Family of Israeli hostage still in Gaza share complex emotions over Saturday’s rescue: ‘Painful because it’s not Romi’

The family of Romi Gonen, an Israeli waitress shot and kidnapped on Oct. 7, say that Saturday’s stunning rescue of four hostages from Gaza was one of their “happiest days” in months, but confessed it was also “painful… because it’s not Romi” among them.

Romi Gonen, 23, was shot in the arm and abducted by Hamas terrorists at the Nova music festival as her mother Meirav, 55, tried to comfort her in a heartbreaking phone call.

Romi’s sister, Yarden Gonen, 30, says she feels “very, very happy” and “over the top” for the families of the rescued hostages but admitted to “complex” emotions because her sister is still held captive.

Israeli hostage Romi Gonen, 23, her mother Meirav Gonen, 54, and her sister Yarden Gonen. Yarden Gonen

“We want to feel only joy and happiness for them and relief but you can’t,” she said, “I wish I could only be happy without feeling any other feeling.”

Romi’s mother Meirav said she was overjoyed to see the images of hostages returning to their families on television but desperately longed for a reunion of her own.

“We envied them, I felt jealous, real jealous, not the kind of jealous that I wouldn’t want [others to return home], I just want my daughter to be one of them also in addition to the four of them.”

“It was hard for me, it was difficult,” Meirav said, “I asked my youngest child, he’s 17, how he felt he said ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’”

Meirav describes Romi as “one of the funniest girls I know,” who is beloved by her friends and customers at the high-end Tel Aviv restaurant she waitresses at.

Yarden shared a story about how customers she was waiting on were once so charmed by her, that when they found out it was the night before her birthday they left to buy decorations at a nearby store and threw her a surprise party at midnight — even though they had never met before.

A combination picture shows (clockwise from top left) former hostages Almog Meir Jan, Noa Argamani, Andrey Kozlov, and Shlomi Ziv, who were held by Hamas in Gaza and rescued more than eight months later in a special operation by Israeli forces after their arrival in Ramat Gan, Israel June 8, 2024. REUTERS

“Ever since she was kidnapped we’ve heard many stories like this,” the devastated sister said.

“We call her the sunshine of the house,” Yarden said. “She puts the family first before anything else, she will do anything she can for the ones that she loves… she’s acting from the heart.

“We very [much] hope that she’s with others in captivity because it would give her strength to keep on fighting, she would know that she needs to fight for others.”

Romi Gonen, 23, was shot in the arm and abducted by Hamas terrorists at the Nova music festival as her mother Meirav, 55, tried to comfort her in a heartbreaking phone call. Yarden Gonen

Yarden and Meirav said they have no information about Romi’s current condition, and lamented that even the Red Cross is not visiting the hostages. Still, they are convinced she’s a survivor.

“We know she’s alive, we feel her… we have a spiritual connection.”

During a recent interview on The Hill’s Rising, the former co-host and ex-Bernie Sanders staffer Briahna Joy Gray callously rolled her eyes at Yarden as she described her sister’s plight and implored her to believe the women victims of October 7.

Meirav describes Romi as “one of the funniest girls I know,” who is beloved by her friends and customers at the high-end Tel Aviv restaurant where she waitresses. Yarden Gonen

Yarden said she asked to be interviewed by Gray after she discovered that the co-host had been routinely denying that mass rapes that occurred during Hamas’ shock invasion of Israel.

This enraged Yarden, who had seen graphic photographs provided by Zaka, an Israeli emergency response organization from the Oct. 7 attack.

Moment IDF troops secure two hostages in a daring helicopter rescue. IDF

The photos showed dead women with mutilated genitals, broken pelvises, and their pants pulled down to their knees and shirts pulled over their breasts, she said. Yarden said she also has spoken to multiple Nova survivors who recounted the rapes they witnessed.

Yarden didn’t see Gray roll her eyes at her during the interview, but heard her sigh and felt that she was saying, “okay, okay, shut up.”

When she found out the Rising host, who has since been fired, rolled her eyes she said it was “very hurtful but not surprising”

“What I’m saying is something that should be obvious, that we should believe women when they say they got hurt or got raped or sexually abused. Everyone in the world, especially women, should encourage that.”

Yarden wanted Gray, who did not immediately return the Post’s request for comment, to understand the “terrifying feeling I live with every day.”

“Those people that allowed themselves to perform those actions on October 7 are the same demons that are holding my sister, and they can do whatever they want, every minute, every day, and she can’t call anyone for help.”

Romi’s mother Meirav said she was overjoyed to see the images of hostages returning to their families on television but desperately longed for a reunion of her own. Yarden Gonen

But Gray appeared unmoved and even annoyed by the plight of the female Oct. 7 victims.

“I never imagined that she would respond to me like that. It wasn’t my intention that this interview would get her fired but I’m very pleased to see that this television show doesn’t agree for people to act like that.”

Yarden says she wants to see Hamas accept the cease-fire immediately and release the hostages because further military efforts put Israel’s own soldiers, the remaining hostages, and civilians in Gaza at risk.

“For a life-seeking nation like Israel, war is never the target… the main target is to bring back the hostages and bring back safety.”

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