'I'm still wearing the braids she made for me'

‘She asked me to say happy birthday’: Ex-hostage’s tearful call to cellmate’s father

En route to helicopter immediately after release in Nov. truce, Agam Goldstein-Almog, 17, phoned parents of Agam Berger, 19, still hostage in Gaza, to reassure them of daughter’s wellbeing

Agam Goldstein-Almog (L) and Agam Berger (R). (Courtesy)
Agam Goldstein-Almog (L) and Agam Berger (R). (Courtesy)

One of the first calls freed hostage Agam Goldstein-Almog, 17, placed upon her release from Hamas captivity in Gaza on November 26 was to the parents of another hostage of the same name — 19-year-old Agam Berger.

Channel 12 on Friday aired the call that Goldstein-Almog placed to Berger’s parents immediately upon her release, while she was in a vehicle en route to a helicopter, presumably during her transfer to a hospital inside Israel.

“I had to call to wish you happy birthday… she asked that I congratulate you,” Goldstein-Almog can be heard saying to Berger’s father Shlomi, on whose birthday Goldstein-Almog, her mother, Chen, and brothers Gal and Tal were released after 46 days in captivity, during a temporary truce between Israel and the Palestinian terror group.

“It’s your birthday today,” said Goldstein-Almog.

“Yes,” responded Shlomi Berger.

“She asked me to congratulate you,” said Goldstein-Almog, at which point Berger let out a cry as he realizes he is receiving a message from his daughter, who remains in Gaza.

“I believe she will get out of there,” said a tearful Berger.

“She will,” responded the teen.

Shlomi Berger told Channel 12 that Goldstein-Almog’s call was the first — and last — sign of life since October 7 that he and his wife had received from their daughter, a talented violinist, who was snatched by Hamas terrorists from Nahal Oz.

Goldstein-Almog was kidnapped from her home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza on October 7, along with her mother and her younger brothers. Her father Nadav and eldest sister Yam were murdered in the attack.

That same morning, Berger had time only to call her father and tell him she was under fire.

She was later identified in a Hamas Telegram video, in which she can be seen being led to a car, still dressed in her pajamas.

In the emotional November 26 phone call, Berger’s parents were anxious to know if their daughter was keeping her spirits up.

“She goes through a lot of downs,” Goldstein-Almog told them. “Today, also, when we left and they stayed, it was hard, but she’s okay… She’s calm… she calms everyone down.”

Goldstein-Almog told the distraught parents that their daughter was a comfort to her fellow hostages.

“She braided all the girls’ hair, I’m still wearing the braids she made for me,” she told them, adding, “I slept next to her last night, we snuggled together.”

The Goldstein-Almog family from Kfar Aza; father Nadav (third from left) and eldest daughter Yam (far right), were killed by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023. The rest of the family was taken hostage to Gaza. (Courtesy)

Berger, from Holon, and 129 others remain in captivity almost five months after Hamas’s October shock onslaught in southern Israel, when thousands of terrorists killed some 1,200 and abducted another 253 to Gaza, mostly civilians, many amid horrific acts of brutality and sexual assault.

The freed hostage also reassured Berger’s religiously observant parents that their daughter was still practicing Judaism.

“She prays a lot, and she says grace before eating, and she keeps Shabbat,” Goldstein-Almog told Berger’s parents.

Citing Goldstein-Almog as well as other hostages, Channel 12 reported that the Hamas captors were using Berger as a “slave.” Her guards, who knew she observed the Sabbath, nonetheless ordered her to cook and clean on the holy day. Courageously, Berger refused.

“[Agam is] a girl of faith who only wanted to spread good in the world,” Channel 12 quoted Berger’s mother as saying.

Agam Berger plays ‘Hallelujah’ on violin in an undated video. (Screen capture: Channel 12, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Goldstein-Almog told Berger’s parents that the hostages — at least where the two teenage girls were held together — had access to a watch that showed the date, so they were able to keep track of when Shabbat fell.

“I believe she’ll get out of there,” Berger’s mother could be heard saying tearfully on the call. “Does she know we are doing everything?”

“She’ll get out, she’ll get out,” Goldstein-Almog consoled the weeping mother, her voice breaking as well. “I told her: ‘Your mother is doing everything. And she’s worried, she’s worried for you.'”

Channel 12 reported that with the release of the hostages in late November, Berger’s family received information on her conditions in captivity; she was being held in tunnels and hidden apartments.

In January, an undated propaganda video was released featuring Berger and three other young women held in captivity, hands bound and faces bloody, apparently filmed soon after their capture on October 7.

Also in January, Berger’s father Shlomi was interviewed by the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper for a front-page feature highlighting the plight of four Israeli teenagers held captive by Hamas, in an appeal to parents around the world to help free their children.

“We heard about the sexual abuses,” Shlomi Berger said at the time. “As a father, I can’t imagine these things. The family is torn apart.”

An inside page from the Daily Mail, January 8, 2024.

His daughter is one of 130 hostages still in Gaza — at least 30 of whom are presumed dead — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that. Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 11 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 30 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. One more person has been listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Hamas has also been holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

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