As It Happens

Hostage release brings new meaning to Thanksgiving, says family member

Chen Dori Roberts breathed a sigh of relief when he finally got official confirmation that his cousin and her two little girls were among the hostages released by Hamas.

Chen Dori Roberts’s cousin and her two daughters are among those returned Friday

A smiling woman in sunglasses sits at an outdoor table holding a small baby.
Doron Asher-Katz, pictured here in an undated photo, was one the first Hamas hostages to be released on Friday, along with her two young daughters, as part of a temporary ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas. (Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum/The Associated Press)

Chen Dori Roberts breathed a sigh of relief when he finally got official confirmation that his cousin and her two little girls were among the hostages released by Hamas.

Doron Katz-Asher, 34, and her daughters Raz Asher, 4, and Aviv Asher, 2, were among the dozens of people released from captivity on Friday as part of a temporary ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas.

The militant group killed 1,200 people and took about 240 people captive on Oct. 7 when it launched attacks on several Israeli communities, according to the Israeli government. In response, Israel has launched a siege and bombardment of the Gaza Strip, killing 14,000 people, according to medical officials in the Hamas-ruled territory.

Friday saw the first pause in violence in more than a month — the start of a negotiated four-day ceasefire during which Hamas has agreed to return about 50 hostages in exchange for about 150 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. 

Roberts, who lives in Austin, Texas, has been hearing for days that his cousins would be among the first hostages released. Their names were on a list circulating in the media, but he refused to get his hopes up until learned on Friday that they were, indeed, home safe.

Here's part of his conversation with As It Happens host Nil Köksal.

What did you do when you found out that the list was correct and that they were coming home?

I took a big, deep breath. I checked my phone. My phone was going off. All the messages from all the groups, everybody was trying to reach out.

It hit me really hard, and I got really emotional. I had to step away for a little bit, and kind of, like, take a moment for myself to appreciate that this is, like, the day after Thanksgiving, and it's got a lot of impact on what it means to be thankful and grateful for — for life itself and for family and loved ones.

So it was a very emotional moment for me and my family.

Have you had a chance to talk to them yet?

I have not got a chance to talk to them. I want to give them the space and privacy to reunite with their father and husband Yoni Asher, who has been carrying such a big load on his shoulders throughout this.

They need some alone time to catch up and to be together with all that. [Katz-Asher's] mom, Efrat Katz, my aunt, was murdered in front of her eyes on the way to the Gaza Strip. 

I know that they're safe. And one day soon, hopefully in the holidays, I'll be able to go there and get reunited with them together, and hug them and hold and tell them, like, how proud I am for them to hold [on] such a long time and in such hard conditions.

Can you tell our listeners a little bit about Raz and Aviv? They're so little.

They're such charming little girls. [They] love life, love to play and cook, love to travel with their parents, love their open-air spaces, love nature. They're a little silly. 

So we're so happy that they're back now in the safe arms of their dad and their family.

I know you haven't spoken to them directly, but through the chats that you're having with people who are there, do you have any sense of how they're doing right now in these early hours?

I'm pretty sure that everybody is happy and very joyful, and we are taking this moment to celebrate.

But I know that everybody knows that we're still a long, long way from completing the mission of returning every single hostage back to their loved ones.

Two little girls in pink and white stand outside smiling and hugging each other.
Doron's daughters, Aviv and Raz Asher, were also released on Friday. (Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum/The Associated Press)

Hope and optimism are certainly difficult to come by right now…. This four-day pause and this deal so far, does it give you a little bit of both of those things right now?... Are you feeling that kind of hope or is it that same roller coaster that you were feeling before today's release?

I think I can relate more to the roller coaster because every day that passes and every new list published and every new person that crosses the border, it's a wave of hope.

But at the same time, we have to remember that, like, we're not going to be able to really reunite or completely celebrate a victory before all the hostages are returned.

WATCH | Helping hostages recover from their ordeals:

Doctor explains how medical teams will help Hamas hostages after release

3 months ago
Duration 1:03
Dr. Hagai Levine, who leads a medical team that will assist hostages, says medical teams will look to address any urgent medical needs first and then turn to emotional, psychological and other needs.

And even if they're all back home, we still lost 1,400 people in one day. Those are family members, they're friends, they're colleagues. It's very bittersweet. You know what I'm saying?

It's really a moment that you can just breathe and know that your loved ones are safe. But we buried my aunt right next to my mom. That was the last time I saw her, three months ago at my mom's funeral, when she was holding me and giving me their condolences and telling me that, you know, everything will be alright. And now she's there, laying next to her, in the ground.

So we all lost somebody really important in our life during this horrible war. And we want this to be over as soon as possible. We don't want any more casualties on any side. We don't celebrate death on either side. We mourn. We grieve for the loss of any human life.

We're allowing ourselves to take this moment to celebrate and to rejoice with our loved ones, and our families are reunited. But nobody feels like this mission is complete.

With files from CBC News. Interview produced by Morgan Passi. Q&A edited for length and clarity

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