Ditza Heiman was released on November 28 as part of a temporary ceasefire deal brokered by Qatar and the United States between Hamas and Israel. This is the story of her capture:
Ditza Heiman, 84, lived alone at Kibbutz Nir Oz and was in her home’s safe room by herself on the morning of October 7, when Hamas terrorists invaded during a widespread massacre that took the lives of 1,200 Israelis.
Stepson Amichai Shdaimah spoke with The Times of Israel shortly after her capture and described her treating him and his siblings as her own children.
“She’s like family to me,” said Shdaimah, whose father married Heiman 35 years ago and moved to Nir Oz at the time. Shdaimah’s father is no longer alive, but the familial connection has remained strong, he said.
“She’s like a savta to our kids,” added Shdaimah, who has lived in the US for 26 years, using the Hebrew word for grandmother. “Since my father died, we visit her every time we come to Israel.”
Heiman spoke to her family members in Israel that morning, said Shdaimah, as they checked up on the mother of four, stepmother of three, grandmother to 20 and great-grandmother of five.
The last time anyone heard from Heiman was around 10 a.m. Around 4 p.m., her phone was answered by a person speaking in Arabic.
“That’s when they understood that something terrible had happened,” said Shdaimah.
Since then, the extended family has been gathering information from surviving neighbors in the kibbutz.
One neighbor heard Heiman calling for help and went outside, but when he saw her surrounded by Hamas terrorists, he escaped back into his own sealed room.
“That probably saved his life,” said Shdaimah.
On October 9, family members found a video posted by Hamas on social media, featuring images from Heiman’s Nir Oz home as well as one of her getting into a car.
“Now the family has a sign that she was taken alive,” said Shdaimah, “and the authorities have come and told them that she’s officially considered a captive.”
Heiman’s mind is sharp and she’s independent, but she’s also 84, walks with a cane, and takes various medications, said Shdaimah.
She often has family staying with her on Shabbat and holidays, but this particular time, “she was alone, no one was with her,” he said. “I guess we’re thankful, otherwise who knows what would have happened to them?”