Last Canadian missing after Hamas attack, Judih Weinstein Haggai, declared dead

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Published December 28, 2023 at 2:15 pm

judih weinstein haggai

The family of the only Canadian citizen who was still missing after Hamas militants conducted a brutal assault on Israel has confirmed her death.

A relative says Judih Weinstein Haggai, 70, died on Oct. 7, the day of the attacks, which saw an estimated 1,200 people killed and about 240 more taken hostage.

Her body is being held in the Gaza Strip, the family says.

Weinstein Haggai was born in New York state but arrived in Toronto at the age of three, and moved to Israel 20 years later to live with her husband. She held Canadian, Israeli and American citizenships.

She lived in the Nir Oz kibbutz, which sits less than three kilometres from the Gaza Strip.

The Nir Oz kibbutz wrote in a statement Thursday that Weinstein Haggai was a mother of four, a grandmother to seven and that she “pursued many initiatives to advance peace in the region.”

Weinstein Haggai was a volunteer who helped both Palestinians and Israelis. She made puppets to help teach students English, and often posted haikus and meditations on YouTube.

The kibbutz said she also taught mindfulness to children and teenagers who suffer anxiety related to rocket fire from Gaza.

In an interview earlier this month, Weinstein Haggai’s relatives said she and her husband Gadi Haggai, 72, were out on an early-morning walk when Hamas started its Oct. 7 attack.

She told members of her community that a militant on a motorcycle had shot her husband, and that she was less severely wounded.

Her kibbutz, the term for a collective farming community, tried to dispatch an ambulance, but couldn’t do so before Hamas militants arrived.

Israeli officials later told family members that Weinstein Haggai’s cellphone signal was detected within Gaza, her family said.

Last week, officials confirmed the family’s suspicions that Gadi Haggai, 73, had died on Oct. 7, though relatives still held onto hope that Weinstein Haggai would be released.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said Jews across Canada are heartbroken, after praying that Weinstein Haggai would still be alive.

“Judih and her husband Gadi are among the 129 Israeli souls still being held by Hamas,” wrote the head of the Canadian group, Shimon Koffler Fogel.

“Whether they are alive or not, they all must be immediately and unconditionally returned to their homes and their families in Israel.”

Ali Weinstein, Judih’s niece who lives in Toronto, said in a Dec. 4 interview that the family was on an emotional roller-coaster, feeling grief, joy for the hostages who had been released during a pause in fighting and dread each time her aunt wasn’t among those released.

The family initially kept quiet because they feared raising Weinstein Haggai’s profile with her presumed captors.

They said they were also unsure whether to voice their dismay at how Israel has responded to the attacks, with constant airstrikes and a siege on Gaza that the United Nations says violates international humanitarian law.

The war has already killed more than 20,000 Palestinians, according to local authorities, and driven about 85 per cent of the Gaza Strip’s population of 2.3 million people from their homes.

Weinstein Haggai’s family also said early this month that they were distressed by the rise in hateful speech toward both Jews and Muslims in Canada.

“We’re inspired by my sister, who believed in peace and believed in harmony,” said Larry Weinstein, Judih’s brother, on Dec. 4.

“There can’t be any kind of resolution when people are at each other’s throats.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 28, 2023.

— With files from The Associated Press. 

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

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