Karnit Goldwasser remembered feeling uplifted as Israel and Diaspora Jews united behind efforts to free her husband, Ehud, who was believed kidnapped by Hezbollah while patrolling Israel’s northern border with Lebanon in 2006.
That hope was dashed two years later when the body of her husband, known as Udi, was returned in a prisoner exchange along with that of Eldad Regev, with whom he had been abducted. Israeli authorities determined the two reservists had been killed during the initial ambush.
On Sept. 30, Goldwasser came to East Brunswick Jewish Center in a program cosponsored by the New Jersey region of the Israeli American Council.
Goldwasser told the gathering she can still recall waking up on the morning of July 12, 2006, and turning on Israel Defense Forces Radio as she began preparing special dishes for her husband of nine months, who was on the last day of his 28-day reserve duty.
“Then the anchor started to speak that something happened in the north but they won’t give details,” recalled Goldwasser.
Coming little more than two weeks after Gilad Shalit was captured by Hamas in a cross-border raid, Goldwasser became nervous but said to herself, “Udi’s coming home today. Relax, it’s not him.” (Shalit was released more than five years later in a prisoner exchange.)
It hit Goldwasser like “a punch in the stomach” when, with friends and family gathered around, soldiers arrived to tell her Udi had been in an incident and they weren’t sure if he was dead or kidnapped. At 11:30 p.m., she was informed Udi had been kidnapped.
Suddenly both her and Udi’s family became “the happiest family in Israel” as “Udi came back from the dead to the living.”
“The soldiers asked me what I wanted to do,” Goldwasser said. “It was the first time that day somebody gave me the opportunity to do something. Sometimes you make small goals and then jump to other goals to get to a major goal. You lead yourself and not being led by someone else.”
Goldwasser’s life went on “a different track” as she petitioned for the Red Cross to be allowed to visit Udi, Regev, and Shalit, and devoted herself to keeping Udi’s name alive in the press. She met with world leaders, including the Clintons, the pope, and then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. She confronted then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a UN press conference. She also became a frequent visitor to the United States, imploring American Jewry to “be our voice” and even asking people to “send postcards to Udi and Eldad.”
Goldwasser detailed her experience in her book, The Path to You, which was published in Hebrew in 2011.
For two years Goldwasser slept every night with two cell phones and a computer, not wanting to miss any news about her husband.
“Sometimes I would wake up at night to see if there was any news on the internet,” she recalled. “Maybe one of my phones will ring and tell me to get up and get dressed. Sometimes I went to sleep with new hope that it will be a new day and Udi will be home.”
She, her family, and Udi’s family bonded with the Regev and Shalit families. Goldwasser became savvy in dealing with the media. She always wanted to appear strong for the media in case Udi happened to see her.
“When he sees me crying, it will break his heart,” said Goldwasser. “If I am strong and he realizes I am not broken, he will be strong in captivity.”
However, on July 16, 2008, “we became a grieving family” when Goldwasser learned she was a widow. In the days that followed, she said, it was sometimes hard to get up and get dressed. A month later, she came to the United States without family or an entourage, to bike, decide what she wanted to do next, and write the first 50 pages of her book.
As time passed, her friends encouraged her to date, but she was sure no relationship could thrive in the shadow of her family’s tragedy .
However, during her current American speaking tour, Goldwasser said, she made a point of visiting a particularly helpful supporter to introduce him to her new husband and 10-month-old daughter.
“I hope wherever Udi is he is proud of me and his family for bringing him back to Israel,” said Goldwasser. “He probably sits on a cloud and looks down and says, ‘This is my wife.’”