Yoni Asher’s experience of time coming to a halt occurred on October 7 when Hamas took his wife and two daughters hostage during their surprise attack on Israel.
“I don’t work, don’t sleep. I eat the minimum to survive,” the exhausted 37-year-old in a black T-shirt and necklace told a group of journalists.
Israel says at least 242 hostages were seized by Hamas militants who stormed out of the Gaza Strip a month ago and killed 1,400 people, mainly civilians, in the deadliest ever attack on the nation.
The Israeli military has responded with a withering air, land and naval assault on the Palestinian territory which the Hamas-run health ministry says has killed nearly 9,500 people, also mostly civilians.
On that fateful day, Asher had decided to stay at home alone in Tel Aviv while his wife Doron and their daughters Raz and Aviv visited his mother-in-law, Efrat, at Nir Oz kibbutz.
Home to about 400 residents, the community near the border with Gaza was hit hard in the Hamas attack.
More than 20 people were killed and at least 75 were taken hostage from Nir Oz, a spokesperson for the kibbutz said this week.
After news of the attack broke, Asher saw video footage in which he spotted his family being taken away by militants in the back of a pick-up truck.
Efrat was seen alive in the video, but the Israeli army shortly afterwards announced her death.
Still, he holds onto this as the last proof of life for his wife and children, who are dual German-Israeli nationals.
Since October 7, Asher has left his job as a real estate entrepreneur to devote all of his time to bringing back his family.
During a meeting organized by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum in Tel Aviv, he said he’s given “close to 300 interviews” to the press.
“For me the date of today is still the 7th of October,” he said.
“Time has stopped.”
Freeing the hostages has become a major Israeli war aim and top concern for the country’s angered and shocked public, even as the military has kept up its relentless bombardment of Gaza.
Hamas has repeatedly said that Israeli strikes on the territory have killed hostages, but these claims are impossible to verify.
“As parents, we are already afraid when a child jumps on his bed, so imagine our fear now with the bombing everywhere,” said Asher.
“We want peace, we don’t want any civilian populations to suffer.”
The voice of Adva Adar trembled when she spoke of her 85-year-old grandmother, Yafa, who is also believed to be held in Gaza.
“Every minute for her is a nightmare,” Adar said, worried that her grandmother will not receive adequate medical care for her heart and kidney problems, arterial hypertension and chronic pain.
Yafa, also a resident of Nir Oz, was seen alive in a video — unlike Adar’s cousin Tamir, who has been gone without a trace since the Hamas attack.
Like the rest of her family, Adar is trying to remain positive and has returned to Israel from a visit to Paris to advocate for the hostages.
“But sometimes reality catches up with us,” the social worker said.
After “one month without medication, it could mean that she didn’t survive, that she died over there.”
Ella Ben Amin says she now takes “a lot of pills” in order to get to sleep, and is in therapy twice a week since her parents were abducted from the Beeri kibbutz.
According to the NGO Zaka, which helped to collect bodies in the aftermath of the attack, more than 100 Beeri residents died on October 7.
As with the other relatives, Ben Amin said she remains “focused on bringing back” the hostages and continues to give media interviews to raise awareness of their cause.
Her mother, Raz, needs treatment for cerebral and spinal tumors and has mobility problems, she said.
Survivors from the kibbutz have been housed in a hotel on the Dead Sea, Ben Amin said.
Every day they gather to “sing together,” exchange information and share their grief.
It is there that they are told “who has been found dead, because numerous bodies have still not been identified,” she said.