Hostage family visit the community who have been praying for their uncle every week

Muswell Hill Synagogue ‘adopted’ Michel Nisenbaum in February


Ayala Harel, Shai Shojat, Mia Shojat, Bar Messer, Judith Prinsley, and Daniel Shaw stand with a photo of Israeli hostage Michel Nisenbaum on the Chief Rabbi's chair at Muswell Hill Synagogue

Muswell Hill Synagogue has welcomed the family of their “adopted” hostage, Michel Nisenbaum.

The 59-year-old Brazilian-born Israeli, who was taken captive by Hamas terrorists, was “adopted” by the shul in February as part of the “adopt-a-hostage” scheme launched by the Board of Deputies.

The community has been saying prayers for the missing grandfather ever since. “It’s part of the tefillah [prayer service] now,” said Daniel Shaw, chair of the synagogue.

Sixth months on from his capture, Michel’s family stopped to look at a photo of him on the bimah, “It’s very emotional. It's a feeling of warmth to know you’ve ‘adopted’ Michel,” said Michel’s niece, Ayala Harel, 42.

“It’s like he’s part of the family,” Michel’s nephew, Shai Shojat, 44, remarked.

Over one hundred synagogues are taking part in the Board’s scheme. Muswell Hill Synagogue’s Board deputy Judith Prinsley said: “It’s imperative that the hostages are not forgotten” and that the scheme kept the “human stories” of the hostages at the forefront of the community’s mind. At Muswell Hill, a seat is left for Michel at all communal events.

Michel, an energetic grandfather of six, worked as a computer technician and tour guide. Ayala fondly remembers his frequent visits for coffee. He would pick up his grandchildren once a week and give them dinner and he loves the songs of Shlomo Artzi, she told the JC. In 2018, he stayed in Golders Green and visited national landmarks on a trip to the UK.

On October 7, he was on his way to collect his four-year-old granddaughter when, somewhere along the now notorious Route 232, he vanished.

“His oldest daughter, Chen, saw a video of terrorists in Sderot, where he lived, and tried to call him,” Ayala explained.

“After 15 minutes, Hamas picked up the phone and shouted: ‘Hamas, Hamas, we’re in Israel.’ They called her back and said: ‘Is this is your father?’ and then: ‘We’re from Gaza; we came to Israel; we’re Hamas.’”

Two hours later, the terror group published a video of Michel’s driver's license and MDA volunteering card. Since then, the family has heard a recorded phone call that Michel made to the police, which went unanswered.

His car was found burnt out, without any trace of a body, and after two weeks, the IDF informed the family that Michel was in Gaza. His tablet was traced to the Palestinian territory.

Unlike most of the hostages who were taken in groups, Michel was alone and has not been seen by any released hostages.

“His sixth grandchild was born four months ago, so he’s never met him,” Ayala said.

Michel’s two daughters both have young families, so the task of advocacy has fallen on Ayala’s shoulders, and she is back in the city she called home when she worked in London between 2002 and 2007.

The mother of three lost friends on October 7 and relives the trauma every day: “We are not post-traumatic yet, we are still in it [...] I wake up every morning and I realise I can’t go back to 6 October. My life is stuck, changed forever.”

She avoids news of a hostage deal. “They’re a roller-coaster, where you get your wishes up and they are destroyed.”

“We heard that Elad Katzir was murdered in January. Hostages saw him [in Gaza]. He was alive and now he is not. We don’t have time,” she said.

Ayala is concerned about her uncle’s health – he has Crohn's disease and has not received any medical treatment in Gaza.

“He did so much for me, so I have to do everything I can for him,” she said. “All I can do is share his story and keep it alive.” Along with the adopt a hostage scheme, Ayala is shedding light on the stories behind the posters of the missing hostages.

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