Rimon Kirsht (left) hugs a family member after being released from Hamas captivity. (Photo/Courtesy Nil Kirscht)
Rimon Kirsht (left) hugs a family member after being released from Hamas captivity. (Photo/Courtesy Nil Kirscht)

Released hostage’s ‘worst fear’ was being forgotten, Bay Area relative says

Rimon Kirsht’s courage, seen in a Hamas video during her Nov. 28 release from captivity, caught the world’s attention.

Wearing pink pajamas, she stepped out of a Hamas van, turned to one of her armed and masked captors and glared up at him. Kirsht then put her arm around fellow hostage Merav Tal and walked, with her chin up, about 30 feet to the International Committee of the Red Cross vans as Palestinians around them screamed and whistled in the night.

Kirsht, 36, is the sister-in-law of Yael Nidam, a UC Berkeley doctoral student in city and regional planning. Since Oct. 7, Nidam has been a vocal activist in the Bay Area, calling for the immediate release of all hostages. 

Kirsht’s husband, 34-year-old Yagev Buchshtab, remains captive in Gaza.

“We found out sometime on [Nov. 27] that Rimon was going to be on the list of people to be released from captivity, and at that point we were starting to look for flights,” Nidam told J. from Israel.

Nidam is married to Kirsht’s brother. They arrived in Israel a few hours after Kirsht was released.

“We were so excited to be able to hug her,” Nidam said, noting that her sister-in-law had lost a considerable amount of weight during more than 50 days in captivity. “She’s incredibly skinny.”

Kirsht was a resident of Kibbutz Nirim and one of the estimated 240 people taken hostage on Oct. 7 when Hamas terrorists infiltrated southern Israel. She was among the 105 people freed during a weeklong ceasefire between Hamas and Israel in late November.

Kirsht was seen earlier in a Hamas video on Oct. 30 that showed her sitting silently alongside two other hostages, Danielle Aloni and Yelena Trupanob.

Aloni, 44, was freed with her 5-year-old daughter, Emilia, on Nov. 24. Trupanob, 50, was released with her 73-year-old mother, Irena Tati, on Nov. 29.

The Oct. 30 video, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described as “cruel psychological propaganda,” showed Kirsht seated with her hands clasped in her lap. Noticeably absent were her prescription glasses, Nidam said.

“One of the first things that the family did as soon as she came back — she was able to hug her mother, then, two seconds later, her sister gave her glasses,” Nidam said. “She took the glasses and she said, Oh my God, I can see. I was not able to see.”

In the days after Kirsht’s release, her family informed her that 1,200 people had been massacred in the attack.

“When she saw that number she kept asking — she could not understand,” Nidam said. “She thought maybe a few dozen were killed.”

Their house was full of bullet holes and blood, but there was no sign of them.

Kibbutz Nirim, a community with 500 residents, was where Kirsht, her husband and his family lived about 1.2 miles from Gaza. Hamas killed five kibbutz residents and took another five hostage amid a fierce battle with the kibbutz security team, aided by an Israeli attack helicopter.

Three of the five hostages were released during the temporary cease-fire in late November.

“Their house was full of bullet holes and blood, but there was no sign of them,” Nidam told a crowd in San Jose at a “Bring Them Home” rally on Oct. 22. “It took a full week before we were officially notified by the Israeli Defense Forces that they are in Gaza.”

Medical and mental-health professionals are assisting Kirsht and her family as she begins to recover from the trauma of the last two months.

Nidam emphasized that the Red Cross did not visit her sister-in-law while she was being held hostage, even though that aid was part of the temporary cease-fire agreement.

“I can’t stress enough how much it’s important, because when you get your loved ones back, you understand the shame and neglect of innocent civilians by the Red Cross. This is an absolute betrayal,” Nidam said.

She described Kirsht’s reaction upon learning about the Bay Area Jewish community’s rallies, vigils and protests calling for her release — and the freeing of all the hostages.

“She cried. She said her worst fear was to be forgotten, because then nobody would fight for her,” Nidam said. “Then she came home and saw everything we had done for her, and other people working to bring her home. She cried because she felt the love of this community.”

Emma Goss
Emma Goss

Emma Goss is a J. staff writer. She is a Bay Area native and an alum of Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School and Kehillah Jewish High School. Emma also reports for NBC Bay Area. Follow her on Twitter @EmmaAudreyGoss.