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The new reality of 4-year-old Abigail Edan, the first American hostage freed by Hamas

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Abigail Edan turned 4 this past Friday while being held hostage by Hamas. Both her parents were killed when Hamas attacked Israel on October 7. Her two older siblings, who are 6 and 10 years old, managed to hide in a closet for more than 12 hours. They escaped, but Abigail was taken and held for 50 days. This weekend, she was the first American freed as part of the hostage and prisoner exchange enabled by a temporary cease-fire in Gaza. And Abigail, who has dual American and Israeli citizenship, is now safely back with family in Israel. Her cousin Noa Naftali and her great-aunt Liz Hirsh Naftali are here with me now. They're in Washington. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us.

LIZ HIRSH NAFTALI: Thank you for having us.

KELLY: The very basic question to begin - how is Abigail doing? Have you all been able to speak with her?

NOA NAFTALI: She is back. She's safe. She is with her family. She was able to be reunited with her brother and sister and her cousins. And we understand that it was a very joyful and emotional reunion.

KELLY: Oh, I can imagine. And in terms of - I mean, she's 4. She's so, so young. But do you have a sense of, is she in good health? Is she doing OK?

HIRSH NAFTALI: Well, she was a hostage for 50 days. I think that we will only learn as the days go on and for a long time, what really effectively will be the results of having been a hostage and having been in her father's arms when he was murdered. So what I can say is that she came out. She was hungry. And she has been eating and drinking and so overjoyed to be with her family and her siblings. Really, they said the light went on when she saw her brother and sister and her cousins. She was taken off the kibbutz on October 7 with another mother and her three kids.

KELLY: This was neighbors. She had run to a neighbor's house?

HIRSH NAFTALI: Yes, so that she had run to a neighbor's house after she crawled out from under her father's body. And these neighbors took her in. And she knew the neighbors. They live in a community. So they knew them, and Abigail knew them. And Abigail...

NAFTALI: And the youngest boy goes to preschool with her.

HIRSH NAFTALI: Right. The youngest son of this family was her classmate in nursery school. So what we prayed for and hoped for was that this mother, Hagar, would be with Abigail and her three kids. And we learned that she was and that she was able to be there for her and hug her and show her the love that a 4-year-old child would need in these moments.

KELLY: I'm told President Biden reached out to your family. Would you share any of what he had to say?

HIRSH NAFTALI: Well, first, he reached out to my brother-in-law in Israel. That was the first call he made. And he was calling to ensure the family in Israel. And then he called me. But what he was calling to do was to ensure us that Abigail was back in Israel, and she was safe. That was the most important message he wanted us to know - that she had crossed the border, and she was back in Israel.

KELLY: Is that how you heard the news?

HIRSH NAFTALI: Well, it's interesting because we were watching the news, but it was unknown. So the first thing - we were waiting to see Abigail. That was the most important thing - to understand that she was truly released. The second thing that he talked about, which for me was really important - it's what Noa and I are very focused on right now - is that he and his administration, along with Qatar and Egypt, the leaders in those countries - that they would continue to work with the Israelis to make sure that more hostages will be released and that we will not stop, from the top level down to what we're doing on our - let's call it on our local level - to make sure that every hostage comes home to their loved ones.

And I'll say this, which is the one piece that I listened when I heard him speak so beautifully was that what he really wanted to do was give this little girl a hug. That's what I think so many people have said to us - that they just want her to come home, and they just want to embrace her because Abigail coming home is like any of our children, grandchildren. This is the president of the United States, the commander-in-chief. And the most poignant moment was when he said, I just want to give this child a hug.

KELLY: Yeah.

HIRSH NAFTALI: Because that's what we want to all do - is to embrace her. And, you know, I think about Abigail. And for all this time, she has been a symbol of these hostages. These are all innocent civilians that were taken - kidnapped, taken hostage after seeing horrific, horrific things. And Abigail being this beautiful, little child who should never have been, ever, a hostage for a minute is a symbol. And she will continue to be a symbol of all of these innocent civilians. And I hope that Abigail will continue to be this hope for peace, a hope for making this world a better place for our children.

KELLY: That prompts me to ask - and this may not be a fair question, given what your family has just been through. But is there anything you - either of you - would wish to say to Palestinians who may be listening? I guess particularly those who may also be grieving family killed in this war?

NAFTALI: I think that I hope and pray for a future in which all children in the Middle East are safe - not just safe but also safe to be themselves - men, women, LGBTQ+. And I hope that the world will do everything that they can to ensure a safe future for Palestinians, for Israelis, regardless of where they were born and what religion they follow. I just want to take a moment to ask everyone, I guess, to think about the people who are still held hostage. These are grandparents, parents, sons, daughters, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews. There are many, many women still in the hands of Hamas - and that everyone around the world needs to do everything possible to get all of these people, and especially the women, out now.

KELLY: That is Noa Naftali and Liz Hirsh Naftali, cousin and great-aunt to now-4-year-old Abigail Edan, now back in the custody of her family in Israel. Thanks to you both.

HIRSH NAFTALI: Thank you very much.

NAFTALI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
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