The American families whose sons, fathers, husbands, and mother have been held hostage by Hamas since the October 7 terrorist attack wear silver dog tags engraved with their one and only wish in two languages. The English inscription pleads, “Bring them home;” the Hebrew inscription reads, “My heart is in Gaza.” 

Meet the eight American hostages. Whether raised in Israel or spending a gap year before college — their lives were interrupted – and in some tragic cases, lost – when thousands of Hamas terrorists breached the border between Israel and Gaza intent on terrifying and destroying the Jewish state.

1. Edan Alexander

Edan AlexanderEdan Alexander’s sister Mika describes him as her best friend. Growing up in Tenafly, New Jersey, whenever any of their favorite artists put out a new album, Edan would grab the car keys and take his sister for a drive so they could analyze every song.

A happy-go-lucky guy, a champion swimmer for his high school team, and a big fan of the New York Knicks, Edan spent most of his young life in Tenafly. But he was born in Israel just a few months before his parents moved to the U.S. He spoke Hebrew at home and visited Israel often to see both sets of grandparents. He even celebrated his bar mitzvah there.

His mother, Yael, was surprised when Edan announced his senior year in high school that he wanted to postpone college and try Garin Tzabar, a program founded in 1991 for young Jewish adults who want to explore serving as lone soldiers in Israel’s Defense Forces.

Edan and 16 other American high school graduates, including a classmate in Tenafly, moved to a kibbutz and did four months of training before committing to serve in the IDF. He returned for a visit home in August and expected to return again in April for his brother Roy’s bar mitzvah.

He was on patrol at a kibbutz on the morning of October 7 and called his mother after the Hamas attacks began.

“I told him at the end of the call: ‘Listen to me, Edan. I'm here. I'm with you. I love you. Just protect yourself. Just be safe,’” Yael recalled on AJC’s podcast, People of the Pod. “And that's it, we hang up. I didn't know I'm not gonna hear from him again.”


2. Itay Chen Z”L 

Itay ChenItay Chen, 19, is the youngest American hostage in Hamas captivity. After months of holding out hope that their son would return, Chen’s parents, Ruby and Hagit Chen, learned that he died on October 7 defending civilians living in an agricultural area near the Gaza border. His body is still being held by Hamas. 

Born in the U.S., Itay grew up in Israel, in the city of Netanya, just north of Tel Aviv, but the family frequently visited his father’s hometown of New York. He was a Boy Scout who played basketball and, like many teenagers, loved his PlayStation. 

The fun-loving middle child, he was also the “life of the party” and the “connector” of their family, his father said. The only reason he was on duty that day was because he had switched weekends with another soldier so he could attend his brother’s Bar Mitzvah the following week. 


3. Sagui Dekel-Chen

Sagui Dekel-ChenAn avid fixer-upper who often repaired his farm equipment by hand, Sagui Dekel-Chen, 35, had been working in his machine shop 200 yards from his home when Hamas terrorists entered Kibbutz Nir Oz after sunrise on October 7.

He and a few others sent text messages warning neighbors to seek shelter from the gunmen in their safe rooms. He made sure his then-pregnant wife Avital and their two other daughters were safe inside a bomb shelter before confronting the terrorists. His wife heard him fighting off the terrorists when they broke into their home. She last heard from Sagui around 9:30 a.m. She gave birth to the couple’s third daughter in December.

Hostages who returned home months ago say they saw Sagui alive in Gaza. The grandson of Holocaust survivors whose parents were raised in the U.S. but came to Israel to raise their family, Dekel-Chen was one of the few Israelis who knew how to play baseball, playing in Israel’s junior national league as a kid.

“I’d love to share all kinds of photos: him as a little boy, as a baseball player,” his father Jonathan told Slate. “A lot of the photos that we’ve had for Sagui and from my other kids and grandkids were burned on Oct. 7.”


4. Hersh Goldberg-Polin

Hersh Goldberg-PolinHersh Goldberg-Polin, 23, was born in Berkeley, California, and moved to Israel with his parents and two other siblings at age 7. A quiet guy with a quick wit, he fervently believed in the possibility of peace and supported an Israeli soccer team that championed Arab and Jewish coexistence.

From a young age, Hersh also loved to read. Even at the age of 8, his parents, Rachel Goldberg and Jon Polin said on AJC’s podcast People of the Pod that he could rattle off facts such as the details of every American president. Not long after that, he developed a fascination with atlases, maps, globes, and travel. He had planned a trip around the world, starting with a ticket to India in December.

His previous international excursion was a nine-week excursion through six European countries to attend a series of music festivals.

Three days before he was taken hostage, Hersh went to a music festival in northern Israel, but police closed it down for having the wrong permits. He returned home to celebrate Simchat Torah with his family and friends, then left at 11 p.m. to go to the Supernova desert festival.

He was last seen at a field shelter with others who tried to escape when Hamas terrorists descended on the festival after sunrise. Video footage captured him on the back of a truck, his left arm missing from the elbow down and wrapped in a tourniquet.

His mother last heard from her son that morning, when he sent two WhatsApp messages, one telling his parents he loved them, the other saying, “I’m sorry.”


5. Gadi Haggai Z”L 

Gadi Haggai Z”L“Here in the fields, we are full of fear. People are dying, and birds aren’t flying.”

Those prescient lyrics, composed in the 1980s by Gadi Haggai, capture the last moments of the musician’s life on the morning of October 7. Haggai, 73, died face down in a field as Hamas rockets streaked across the sky and terrorists stormed his kibbutz, kidnapping and murdering its residents.  

Haggai, 73 was a retired chef, jazz musician, father of four, grandfather of seven, exercise guru, and pacifist. During his mandatory military service, he served as the first flutist in the IDF orchestra. 

After several years in the U.S. pursuing a jazz career, Haggai returned to Israel where he met his wife Judi, an American-Canadian volunteer. The couple founded their own jazz orchestra called the Jazz Union. Unable to support his wife and four children as a musician, he studied cooking and the family eventually moved to Kibbutz Nir Oz where Gadi served as chef.

Gadi and Judi had been on their daily stroll outside Kibbutz Nir Oz when rockets and gunfire tore through the early morning tranquility. Laying face down in the field, they called their daughter in Singapore to tell her what they saw. Shortly after, Haggai was shot by terrorists on a motorcycle. Paramedics tried to send an ambulance, but it was struck by a rocket en route. Though Israel confirmed his death in December, his body is still being held by Hamas.


6. Judith Weinstein Haggai Z”L

 Judith Weinstein Haggai Z”LBorn in New York and raised in Toronto, Judi Weinstein Haggai, 70, made aliyah to Israel in 1976. There, she and her husband built a life around music, art, family, and healthy living. They ate a plant-based diet and walked every morning, which is why they were in a field near Kibbutz Nir Oz in the early morning hours of October 7. 

Even after decades in Israel, Judi still added ing to every verb she spoke in Hebrew. English was the language in which she wrote and which she taught both Israeli and Palestinian students.

As the security situation along the Israel Gaza border deteriorated, Judi introduced mindfulness into her curriculum, to help her students cope with their anxieties. Following retirement, she continued helping children with anxiety through puppeteering.

In addition to her books of poetry, Judi practiced her own mindfulness by writing haikus, which she posted on her Facebook page daily. She posted her last verse on the morning of October 7.

“pulse accelerates

mind makes new connections

as Fall shows her face”

Judi called paramedics when her husband was shot that morning. But the ambulance never made it. Terrorists returned and shot Judi too. Her death was confirmed in December, six days after her husband’s, but her body remains in Hamas captivity.


7. Omer Neutra

Omer NeutraOmer Neutra, 22, another grandson of Holocaust survivors, was born in Manhattan a month after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, and more than a year after his parents immigrated from Israel.

A loyal Knicks fan, he knew the stats of every player, led the local chapter of the United Synagogue Youth group, and served as captain of the basketball, volleyball, and soccer teams at the Conservative Jewish school he attended from first grade until high school graduation.

After being accepted to Binghamton University in 2020 to study business and medicine, Omer decided to take a gap year in the country where his parents were raised – and stayed, opting to serve in the Israel Defense Force’s tank brigade.

When Hamas attacked, Omer’s team drove two miles to the border, where Hamas militants ambushed his tank with rocket-propelled grenades. 

8. Keith Siegel

Keith SiegelKeith Siegel, 64, originally from North Carolina, moved to Israel 40 years ago. He met Aviva, a kindergarten teacher originally from South Africa, and fell in love. They lived on Kibbutz Kfar Aza, close to the Gaza border, where he worked as an occupational therapist.

Keith’s mother, Gladys, still lives in North Carolina in an assisted-living facility where the staff has shielded her from knowing that the youngest of her four children is a hostage.

Keith has four children of his own and five grandchildren. He is a calm person and an optimist and loves the outdoors.

On October 7, he and his wife were taken hostage and driven to Gaza in their car with a neighbor and her two children. Aviva was released on November 26 as part of a hostage-release deal. Keith remains, his ribs broken from being captured on October 7, his wife said.

“My parents have an innate faith in the goodness of humankind,” his daughter Elan wrote on Fox News. “That is why, even after living through decades of conflict, they believe that peace can be reality … Their worldview can be summed up in the conviction that love of humanity will always defeat hatred.”

AJC has assisted all of these families and 53 others whose loved ones are held hostage by Hamas in sharing their stories with decision-makers including the President and Vice President of the U.S., more  than 200 members of Congress, multiple national media outlets, the State Department, and countless more officials in foreign capitals around the world.

AJC also has worked to ensure passage of House and Senate resolutions calling for the immediate release of the hostages and helped secure State of the Union tickets for the families of each of the American hostages, for as long as there are Americans held hostage, our Union is incomplete.

Take Action: June 7 marks eight months since October 7, when hundreds of hostages were taken by Hamas terrorists into Gaza and faced physical, sexual, and emotional torture. Join AJC as we call on Congress to bring the remaining hostages home now.

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