Sarasota family waiting to hear word of Israeli American son as hostages are released from Gaza

On Oct. 7, Gillian Kaye’s family was torn apart.

"The terrorists began to come into and infiltrate the kibbutz," Kaye said. "He immediately alerted everyone," she said.

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Kaye’s stepson, Sagui Dekel-Chen, was going to the garage in Kibbutz Nir Oz early that morning to work on a project in the farming community.

"He immediately alerted everyone, the security team, everybody on the kibbutz and certainly his family," Kaye said. "He then ran back to his house and made sure that his wife and his two little girls were secured, and then he left and he and some other very, very brave young men and not-so-young men, horribly outnumbered, it was a hopeless, hopeless task, but they tried to defend their community and what we know is that all of those people were taken or killed."

Kaye, who lives in Sarasota, said they haven’t heard from Dekel-Chen since. Dekel-Chen has dual Israeli and American citizenship but has lived in Israel his whole life. 

His pregnant wife, who’s due in a couple of weeks, and his two young daughters, six and two years old, were evacuated to a city in southern Israel and are staying in a hotel.

"They're traumatized and sad and trying to keep pushing through," Kaye said. "His six-year-old daughter really does understand now what's going on, and she cries for him."

"The saddest thing also about the kids, not just his kids, but all the kids, is these little kids, the question of, ‘I want to go home. Why can't I go home,’ and their home, of course, is no longer there," she said. "It's destroyed. They'll never live there again. And that's just horrific. It's so painful to watch."

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Kaye and her husband recently testified in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with families of other hostages and met with national leaders. 

"The administration has been absolutely tremendous from the get-go in their partnering with the hostage families and not just of American hostages, but also of all of the families of hostages," Kaye said. "I think their commitment, the commitment of the United States is incredibly strong."

Congressman Vern Buchanan, who represents Sarasota, also presented Kaye and her husband with the American flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol during the March for Israel a couple of weeks ago.

"We always have hope that he's alive, and he's okay, and he'll be released. No, we don't have hope that he will necessarily be released in this first 50 because it was pretty clear that it was children and moms and maybe older people who are really suffering physically," she said. 

"We're thrilled, you know, so happy every time someone comes out, and a family is reunited. Many of those people are residents of Kibbutz Nir Oz. They're friends of my husband's, my step-kids, me, my grandkids, and it's wonderful every time," she said. "But, you know, of course, there's the bittersweet part because we want Sagui home, and that's what we've been working for."

Kaye said her stepson constructs social justice projects for an NGO all across Israel.

"He’s generous and funny and the kind of person you always want to have watching your back," she said.

"They’re a family like any other family that lives next door to you and deserves to be reunited and whole and together and not with their father in some hellhole somewhere kidnapped," Kaye said.

For now, they wait, Kaye said, to wake up from this nightmare. 

On Monday, Israel and Hamas agreed to extend a temporary truce for another two days. That same day, Hamas freed another 11 Israeli hostages. 

Hamas had released 17 hostages and Israel released 39 Palestinian prisoners on Sunday.