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Marking Kfir’s birthday — but it wasn’t a celebration

By Deborah Danan

TEL AVIV — Three weeks after her cousin was abducted and taken to Gaza along with her family, Yifar Zailer said she knew one thing for sure: “I don’t want to be here in two months, celebrating Kfir’s first birthday.”

Israelis in Tel Aviv’s ‘Hostages Square’ mark the first birthday of Kfir Bibas, the youngest Israeli hostage held by Hamas in Gaza, on Jan. 18, 2024. (Gideon Markowicz/TPS)

Yet that’s exactly what Zailer did on Jan. 18, returning to Hostages Square in Tel Aviv for what her family had dubbed “the saddest birthday in the world.”

Zailer was there along with hundreds of others to mark the first birthday of Kfir Bibas, the youngest hostage to be taken hostage when Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7.

Kfir and his four-year-old brother Ariel became early faces to the hostage crisis that morning, when Hamas released a video clip showing them being abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz along with their mother Shiri, whose terror was visible.

Their father Yarden Bibas was also abducted.

At the end of November, 2023, all of the other child hostages and their mothers were released during a ceasefire deal.

Shortly afterwards, Hamas said Kfir, Ariel and Shiri Bibas had all been killed in captivity, offering no evidence but releasing a video in which an anguished Yarden exhorted Israel to end its war.

Israel has not confirmed or denied Hamas’ claims.

Zailer said there had been no information about the family’s status delivered privately, either.

So both she and the legion of advocates planned a birthday party befitting the lively redheaded boy who has spent a quarter of his life in captivity.

Many people in the crowd were wearing orange in homage to the two brothers’ distinctive red hair and clutching orange balloons.

The balloons were released at the end of the event to the tune of “They Call Me Gingi,” a new song composed for the baby by several Israeli performers whose lyrics include:

“I was left behind /
they say I’m a hero /
I don’t know why.”

Judith Paz, who has been volunteering with the Bibas family in charge of English-language content on its social media channels, said she refused to wish Kfir a happy birthday because there was “nothing happy about it.”

“But next year, we’ll all be here celebrating because there will be a huge party for Kfir’s second birthday in Hostages Square, together with Kfir and the rest of his family,” she said.

Other gatherings honoring Kfir took place around the world, with orange balloons being released in several European cities, a candlelight vigil by members of the US Congress and an art show in Berlin featuring works by a member of the extended Bibas family.

A photo of Kfir was also on display next to Israeli President Isaac Herzog during his address at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Jan. 18.

He revealed that he had met with officials from the Red Cross in Israel two days earlier to discuss “the clear and present danger to our hostages.”

Around 150 high-ranking executives, including prominent Jewish business leaders Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, Dell CEO Michael Dell and Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg, held a meeting with released hostages at the forum.

Rachel Goldberg-Polin, whose son Hersh was taken captive to Gaza after having his arm blown off, called on the corporate leaders to “leverage their global connections to immediately advance a deal without delay,” according to a statement released by the Hostages Families Forum.

Nili Margalit, who was kidnapped from her home in Kibbutz Nir Oz and subsequently released during November’s truce, said there was “not enough air to breathe” in the subterranean tunnels she was held in.

“Most of the people I was with in the tunnels are still being held deep underground, and they are terrified and wounded,” she said according to the statement.

“The hostages could die any day. Every hour is dangerous for them.”

Zailer, who like the Bibas family holds Argentinian citizenship, has been all around the world advocating for her family’s release.

“We’re doing everything we can to push our government and other governments to make this deal [with Hamas] to get them out,” she said.

Last week Hamas agreed for the first time to allow medicine in for the hostages. 
 But it has not yet agreed to allow Red Cross doctors to visit the roughly 100 living Israelis understood to be in Gaza.

Hamas is believed to be holding the bodies of about 30 Israelis, including two whose deaths were confirmed last week.

No further progress around releasing additional hostages has been reported.

“We need a deal now,” said Yossi Schneider, another cousin.

Referring to Hamas’ chief in Gaza whom Israeli officials say has surrounded himself with hostages, he added, “Yahya Sinwar can be killed any day, but Kfir and the others have no more time.”

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