‘Omer stood up for Gilad Shalit – now the world needs to stand up for him,’ says family of hostage

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

‘Omer stood up for Gilad Shalit – now the world needs to stand up for him,’ says family of hostage

After 138 days without medication for his asthma and Coeliac disease, hostage Omer Shem Tov's cousin Leat Corinne Unger demands that Israel sends a delegation to Cairo.

Omer Shem Tov was 20 when Hamas took him hostage at the Nova music festival. He spent his 21st birthday, on 31 October, in captivity.

Now, 138 days on from the Hamas attack of 7 October, speaking to Jewish News from her home in the United States, Omer’s cousin, Leat Corinne Unger, calls him the “sunshine of his home” and describes a “man of peace”, a brave, honourable person who risked his chance for safety to save the lives of two friends.

Shelly (left) with Leat (right).

She shares a social media reel of Omer, aged just seven, at a rally for the release of Gilad Shalit, held prisoner by Hamas for five years before his release in a prisoner swap on 18 October 2011.

“Omer Shem Tov stood up for Gilad Shalit” she says. “Now the world needs to stand up for him.”

Leat, 36, describes her cousin, Omer’s 51-year-old-mother Shelly, as “more like my big sister. I don’t have a big sister. So we call each other ‘Little Sis’ and ‘Big Sis’.” She speaks to Shelly, married to husband Malki and living in Herzliya with two other children, 27 year old daughter Dana, and 24 year old son Amit, every day.

Screenshot: Omer Shem Tov, aged 7 years old, at a rally for the release of Gilad Shalit.

Omer was working as a waiter in a restaurant in Herzliya, saving up to go travelling with friends. On 7 October, along with thousands of other Israelis, he was celebrating at the Nova music festival when the terrorists struck.

Under rocket fire, he managed to escape. Leat has recounted how he did so while staying in touch with his family, using his phone to share his live location.

With each phone call, she has said “he sounded more and more panicked at the unfolding situation. He witnessed dead bodies, countless bullets flying in the air, and terrorists surrounding them.”

Once he realised his two best friends, siblings Maya and Itai Regev, had been left behind, he went back to find them.

From what Maya and Itai, released by Hamas in December, later told Omer’s family, terrorists surrounded them and fired five magazines of bullets at the car, disabling the engine, and severely injuring both Maya’s and Itai’s legs.

Leat Corinne Unger, Central Park.

Thrown into a dirty white pickup truck, the four young people were driven into Gaza, all the while with Omer’s family continuing to watch his live location share. That was their last contact with him. They have also viewed video footage of the moment they were all kidnapped.

Leat Corinne Unger seeing the car Omer, Itai, Maya and Itai were kidnapped from, for the first time.

Maya Regev was released on 25 November; her younger brother Itai on 29 November. The only information Omer’s family has about him is from them.

Unger tells Jewish News: “Itai came back on Day 55 and he shared many things that are proof of life. Omer was alive when they (Itai and Maya) were liberated. Itai calls him his big brother. When Itai would break down, Omer was the strength, the optimism.”

October 6th 2023. A family photograph on the day Shelly Shem Tov turned 51. These are the clothes Omer was wearing when he went to the festival.

She adds: “After his return from captivity, Itai shared with us that Omer did not let one Friday night pass in captivity, without reciting the kiddush. He knew what time Shabbat was by counting the muezzin’s calls for prayer. Omer rationed his food from the week, so that he could complete this weekly tradition; scraping the salt from his bread roll, saving his weekly bottle of grape juice, and using the quarter of pita bread (60 calories) he was given for the day, to recite the holy kiddush, and bring light into a dark place. Because he is light. He is our light.”

Despite the fact that Omer has coeliac disease (where your immune system attacks your own tissues when you eat gluten), his family know that he is forcing himself to eat quarter of a pita a day to survive.

Shelly, left and Leat, right.

Unger adds: “Itai said he (Omer) was choking, having a very hard time breathing. He was told ‘Uskut!’ Shut up or be killed, if he coughed. He is suffering tremendously from stomach pains. The quarter of a pita tears his stomach inside out, but he’s doing it to survive for his family. He told Itai ‘I hope my parents are OK and haven’t stopped living their lives’.”

Describing Omer as “the epitome of faith and strength”, Unger says that if he “has faith in such a place of darkness, we as the Jewish people, who have morals, need to demand that our lives are returned to us. If he can bring light to the tunnels of Hamas, as the Jewish people we have a collective responsibility to love thy neighbour as thyself and demand our light is returned to every single hostage family.”

Omer Shem Tov with sister Dana. Pic: Instagram

She tells Jewish News that Omer also suffers from asthma and needs his inhaler to breathe, making the ongoing situation a humanitarian crisis, as he is one of many who require life saving medical attention who have been ignored for more than 130 days.

“Omer cannot breathe. 134 human beings cannot breathe. We cannot breathe. It’s been 138 days since that horrific nightmare, that we relive each and every moment of our days since October 7.”

Leat’s message is clear: What wouldn’t you do to bring your child, your father, your mother, your brother, your sister home?

Dana and Amit Shem Tov advocating for their brother, 21-year-old Omer, at an event in Los Angeles. Pic: Instagram

She adds: “What wouldn’t you give? We need to call on the Israeli government to sign a deal to send a delegation to Cairo because the feeling of safety for the Jewish nation depends upon the return of our children to their homes.”

“As someone who has spent time in your country, and has the utmost respect for the beauty of the people, the culture, education, and values you uphold; as the cousin of a hostage being held by Hamas, I implore your government, a leader of human rights, to intervene swiftly and secure the release our children and my cousin Omer.”

Leat Corinne Unger runs a social media account for Omer. She is adamant that he “needs to have visibility. He wants to be a producer. He, sings, plays instruments and is self-taught. People need to realise that there is so much more (about a hostage) than a poster. People need to witness when he returns and be part of that collective celebration and the return of 134 hostages. It’s our collective responsibility to demand their release”.

On 14th February, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he ruled out sending an Israeli delegation for further hostage negotiations in Cairo, a decision met with tremendous anger by families of the remaining hostages, who have vowed to send their own delegation.

“What I need to say is that THIS is the moment of truth. That 138 days of fighting, of darkness, of pain, of suffering, of not eating, of sleepless night, of the unknown, have led us to this clear deal that is on the table. To deny sending a delegation is basically throwing away what we’ve worked for as a nation and of hostage families for 138 nightmare days. That is unacceptable. It’s something that can’t happen because we are Israel. If Israel wants to feel safe again, we need to at least get to a table. To at least try. To bring our children back home. To restore faith and to heal just a little bit from the Black Saturday of October 7th.”

“The key is to sign a deal. Bring them home.”

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: