Canadian-Israeli hostage Judih Weinstein Haggai leaves behind her poetry

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In her haikus, Weinstein Haggai writes of life in Israel, glimpses into who she was and what she experienced

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On the morning of the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel, Judih Weinstein Haggai posted a haiku to her blog.

“pulse accelerates,” it begins.

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The little Japanese verse has nothing to do with the events that would happen moments, perhaps hours, later that day — the events that would lead to her death. Yet the pulse accelerates now, reading it, knowing what was to come, as she couldn’t have.

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“mind makes new connections,” the haiku continues.

“as Fall shows her face.”

As with the changing of the seasons, that day’s attacks have changed Israel, perhaps forever. The deadliest conflict in the country’s entire 75-year history has since erupted. On that day, some 240 hostages were taken; among them Weinstein Haggai and her husband. A further 1,200 people were killed in the deadly Hamas incursion — and thousands have been killed in Israel’s air strikes and ground invasion of Gaza.

On Thursday, Weinstein Haggai, 70, became another casualty. She was also the last Canadian in Hamas captivity.

Kibbutz Nir Oz, where Weinstein Haggai and her husband Gadi lived, was attacked on Oct. 7. On Thursday, the community announced that Judih, like her husband, had died. Her body — as with his — remains held by Hamas.

“Judy was a poet, entrepreneur, and pursued many initiatives to advance peace in the region,” Kibbutz Nir Oz said in a statement.

Weinstein Haggai was born in New York state but arrived in Toronto at the age of three and moved to Israel 20 years later to live with her husband. She held Canadian, Israeli and American citizenships.

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The ethereal haiku, a Japanese export, seems to have been a particular specialty of Judih’s. A particular favourite, perhaps. They’re meditations in miniature on life, on joy, on the world around her.

“gift of sleep
dreamless rest
my gratitude,” says an entry from May.

“excitement approach
something in the trill of birds
translates to joy,” another says.

They give glimpses into her life, flashes of her travels and experiences, of a woman who, though a headline, had friends, family, grandchildren, a life.

“wide open spaces
lone guitarist channels chords
airport waiting room,” she wrote in September.

There are glimpses, too, of life in Israel. Not just the songs of children or the fields of the kibbutz or the chirruping of rabbits. But the darker side, the challenging side, the fearful side.

In May 2023, a military operation nearby didn’t disrupt her art.

“There were a lot of feelings along the way, a lot of waiting, listening, tensing and relaxing along with rocket alerts aimed at our entire region,” she wrote in a post.

“I wrote my daily haiku which reflected my early morning perception of sensations and the usual pre-five a.m. quiet around me.”

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Her haikus from that time are suffused with the emotions of the conflict, the anxiety, the stress and the insecurity of living so close to the Gaza border.

“pilotless drones
patrol the night sky
my mind on my breath,” reads one entry.

“midnight nature call
phone check for rocket alerts
then back to sleep,” reads another.

The final day of that military operation was May 13. Her haiku:

“quiet for eight hours
dare i hope
no more war?”

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With additional reporting from The Canadian Press

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Canadian-Israeli hostage Judih Weinstein Haggai leaves behind her poetry

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