Young Emily Hand, born with a gift for dance, should be bouncing to her favorite Beyoncé songs, celebrating her ninth birthday on Friday. 

Instead, “she will have her birthday in the tunnels of Gaza,” her grief-stricken father, Thomas Hand, told Fox News Digital in an interview this week in New York City. 

“No party. No friends. She won’t even know if it’s day or night. There’s no light down there. So she won’t know it’s her birthday.” 


Emily woke up the morning of Oct. 7 after a sleepover at a friend’s house in the kibbutz of Be’eri in southern Israel. 

She still “had Disney pajamas on,” her father said. 

Hamas terrorists hauled her away along with her friend, Hila, and the other girl’s mother, Raya. 

Emily was only 2½ years old when her own mother died of breast cancer. 

She’s been raised by her dad and by others in their tightly knit kibbutz in the years since.

The child’s birthday will be marked here in America with billboards that go on display in Times Square and Madison Square Garden in Manhattan at 8 a.m. on Friday. 

“She will have her birthday in the tunnels of Gaza. No party. No friends. She won’t even know if it’s day or night.”

Billboards with images of Israelis held hostage in Gaza will also appear in 1,500 other locations in 48 cities across the United States.

It’s part of an effort to remind Americans that some 240 Israeli civilians, including children like Emily, were snatched from concerts, from their homes and even from their beds in a surprise attack by Hamas terrorists against unarmed civilian targets. 

Bring Them Home Now, an organic volunteer group that came together in the hours after the attack, heads the international outreach effort.

Emily Hand

Emily, even at 9, is older than many of the hostages. The youngest was just 9 months old when snatched away as a trophy of terror. 

Thomas Hand’s suffering over the past 40 days has made international headlines. He was first told in the days after the terror attack that his little girl was dead. 


He said in one interview that he welcomed her death because it was better than her being held captive and tortured by Hamas.

He found out later that his daughter had been taken hostage by Hamas. 

Emily Hand and Thoma Hand

Emily, just loved life and music,” her father said. “Beyoncé is a favorite because Beyoncé is a beautiful singer and a very good dancer. And so Emily would copy her.”

“She had this gift that she could memorize movements, she could just memorize whole routines, and she would do it within a very short time.”

Her natural dancing talent was apparent to everyone in Be’eri, not far from the border of Gaza. 

Hamas fighter in Israel

“Every holiday they’d have performances of little kids and older kids, so she was always in it. But she was always there front and center because she would always remember the moves if the kids at the back didn’t.”

“Beyoncé in particular is a favorite because Beyoncé is a beautiful singer and a very good dancer … Emily would copy her.”

Hand shared stories of his beautiful girl and the ugly circumstances of her abduction in an interview at Central Synagogue in Midtown Manhattan. 

Hand himself is not Jewish. 

He was born in Dublin, Ireland, and raised Roman Catholic before moving in 1992 to Israel — a nation he called a multicultural “paradise” up until Oct. 7. 

Antisemitism in New York City, victims of kidnapped-by-Hamas posters torn down

He last saw Emily the night of Oct. 6 at dinner in the communal dining room of the kibbutz.

She asked after dinner if she could sleep over her friend’s house. 

He agreed and kissed her goodbye.


Initial reports that Emily had been killed were later refuted by official accounts.

“We had an eyewitness seeing her being led away by the terrorists with her friend where she was doing a sleepover and the mother of that friend. So it’s absolutely confirmed that she was taken away by the terrorists and is in the tunnels of Gaza now.”

Emily and the others in the family she was staying with hid, like many of the hostages taken from homes, in the household bomb shelters common in Israel. They’re designed to protect Israeli citizens from frequent missile attacks. 

NYC antisemitic attack

Officials told Hand “in all probability she’s in Gaza because there was no blood in the bomb shelter and there was no blood in the house that matched Emily’s DNA,” he said. 

Life has been almost unbearable for him since that day. 

Hand was described as “fragile” by one person working with family members of the Israeli hostages. 

Hand spoke to Fox News Digital beside Michael Levy, whose brother Or was also taken hostage by terrorists. 

Hand said he’s lost about 18 pounds since his little girl was taken hostage on Oct. 7.

They were accompanied by Israeli mental health expert Dr. Ofrit Shapira-Berman.

“I’m Irish, so I have a couple of beers before I go to bed and that sets me off because I don’t want to think,” the father said. “I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I’m eating very little. My stomach is shrunk.”

A lean man to begin with, Hand said he’s lost 8 kilos — about 18 pounds — since his little girl was taken hostage. 

Families of hostages

“I had a hot dog today. I always wanted an American hot dog, and I was full after that.” 

He’s lost interest in news amid his own pain and the ongoing pain of the entire nation of Israel. 

“I’m a refugee. I have no home to go back to.”

“At first it was a morbid curiosity to maybe see Emily amongst it all. And then it was just too much. I couldn’t watch it anymore. I don’t watch the news. I don’t watch these videos.”

He’s also been homeless since Be’eri was savaged. 

“I’m a refugee,” he said. “I have no home to go back to.”

The community “lost 112 murdered and so many, many more kidnapped” among a population of about 1,200. 

“Your whole community was devastated. Yeah, we’re all refugees,” he said. “We’re all living in various hotels all over the country.”

Times Square pro-Palestine protest

Yehudit Weiss was one of the residents of Be’eri taken hostage on Oct. 7. Israeli Defense Forces reported on Thursday that they found her body in a building adjacent to the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza, which Israel says Hamas had been using as a headquarters.

Hand expressed hope that the billboards going on display in Times Square on his daughter’s birthday, and then around the U.S., will remind Americans of the ongoing terror and antisemitism suffered by Israeli families — and do so in a medium that can’t be defaced or removed from public view amid ongoing anti-Israeli hatred.

“The great thing about these billboards is that these — I don’t know what to call these people — won’t be able to rip down the images,” Hand said. 

“That’s the one thing I can’t understand. That they, children and the babies — they’ve been taken away, they’re kidnapped, they’re lost to us. And you know, just trying to make awareness, and they’re ripping them off with glee, with happiness.”

Minutes later, Hand and Levy were standing outside the synagogue, looking at posters of Israeli kidnap victims mounted on a fence in Midtown Manhattan. 

Thomas Hand

A woman walked by and began tearing down the posters — a shocking indignity following the pain they had just shared and a visceral example of the intolerance suffered by Israelis in the Middle East and in the United States.

The father, already deeply pained, was incensed. He shouted out angrily, while the woman moved quickly down the sidewalk. She raised a hand behind her as if to mock the suffering father’s pain. 

“My daughter, she doesn’t know if I was killed or kidnapped or somewhere else. She’s in terror every day.”

Further pain is still to come, Hand said, if and when the hostages return and find out loved ones have been killed and entire families massacred. 

He’s also haunted by the fear Emily has suffered since Oct. 7 and now here on what should be her joyous birthday celebration embraced by the love of their kibbutz. 

“My daughter, she doesn’t know if I was killed or kidnapped or somewhere else,” Hand said. 

“She’s in terror every day.”

Sydney Borchers and Brittany Kasko of Fox News Digital contributed reporting.

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