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Pacifica man travels to Israel as Hamas releases two family members who were hostages

Pacifica man relieved after his cousins were freed by Hamas in hostage exchange
Pacifica man relieved after his cousins were freed by Hamas in hostage exchange 06:28

Members of a Pacifica man's family were released as part of a hostage exchange between Hamas and Israel while he was staying in the country.

An incoming rocket from Gaza was intercepted near a friend's house where Oren Rubenstein got a crash course in what it means to be in a war zone.   

Still unpacked, Rubenstein was shown the building's Mamad, which means safe room in Hebrew. 

"When the alarm goes off, we have 90 seconds to get into the Mamad," his host instructed. 

On Oct. 7, Rubenstein awoke to a flurry of desperate messages from family members in Kibbutz Be'eri, a tiny israeli community about 2.5 miles from the border with Gaza.  

His cousin Shiri Weiss was taken hostage by Hamas terrorists. Her 18-year-old daughter, Noga Weiss, was hiding under the bed in the safe room.  

"They burned the house down," Noga messaged.

As the smoke filled the house, Noga was forced to flee through a window. Then, minutes later she wrote, "They're coming."

It was her last message before her phone's location showed her entering Gaza.  

By the end of the day, 120 Be'eri residents were massacred, including four members of Rubinstein's extended family. 

 Shiri and Noga Weiss became two of at least 32 Kibutz members kidnapped by Hamas. Shiri's husband Ilan, whose body was never recovered, is listed as missing.  

Over the last month, Rubenstein raised $38,000 for to buy bikes and Warriors gear for the children of Be'eri who lost everything during the attack. 

 "I asked them what do they want ,and all of them universally said Steph Curry," he said. They were very specific." 

Among his many presents, were cards from his daughter and her classmates in San Francisco written to the kids of Be'eri. 

"Sending love from San Francisco," read one card. Another read, "Dear friends, what's your favorite animal? Mine is a dog." 

Before arriving in Israel, Rubenstein was busy putting up posters of his family members around the Bay Area, as part of a campaign to help bring the hostages back. Many of those posters were later torn down by anti-Israel protesters.  

"Tel Aviv is far safer and more comfortable for Jews anywhere in the United States right now," he said. 

As he walked to Dizengoff Square in the heart of Tel Aviv, Rubenstein was overcome with emotion. The area, known for its nightlife, had been converted into a makeshift memorial for the hostages. 

"Nobody is tearing it down," he said. "Nobody here is yelling at people for being who they are. I sometimes think we live in an awful, awful society where people feel the need to denigrate and vilify innocent people." 

The enormity of it all still hasn't sunk in yet. He said he worried about Noga, a shy 18-year-old now in the hands of Hamas.  

"It would be a miracle and a prayer answered if while I'm here right now, not only any hostages released but Noga Shiri and Ilan come home," Rubenstein said. "I don't even know how to explain what that would mean." 

Three days later, Rubenstein's wish came true, as Shiri and Noga Weiss were released after nearly two months in captivity. 

"It was a surreal experience," he said. "Even as they came off the bus, we weren't sure. The videos was so grainy. There was a sense that this is unbelievable that this was actually happening. It really is a miracle."  

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