ranging from examining the possible effect of Gaza’s highly salty water on his system to his eyesight and hearing.

There are reunions with friends and quiet conversations with the family, but for the most part, “we’re trying not to bother him,” said his uncle.

“We want to give him space,” said Meir. “We’re asking him questions and making sure to give him control over what’s happening to him. If he wants to share something, we listen and ask questions. If he doesn’t, we’re not badgering him with questions.”

And if any of those closest to Almog are absent from one of those conversations, the others make sure to fill them in, as they attempt to find out everything that happened to Meir Jan, 21, since he was taken hostage from the Supernova desert rave on October 7.

Rescued hostage Almog Meir Jan is reunited with his family at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, June 8, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

For now, said Meir, his nephew wants to watch the movie list he drafted while in captivity, to spend time with Ziv and Kozlov, the two hostages with whom he spent months in captivity, and wants to see friends — but only one or two at a time.

“He’s quiet,” said Meir. “He’s also very compliant, maybe too much so. He does whatever we ask of him, and he doesn’t quite understand his notoriety, that a lot of people in this country feel like they know him, but he doesn’t know them. He’ll embrace anyone who asks.”

The family is currently staying in a hotel, and mostly take cabs or are driven to wherever they need to go, whether to the funeral of Almog’s estranged father, who died suddenly in the hours before Almog was rescued, or to the mall to buy a new cover for his cellphone.

“People recognized him at the mall and it wasn’t too bad, they just want to hug him, but he’s not a private person for the moment, since he was rescued,” said Meir.

This is of particular concern to Almog’s family. The fame appears to be starting to bother Meir Jan, an average young man who was about to start working at a high-tech company prior to October 7, and had just finished his army service.

Friends of Almog Meir Jan, one of the four Israeli hostages rescued from Gaza, pose for a photo with his picture as they gather with others outside the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan on June 8, 2024. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

During his eight months of captivity, Meir Jan wasn’t aware of the waves of protests, rallies and global attention to the hostage situation.

“He wants to be able to go buy a schwarma,” said his uncle.

Figuring out the kind of support and help that Meir Jan needs in these coming months fits into the work Aviram Meir was doing in the weeks prior to his nephew’s rescue, lobbying Knesset members and working on legislation to help hostages financially and emotionally once back home in Israel.

A portion of the legislation focuses on the hostages’ rehabilitation process, something that Meir, an event planner, says he knows nothing about.

“I wrote to my sister today a whole list of questions about what rehabilitation means, how much time it takes, what it includes, how do you know if a person has completed their rehabilitation, are there goals? I just don’t know anything about it,” he said. “Is it just for Almog, or also his sister or his mother, or his uncle? Probably not.”

Meir Jan’s family is currently getting many phone calls and offers of help from various organizations and institutions, but doesn’t know how to process it all.

Aviram Meir (left) and Orit Meir, uncle and mother of rescued hostage Almog Meir Jan, give statements at a press conference at Sheba Medical Center, June 10, 2024. (Courtesy of Hostages and Missing Families Forum/screenshot)

“We need help, and that can range from how to choose a therapist to getting him a cup of water after five media interviews to figuring out what kind of help is available to buying a car or an apartment,” said Meir.

For now, Meir and his sister Orit, who have both been active in the Hostages and Missing Families Forum since it was formed after October 7, are mainly trying to protect Almog’s privacy.

“He’ll eventually become more public, and express himself and join the struggle, but it’s not on the table yet,” said Meir. “It will take time, but he’ll take part in the public relations effort too, just like the other hostages who came home.”

As for Meir, he knows he needs to return to his own work and begin earning a living again, after eight months of devoting himself entirely to his nephew, his family and the other hostages.

“There’s something of a dissonance now,” said Meir. “I’m in another status. A miracle fell upon us, there’s no other way to call it. Almog came home and we’re not a hostage family any longer.”

“But we’re part of that system,” he said, “and I won’t leave it until they’re all home,” he said.

Most Popular
read more: