NATIONAL NEWS

He was told his 9-year-old daughter was dead. Now she’s believed to be alive and a hostage in Gaza

Nov 17, 2023, 6:04 AM

This September 2023 photo shows Emily Hand near Kibbutz Be’eri, Israel. Emily is believed to be a...

This September 2023 photo shows Emily Hand near Kibbutz Be’eri, Israel. Emily is believed to be among the hostages taken by Hamas militants in their incursion into Israel on Oct. 7, 2023. (Yael Shahrur Noah via AP).
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Yael Shahrur Noah via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — Emily Tony Korenberg Hand celebrated her eighth birthday last year romping with friends and family among the jugglers, acrobats and stilt walkers for her circus-themed party at Kibbutz Be’eri, not far from the Gaza Strip.

On Friday, when she turned 9, there was no party. Emily is believed to be somewhere in Gaza among the hostages taken by Hamas militants who swarmed her kibbutz Oct. 7 during the incursion into Israel that left some 1,200 dead and 240 abducted.

“She won’t even know it’s her birthday. She won’t know what day it is,” her tearful father, Thomas Hand, 63, said via Zoom. “Can you imagine the fear?”

Soon after the Hamas attacks, Hand had been told by leaders of Be’eri that Emily was among the dead after she had spent the night at a friend’s house on the kibbutz. His shock and grief at the news was tinged with comfort.

“I was sort of relieved because I’d rather that than have her taken hostage,” he recalled thinking. “The way they told me was Emily has been found. She was found in the kibbutz, and she’d been found dead. I’ll never forget those three statements.”

Then, on Oct. 31, Hand’s world turned upside down once again.

That’s when the Israeli military informed him Emily’s body had not been recovered, nor her DNA found among the blood and many dead at Be’eri. There was no blood in the bomb shelter she would have used or in the house where she had gone for her sleepover.

“I had to shift my whole brain and digest this new information. And when they told me, I just went, ‘No, no, no no,’” he said, his voice cracking.

Hand and his daughter, both dual Irish-Israel citizens, weren’t strangers to heartbreak. When Emily was 2½ , her mother, Liat Korenberg, died of breast cancer. Korenberg and Hand had never married and were living apart, she in Haifa and he at Be’eri after he married another woman.

Before Liat succumbed, she and Emily moved in with Hand at Be’eri so Emily’s transition would be easier. Liat suffered for just over two years.

At the kibbutz, Emily quickly made friends and settled into school. She has varied interests: Brazilian dance, judo, volleyball, tennis and piano. She loves gymnastics. She excels at academics. “This year she wanted to learn the guitar. I hope that happens,” her father said.

Emily, he said, is a leader among her friends. “She didn’t demand to be. People just followed her,” he said.

Emily’s life includes her father’s now ex-wife, Narkis Hand, and two older children from his marriage that ended more than 20 years ago. Emily remains close with Narkis and her now-grown half-siblings, including 26-year-old Natalie. They also live at Be’eri, a tight-knit community Hand discovered as a volunteer before he decided to stay 30 years ago.

“Emily loved cooking so Emily and Natalie would cook together,” said Hand, a Dublin native. “Narkis really became Emily’s second mother. Even Narkis’ mother, she became a second grandmother.”

In a message to her sister, Natalie told The Times of Israel: “I want to tell you that we are doing everything to get you home. We know you are being held hostage. We love you so much and miss you.”

Hand was in New York for media interviews but also to unveil a billboard of Emily on Friday in Times Square. It’s the first of hundreds to go up around the United States with images of the hostages as some protesters continue to tear down “kidnapped” posters. A billboard, Hand said, can’t be ripped apart.

“Can you imagine what that poor little child is going through every single day, terrified for her life?” he said. “Death. Death in my head is an easier option.”

National News

Dr. Max Rogers, the obstetrician-gynecologist at Grove Hill Memorial Hospital, poses for a photo Mo...

Associated Press

Alabama birthing units are closing to save money and get funding. Some say babies are at risk

GROVE HILL, Ala. (AP) — One of the last remaining birthing units in southern Alabama will close next month to qualify for federal funding that will save the hospital’s emergency services, but doctors warn the move may cost newborns and pregnant women essential access to obstetric care. Nestled in rural Clarke County, the small, nonprofit […]

48 minutes ago

Jim, left, and Tamara Hamilton watch former President Donald Trump speak on television on Thursday,...

Associated Press

Some GOP voters welcome Trump’s somewhat softened tone at Republican National Convention

For those conservative voters long turned off by former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, his somewhat softened tone in accepting the Republican nomination Thursday night was a welcome relief. “He’s much improved,” Dave Struthers, a 57-year-old farmer from Collins, Iowa, said as he watched Trump’s speech in the basement of his farmhouse. “The thing I’ve had […]

1 hour ago

FILE - Former President Barack Obama speaks in Athens, Greece, June 21, 2023. Democrats at the high...

Associated Press

Obama’s dilemma: Balancing Democrats’ worry about Biden and maintaining influence with president

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former President Barack Obama has a delicate balance to strike: how to weigh the mounting opposition to President Joe Biden continuing his campaign with his loyalty to his former running mate. In recent days, Obama has taken calls from congressional leaders, Democratic governors and key donors in which he has shared their […]

1 hour ago

Vice President Kamala Harris arrives for an Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote Town Hall, Sat...

Associated Press

Majority of Democrats think Kamala Harris would make a good president, AP-NORC poll shows

WASHINGTON (AP) — As President Joe Biden faces a growing drumbeat of pressure to drop his reelection bid, a majority of Democrats think his vice president would make a good president herself. A new poll from the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that about 6 in 10 Democrats believe Kamala Harris would do […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

How bootcamps are helping to address the historic gap in internet access on US tribal lands

There’s a home movie theater with orange walls and plush recliners at the top of a steep hill on Matthew Rantanen’s ranch in Southern California. But on a recent afternoon, people weren’t flocking to the room to watch a movie or to escape the scorching heat, they were shining a beam of light through more […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Thousands celebrate life of former fire chief killed at Trump rally, private funeral set for Friday

FREEPORT, Pa. (AP) — Thousands of mourners paid their respects at a Pennsylvania banquet hall Thursday to the family of a former fire chief who was shot and killed during the attempted assassination of former President Donald Trump. Trump sent a note of condolence hailing Corey Comperatore as a hero, a copy of which was […]

2 hours ago

He was told his 9-year-old daughter was dead. Now she’s believed to be alive and a hostage in Gaza