October 26 was Erez Dan Kalderon’s 12th birthday. He hoped to get a new mountain bike. But the greatest gift he could possibly get now would be freedom.
Erez was kidnapped in his pajamas from his home on Kibbutz Nir Oz early on the morning of October 7, along with his 16-year-old sister Sahar and their father, Ofer.
They are among approximately 220 Israelis of all ages being held captive in tunnels deep under Gaza. The Red Cross has not been allowed to visit them and nobody knows their condition.
Hadas Kalderon, the children’s mother, appealed to the media in a Zoom briefing sponsored by the Jerusalem Press Club and the Hostages and Missing Families Forum.
Kalderon said that her 80-year-old mother, Carmela, and her autistic niece, 13-year-old Noya, also were kidnapped that day from Nir Oz and were subsequently “murdered in a cruel way.”
“I have no time to grieve and feel my huge pain because I must give interviews to try to save my children’s lives,” she said.
“Kibbutz Nir Oz was attacked by 100, maybe 200 terrorists on the seventh of October in a terrible pogrom and Holocaust. Eighteen days have passed and we’re still in a big nightmare. Eighty or more members of my kibbutz were kidnapped, murdered or disappeared.”
‘Just me and God’
Kalderon was home alone that morning. The children had spent the night at their father’s house on the same kibbutz.
“I got a message about terrorists entering the kibbutz, and I heard people shouting in Arabic. I heard shooting everywhere. Suddenly they were in my house, smashing and breaking things. I was in the safe room, but the door doesn’t have a lock because it’s against bombs, not terrorists,” Kalderon explained.
She managed to block the door for eight hours. The last she heard from Ofer was a message that he and the kids had escaped out a window. She remembers thinking none of them would survive. As time dragged on, the electricity went out and her phone battery died.
“It was just me and God,” she recalled. “I was thirsty and terrified, preparing for my death. It was a terrifying situation. At 3 in the afternoon, our army arrived.”
It took the IDF soldiers half an hour to convince Kalderon it was safe to come out. When she finally went outside, “I looked around and realized we’ve suffered a massacre. I was shocked. My kibbutz is a green, peaceful place with a lot of people who have fought for peace. All the houses and cars were burned. I didn’t see my children, my mom, my niece.”
Kalderon has two older children, a 19-year-old son and a 21-year-old daughter, who were not on the kibbutz that night. Her daughter saw videos that Hamas posted on Instagram boasting of their savagery. She sent one video to her mother.
“I saw my small boy being taken by four of them. I just saw the beginning and I didn’t want to see the rest. But at least I knew he was alive and together with his sister and father. I was actually happy, because the other choice was to be murdered,” she said.
“And I decided then and there that I will go to the moon and back to help save them. Maybe the reason I survived was because I have to save my children and their father and the rest of the hostages.”
Today Erez Kalderon turns 12. And he does so while being held captive by Hamas.— Aviva Klompas (@AvivaKlompas) October 26, 2023
Erez was snatched from his bed on October 7 by the terrorists who rampaged through Nibbutz Nir Oz.
Erez was last seen in a video clip on showing him being held under his arms by Palestinian… pic.twitter.com/Bc9ylBQ3lL
Kalderon was speaking from the Tel Aviv hotel where she and other evacuees fled with nothing but what they were wearing. Kind citizens have brought them clothing, toiletries, and more, she said.
“We have no home to go back to,” she emphasized. “Most of the houses were burned after a lot of families were murdered – babies, children, old sick people, even dogs. I am a refugee in my own country now.”
A boy full of love
Erez, she said, is “a child who is full of love. He’s a very funny guy, very sensitive. He has a horse named Tinkerbell he loves to ride. Because we’ve lived near Gaza for 20 years he has a lot of fears and he needs me. I need to sit near him at night and play soothing music.”
Getting kidnapped, she said, “is his worst nightmare come true. In my head, I hear him all the time, crying and screaming to me to save him. I can’t even imagine him down there in that tunnel. I just want Erez to be here today and give him a huge birthday present, whatever he wants.”
As for her daughter Sahar, “she is beautiful, goodhearted, always giving to others. She loves to draw and she loves nature and animals. And I know she’s taking care of Erez.”
Erez’s relatives made this video for his birthday:
Erez is not the only child to reach a birthday milestone in captivity. Last week, Ohad Zichri from Kfar Saba turned 9. Ohad was on a holiday visit to his grandparents over the Sukkot weekend, and was taken hostage with his mother and grandparents.
There are 30 children now being held captive by Hamas, and though four people have been released, none of the children have yet made it out.
It’s painful for Kalderon to contemplate the conditions of the captives.
“They’re being held in tunnels deep underground. They can’t see the sky, I don’t know what air they breathe. Think about the babies in this situation. Think of the old people who need medication and will die without it,” she said. “Even if they are getting food, they are in merciless hands and every moment is important here.”
She called Hamas “a cruel army of terrorists worse than Al Qaida. They did terrifying things I hate to talk about, but I have to — they cut off babies’ heads, they cut open a pregnant woman, they raped young women and then killed them. They butchered whole families,” Kalderon said.
“I can do nothing about those who are no longer with us. I can’t grieve about my friends who have disappeared, I can’t think about my beautiful house ruined. I can think only about one thing: to ask you to scream my words to the world. I beg and demand of the whole world: Don’t sacrifice my children. Stop the fire and release the hostages. This must be the main goal of the whole world, immediately.”
Kalderon said she knows that her children’s “innocence and light may be taken from them” because of what they’re going through, “but I just want them to come back along with their father, who has always taught them good values and is a wonderful father.
“One minute I have hope, one minute I am in despair. How come they are still there?”