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Emily Tony Korenberg Hand

9

Emily, a dual Irish-Israeli citizen, has at 9 years old a life story that reads like an emotionally charged drama. Her father, Thomas Hand, 64, is an Irish Catholic who moved to Israel in 1992 to volunteer in Kibbutz Be’eri. It was there he met Narkis, married her and welcomed two children into the world, Eden and Natalie. After Natalie turned three, Thomas and Narkis parted ways, yet Thomas remained in Be’eri, contributing to the kibbutz’s print business. Years later, he met Liat Korenberg, and Emily was born.
Emily is described by her father as a natural leader among her friends, beloved for her sociability and sweet nature. Her diverse interests span Brazilian dance and sports to music (playing the piano and aspiring to start guitar lessons soon), highlighting her multifaceted personality. Her sister Natalie, 26, describes her as a person one cannot help but fall in love with.
Tragedy struck when Emily was only two and a half, as Liat succumbed to breast cancer. Narkis, Thomas’s ex-wife and the mother of his older children, stepped in to fill the maternal void for Emily, welcoming her with open arms. Known affectionately as Kissie, Narkis embodies pure and unconditional love. Narkis was tragically murdered at 54 during the Be’eri massacre perpetrated by Hamas terrorists on October 7th.
On Simchat Torah, October 7th, Emily’s sleepover at her friend Hila Rotem Shoshani’s house was abruptly shattered by the onset of rocket attacks and terrorist intrusion. During this terrifying ordeal, Emily and Natalie, who was traveling in Australia, stayed in touch. Hila, 13, and her mother, Raaya Rotem, 54, were taken hostage by Hamas terrorists into the Gaza strip, leaving the house in ruins.

Emily was presumed dead in the immediate aftermath of the horrible attack. Her father talked about his initial reaction: “They just said: 'We found Emily. She is dead.' and I went: 'Yes!'” With tears running down his cheeks, Thomas shares in a heartfelt interview, “Because that was the best possibility that I knew.”
The uncertainty surrounding Emily’s fate took a dramatic turn by the end of October, challenging her family to grapple with the limbo of her whereabouts. The Israeli military informed Thomas that Emily’s DNA could not be traced anywhere; that she was considered missing, and then a hostage by Hamas. “I had to shift my whole mindset and digest this new information,” said Thomas.
Amidst this turmoil, Emily spent her 9th birthday in captivity. This milestone was marked by her sister and father’s advocacy efforts in Dublin, engaging Irish Prime Minister and Parliament members in their quest for her immediate release.
During her 50 days in Hamas captivity, Emily was provided solace by 38-year-old Itay Svirsky, a ‘Satya’ therapist. Emily regained her freedom following a temporary ceasefire agreement in late November, and was released alongside her friend Hila. Emily was very surprised to see her father because she assumed he had been kidnapped as well. The psychological scars, evidenced by her creation of a unique coping lexicon and her struggle with anxiety, attest to the profound impact of her ordeal. The devastating news of the murder of sensitive, compassionate Itay Svirsky in mid January was very hard on Emily. She claimed it was a lie “since Hamas lies all the time.”
Emily told her father that the terrorists threatened them to be quiet: 'If you're not quiet, we'll kill you with this knife,' she demonstrated. This can explain why she only whispered at first. Emily is currently undergoing therapy to regain the sense of control she lost in captivity. Her reintegration into normalcy is punctuated by her smiles, laughter, and dancing, which appear more and more each day. Upon her return from Gaza, while still at the hospital, Emily's first request was for her phone - to watch a Beyoncé video, her beloved artist, followed by a large order of sushi :)

“I found a paradise on earth for 31 years, and overnight it turned into hell”, Thomas told Ilana Dayan in an interview for 'Uvda' ("Fact" in Hebrew), Israel's leading investigative and current affairs show. "The destroyed houses, the blood of our friends still on the roads, on the paths, in the grass, in the soil itself… But still, they will never defeat us. We will rise from the ashes of that morning.”
Emily’s resilience, her father’s determination to return to their kibbutz home, and the collective yearning for a semblance of safety encapsulate a family’s journey through unimaginable adversity, underpinned by a steadfast resolve to reclaim their lives from the clutches of terror and loss.

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