March 5th, 2024

Last Canadian missing after Hamas attack, Judih Weinstein Haggai, declared dead

By Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press on December 28, 2023.

In this undated photo released by Iris Weinstein Haggai, Judih Weinstein and Gadi Hagi hold each other as they pose for a photo in Toronto. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Iris Weinstein Haggai via AP

OTTAWA – The family of the only Canadian citizen who was still missing after Hamas militants conducted a brutal assault on Israel has confirmed her death.

A relative says Judih Weinstein Haggai died on Oct. 7, the day of the attacks that killed an estimated 1,200 people, and her body is being held in the Gaza Strip.

The 70-year-old woman’s family says she held Canadian, Israeli and American citizenships.

Weinstein Haggai was born in New York state but moved to Toronto at the age of three, and moved to Israel 20 years later to live with her husband.

She lived in the Nir Oz kibbutz, which sits less than three kilometres from her home, and was a volunteer who helped Palestinians in Gaza.

Weinstein Haggai made puppets to help teach students English, and often posted haikus and meditations on YouTube.

In an interview earlier this month, Weinstein Haggai’s relatives said she and her husband Gadi Haggai were out on an early-morning walk when the Oct. 7 attacks started.

She sent a text message to members of her community saying that a militant on a motorcycle had shot her husband, and that she was less severely wounded.

Her kibbutz, the term for a collective farming community, tried to dispatch an ambulance, but couldn’t do so before Hamas militants arrived.

Israeli officials later told family members that Weinstein Haggai’s cellphone signal was detected within Gaza, her family said.

Last week, officials confirmed the family’s suspicions that Gadi Haggai, 73, had died on Oct. 7, though relatives still held onto hope that Weinstein Haggai would be released.

Ali Weinstein, Judih’s niece who lives in Toronto, said in a Dec. 4 interview that the family was on an emotional roller-coaster, feeling grief, joy for the hostages who had been released during a pause in fighting and dread each time her aunt wasn’t among those released.

She said Canadian officials were more responsive than their American and Israeli counterparts, with two RCMP officers in touch nearly every day, despite there being few new facts to share.

The family initially kept quiet because they feared raising Weinstein Haggai’s profile with her presumed captors.

They said they were also unsure whether to voice their dismay at how Israel has responded to the attacks, with constant airstrikes and a siege on Gaza that the United Nations says violates international humanitarian law.

The war has already killed more than 20,000 Palestinians, according to local authorities, and driven about 85 per cent of the Gaza Strip’s population of 2.3 million people from their homes.

Weinstein Haggai’s family also said early this month that they were distressed by the rise in hateful speech toward both Jews and Muslims in Canada.

“We’re inspired by my sister, who believed in peace and believed in harmony,” said Larry Weinstein, Judih’s brother, on Dec. 4.

“There can’t be any kind of resolution when people are at each other’s throats.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 28, 2023.

– With files from The Associated Press.

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