JNF UK fears for staff member taken hostage by Hamas terrorists

Sagui Dekel-Chen, who is in his 30s, disappeared when terrorists attacked Kibbutz Nir Oz


A staff member of the JNF UK Israel team is believed to be among the Israelis who were taken hostage by Hamas, it was revealed this week.

Sagui Dekel-Chen, who is in his 30s, disappeared when Hamas terrorists attacked Kibbutz Nir Oz, close to the border. He is “assumed kidnapped into Gaza”, charity heads said.

Speaking to the JC, Elan Gorji, CEO of JNF UK, said: “Kibbutz Nir Oz is a stone’s throw from the border and was one of the first kibbutzim to be attacked.

“Sagui went with his wife, who is pregnant, and two young daughters into a safe room. The situation was dire, so Sagui left the safe room to see if he could help push back the attackers. Since then, they haven’t heard from him.” Sagui’s family was eventually taken to safety.

Elan, who, only three weeks before the attacks, was in Israel, meeting Sagui to discuss JNF UK projects, described his colleague as “salt of the earth”.

He said: “Sagui loves his family. He loves Israel and he is devoted to building the country. He is incredibly hardworking and has an attitude that anything is achievable.”

Managing a number of projects, Sagui, whose American parents also lived on the kibbutz, was “an integral part of our team”, said Elan.

As concerns for Sagui’s safety grow, JNF UK is reeling from the news that the manager of a music school they funded was murdered along with her three children and mother-in-law.

Tamar Kedem, who also lived on Kibbutz Nir Oz, worked at the school on nearby Kibbutz Magen. She was due to stand for regional mayor in the upcoming elections later this month.

Of a population of 400, only 160 kibbutzniks of Nir Oz have survived, the rest having either been murdered or kidnapped.

It is just one of the many communities in the Negev that JNF UK has supported over the years that was targeted by terrorists on Saturday.

Asked how he and the rest of the JNF UK team were coping, Elan said: “For me, personally, what we feel pales into insignificance. Things are very sad, but we are just trying to get through it and address the emergency situation.”

To support evacuated survivors from kibbutzim and moshavim, JNF UK is raising money to enable them to buy clothes, food, nappies and other essential items. So far, the charity has sent funding to 18 of some of the hardest hit communities, including kibbutzim Re’im, Kfar Aza and Nir Oz, while also distributing over 4,000 activity packs of arts, crafts and toys to children in the south, who are spending days in safety rooms and shelters.

In the meantime, the charity has launched Operation Ir Miklat (City of Refuge) to clear, clean and fix bomb shelters in apartment buildings in the north of the country.
Together with partner organisation, Osim Shchuna, they are aiming to renovate 4,000 unusable bomb shelters in a very short space of time by recruiting tens of thousands of volunteers.

“There are a lot of bomb shelters in deprived areas, which have just been used for dumping grounds and, at the moment, you can’t get into most of them,” said Elan.

This project will protect up to 120,000 people. “With the growing tensions, this is of utmost and critical urgency,” he said.

Alongside this, JNF UK is continuing to support the same programme in the south, where thousands of bomb shelters have already been restored.

“At the moment, we are in emergency mode,” said Elan. “Once the immediate needs are taken care of, we will start rebuilding communities and supporting the people however we can. We will come back stronger than ever.

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