Hanukkah traditions comfort mother of Israeli held captive in Gaza two months

By Lucy Marks

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Alon Ohel’s absence has darkened his mother Idit’s celebration of the Jewish Hanukkah festival, but she finds comfort recalling his love of the holiday donuts their family made again this year while Hamas holds him captive in Gaza.

“Hanukkah is the festival of light, and not just light, of miracles,” Idit Ohel said on Thursday, the first of eight festive nights, and voiced hope he might be freed in that time.

Commemorating an ancient Jewish victory, Hanukkah features the lighting of candles and frying of foods because, tradition says, of a miracle that oil found to fuel a ceremonial lamp was only enough for one day, but it burned for eight.

Two months have passed since Oct. 7 when Hamas gunmen kidnapped Alon, 22, from the Nova outdoor music festival about 5 km (3 miles) from Gaza. Alon is one of 137 hostages still held captive in the Palestinian enclave.

The hostage-taking and subsequent Israeli offensive against Hamas in Gaza have tempered Hanukkah celebrations in Israel.

“He doesn’t know it’s Hanukkah. I don’t think he knows the days, what’s day, what’s night,” his mother said at their home in Lavon, northern Israel. “But he’s in our hearts all the time.”

Alon’s grandmother Talma Rosen and his sister Inbar Ohel joined Alon’s mother in rolling the dough and frying the jam donuts, known in Hebrew as sufganiyot.

“He loves that, he can eat so many,” his mother said.

“With a cup of tea or coffee,” his grandmother said.

“Tradition is tradition,” his mother added.

She recalled the last time she heard from Alon. It was in a text message around 8 a.m. on Oct. 7, the day Hamas infiltrated from Gaza, killing 1,200 people and taking 240 hostages, Israel says. Dozens were freed during a one-week truce that collapsed on Dec. 1, but not Alon.

His message said he was OK, but his mother later realised that was the moment he was kidnapped because the message was posted inside a bomb shelter where there was no signal, and “when he was kidnapped, he was dragged and his phone fell.”

“I haven’t heard from him since,” she said. “I hope to think of my son as being there not alone, being with others. And in a sense, as I know my son, you know, he always helps people and gives a hand.”

Alon’s mother said she saw significance in the number 8.

“There are eight lights or eight days of Hanukkah. And he was, his SMS was at eight o’clock, 8:08 – if I show you. This is real. So I think there will be a miracle. I don’t know why. I think so. Maybe at the eighth day of Hanukkah. Maybe.”

(Reporting by Lucy Marks; editing by Howard Goller and Mark Heinrich)