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Gabriela Leimberg

59

Gabriela Leimberg, the youngest among three siblings, originating from a tightly-knit, affectionate Argentinian family. Her journey to Israel began alongside her sister and a group of young members from the HaShomer HaTzair movement, with their brother joining them shortly after. Gabriela settled in Jerusalem with her husband, Moshe Leimberg, and their daughter, Mia, nurturing a home filled with love and care. She heads Eyal’s Farm, a day-care community center catering to young autistic individuals and their families under the SHEKEL - Inclusion for People with Disabilities association. This eco-friendly center, located amidst the serene environment of Kibbutz Ramat Rachel in Jerusalem, thrives under her committed guidance. Gabriela is celebrated for her gentle, loving care towards young adults with autism, providing invaluable support to many families for over two decades.
The tranquility of the Simchat Torah holiday on October 7th turned into chaos when Gabriela visited her sister Clara Rosa Merman (63) and Clara's partner Louis Herr (70) at Kibbutz Nir-Yitzhak. Gabriela stayed over with her 17-year-old daughter and brother Fernando Simon Merman (60) in the kibbutz. All five family members fell victim to a ruthless attack by Hamas on their community. The attack led to their forceful abduction into Gaza, leaving behind a trail of destruction at Clara's residence.
During their harrowing 53-day captivity, the family was held together in one location. They engaged in conversations among themselves, and occasionally even with their captors, considering the limited communication and basic language, sharing insights into each other’s societies - a coping mechanism to endure their ordeal.

Moved by Gabriela's plight, the families associated with Eyal Farm launched a film campaign advocating for her release, featuring heartfelt appeals from the day-care participants, their families, and the SHEKEL staff. The project quickly gained momentum with contributions from top-tier professionals in the film industry, broadcasting a unified message for Gabriela's freedom. In the film, one of the participants poignantly asks, "Gabriela, where are you?" "Dad, I really miss Gabriela. I want her to come back already." This young man’s plea for her return resonated deeply with viewers.
In his tireless efforts, Moshe Leimberg campaigned on the international stage for the release of his family and the other hostages. The end of November saw Clara, Gabriela, and Mia's release as part of a temporary ceasefire deal, a moment of national elation, further sweetened by the memorable sight of Mia emerging from Gaza with Bella, her beloved Shih-Tzu, who miraculously survived the ordeal alongside her.
Reflecting on her experience, Gabriela acknowledged the abduction as profoundly traumatic. She found solace in the belief that her country and her people were doing everything possible to ensure that those in power would make the right decisions, engage in negotiations, and secure their release. This belief is what sustained them amidst despair. Gabriela further emphasized, "The government has an undeniable responsibility to promptly retrieve everyone who was forsaken and abducted."
In a touching Facebook post, Lihi Lapid, president of the SHEKEL association, reached out to Moshe, sharing words of support and relief at the safe return of his family. She highlighted the end of a period of loneliness and the restoration of love within their home.
The Merman family saga concluded with the dramatic rescue of Gabriela’s brother, Fernando Merman, and Clara’s partner, Louis Herr, in February 2024 in a meticulously planned special military operation. Finally back together, the family is turning a painful chapter into one of advocacy, sharing their harrowing captivity experience and calling for the swift return of all remaining hostages.

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