‘Our daughter was killed by Hamas. Now we live only for our grandson she left behind’

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‘Our daughter was killed by Hamas. Now we live only for our grandson she left behind’

In the second of three reports from Israel, Michelle Rosenberg goes to Tel Aviv to meet hostage families and witness the partnership between UJIA and Israel's National Organisation for Victims of Terror

Julio and Gloria Vargas, with their National Organisation for Victims of Terror case-worker Shirel, and grandson Aviel. 27th March 2024, Tel Aviv. Pic: Michelle Rosenberg
Julio and Gloria Vargas, with their National Organisation for Victims of Terror case-worker Shirel, and grandson Aviel. 27th March 2024, Tel Aviv. Pic: Michelle Rosenberg

Julio and Gloria Vargas’s terrified daughter was murdered alongside her partner by Hamas terrorists on October 7th at the Nova music festival, mercilessly gunned down whilst hiding in a road-side shelter.

We heard their story on the second day of the UJIA delegation to Israel, at the National Organisation for Victims of Terror.

Based out of Tel Aviv, NOVT is Israel’s longest standing non-profit organisation supporting victims of terror and their families. NOVT advocates, navigates, heals and helps victims and their families. UJIA, the UK’s largest pro-Israel charity, is supporting their loan fund and their family support initiative for child orphans of October 7th.

Julio tells us he spoke to his 26-year old daughter Yvonne Vargas at 0715 on the Shabbat morning of 7th October,  when she was at the Nova party. She told him, “Dad, there’s a war going on here”.

He told her to “go quickly and find shelter” at one of the roadside shelter spaces. Not long afterwards, from where they live in Jerusalem, they heard the sirens.

Gloria was crying with worry whilst Julio sent messages to their daughter, begging her to “let us know where you are'”.

There was no answer.

Antonio Macías Montaño and Yvonne Rubio Vargas. Pic: social media

Watching the news, they saw that there “were terrorists going around”. They were scared. Julio called the police, who told him her last known position, which was, as he’d suggested to his daughter earlier, close to a roadside shelter. He also called Yvonne’s partner but there was no answer.

It was days before soldiers came to tell them that Yvonne and her 28-year old partner Antonio Macias, both from Colombian families but born in Israel, had been murdered in a shelter, leaving behind Antonio’s six-year-old daughter Manuela and Yvonne’s four and a half year-old son Aviel.

Gloria and Julio tell the group that since October 7th, they’ve have no life; that it’s very hard for them to live without their daughter. They carry on only for the sake of their grandson. Watching the news “about the soldiers and the hostages breaks our hearts”.

A tribute to those murdered at the Nova Festival, Re’im. Pic: Michelle Rosenberg

Julio and Gloria thank the team at NOVT for their support. It’s clear they couldn’t function without Shirel, their family support worker from the organisation.

A 27-year old from Jerusalem, she volunteered out of a need to do something “meaningful” to connect to what is going on in Israel.

There is an audible intake of breath as Julio and Gloria’s grandson rushes in. A beautiful little boy, Aviel is a ball of energy, rushing to sit with them, carrying a hand-held game. He remains completely unaware of the waves of rising emotion welling around him.

Pic: Gilad Shoham at the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, Tel Aviv. Pic: Michelle Rosenberg. Wednesday March 27th 2024.

This child is all Gloria and Julio have left of their beloved daughter. And he sits on his grandfather’s knee, eating, playing, oblivious to the thick wall of shock in the room. Some of us cry silently, wiping our eyes or numbly looking at the floor.

For a brief moment, whilst he jumps out to help himself to fresh fruit and cakes, the room is utterly silent. We shake ourselves, smile, say ‘Shalom!’ to him and give little hand waves in an attempt to be normal.

Shirel says that Gloria and Julio are “two people that I didn’t know before but are now inside of me. It’s a family that I’m part of. That is the story of Am Y’Israel. It’s not just that they have lost someone. We have all lost someone. It’s our way to be part of it”.

UJIA Israel director Emily Pater tells Jewish News that their partnership with NOVT is “helping to ease the pain and burden that thousands of families are having to contend with in the aftermath of the October 7th terrorist atrocities. Their model ensures that in addition to getting the financial assistance they require to meet new needs, they also have a professional by their side who can help them get quick access to support tailored to their situation. Thanks to NOVT, children have a chance of a brighter future than could have been envisioned six months ago.”

With heavy hearts, we then head to the volunteer-led Hostages and Missing Families Forum, which offers medical, professional and emotional support, to meet Gilad Korngold, the father of 38-year old hostage Tal Shoham.

Tal was visiting family on Kibbutz Be’eri when he was kidnapped, along with six members of his family; his wife, Adi Shoham, his daughter, Yahel, 3, and son, Naveh, 8, mother-in-law Shoshan Haran, his wife’s aunt Sharon Avigdori and her daughter Noam, 12. Adi’s father Avshalom was murdered that day by Hamas.

Bullet holes on a wall of a building in Kibbutz Be’eri

Tal spent his 39th birthday in captivity, the only member of his family not released on November 25 as part of a temporary ceasefire deal after 54 days in Gaza.

Gilad speaks to us on the 173th day of his son’s captivity.

He says: “The first time I was interviewed in Israel, they asked me how I feel. I said that the worst fear I had was that they separate my grandchildren and they disappear in Gaza. Fortunately no one touched the women. Nobody touched the kids. In my kibbutz I have 15 seconds between the sirens to go to the safe room. In Kibbutz Be’eri they didn’t have one second. But 8 people got in that safe room”.

When Tal’s six family members were released, they told them what happened that day; terrorists took the kibbutz tractor in an attempt to break the metal bars of the safe room.

Tal Shoham

“A safe room is good for missiles,” says Gilad. “It’s not good for terrorists”.

Using a megaphone, the attackers told them if they didn’t leave the house, they’d burn it. With nowhere to run or hide, they left the house, and were taken.

Gilad tells us that for those like him campaigning for their loved ones to be freed, “We can’t work. We close everything. This place, the Hostage Forum, gives us the freedom to do everything. We don’t have to worry about anything. Everything is just to do with the hostages. We go to delegations. We talk. This is the third delegation I talk to just today. It’s my duty to do it. For you to understand exactly what’s happened and to share this. We are full of hope”.

Without hope, he adds, he can’t continue.

“You come here and I can talk to you. You keep saying ‘thank you’ but I have to thank YOU. I need people that support us. It makes me strong to continue. And I’ll continue until everybody gets out. I need my son. He’s the consigliere of the family. He makes peace in the family. So we need him back”.

  • To support UJIA’s emergency community appeal, click here
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