After two weeks of horrific news, Rutie Mizrahi wasn’t about to trust the hopeful headlines that appeared on Monday.
They said that Ms. Mizrahi’s 85-year-old aunt, Yocheved Lifshitz, was among two hostages being released that day from the more than 200 being held by Hamas, the militant Islamist group that launched a deadly attack on Israel on Oct. 7.
Ms. Mizrahi didn’t trust the reports.
“I just really needed to hear her voice,” said Ms. Mizrahi, from her Vancouver home.
On Tuesday morning, she finally got through to Ms. Lifshitz, who made worldwide headlines the same day for becoming the first of the four released hostages to talk publicly about the harrowing experience.
“She sounded very tired,” Ms. Mizrahi, said of her conversation with her aunt. “She told me how much she loved me and my kids.”
The chat was brief. They didn’t talk about the last two weeks, much of which Ms. Lifshitz spent in a web of tunnels as a hostage of Hamas.
After the call, Ms. Mizrahi said she felt happy, while also remaining concerned about the other hostages, including her uncle, Oded Lifshitz, whose fate remains uncertain.
“The only thing I know is that my aunt knows nothing about her husband, because they were separated,” said Ms. Mizrahi.
Also on Tuesday, Ms. Lifshitz appeared before reporters in Tel Aviv seated in a wheelchair and told of how masses of gunmen swarmed Kibbutz Nir Oz, where she lived in southern Israel, and beat people young and old.
It was a “hell that we never knew before and never thought we would experience,” said Ms. Lifshitz, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and uses an oxygen tank to sleep, according to her daughter.
She was forced into an underground tunnel system she likened to a spider’s web. She and other hostages slept on mattresses on the ground and received treatment from doctors, she said, while criticizing the Israel Defence Forces and Shin Bet intelligence service for overlooking warning signs from Hamas three weeks before the Oct. 7 rampage.
“They sent incendiary balloons to burn the fields, and the army didn’t take it seriously,” Ms. Lifshitz said.
Back in Vancouver, her niece’s voice breaks as she describes her memories of the kibbutz where her aunt and uncle lived. She recalls birdsong, the sight of lush green vegetables growing in the middle of the Negev Desert and the generosity of the community’s 400 citizens.
“My uncle used to go to the border on a daily basis because there were Palestinian civilians there that needed treatment, mostly cancer treatments, and drive them to hospitals,” said Ms. Mizrahi.
But there were always security concerns. In 2008, Hamas claimed responsibility for killing one man and wounding four others in Kibbutz Nir Oz when a mortar struck a paint factory. Residents faced persistent sniper fire and rocket attacks, according to Israeli news reports.
When asked to describe the Nir Oz of today, Ms. Mizrahi’s voices catches and she pauses momentarily.
“My aunt and uncle’s home was burned to the ground,” she said. “Nothing left. Nothing, nothing. All the memories of their lives, everything just burned to the ground.”
With a report from Associated Press