I usually cover gluten-free news and recipes, but today, I want to share Omer Shem Tov’s story and remind the world that human beings are being used as pawns by demented terrorists. Omer doesn’t have a voice right now and is in grave danger. Today, I will be Omer’s voice.
It’s Christmas Day, and instead of curling up on the couch with my kids, I’m sitting at my desk thinking about Omer Shem Tov, a 21-year-old Israeli man who was kidnapped by Hamas at the Nova Music Festival on October 7, 2023.
On October 7, thousands of Hamas terrorists illegally entered Israel, brutally massacring 1,400 people, and kidnapping 240 human beings of 30 nationalities. This act of war is the worst terrorist attack in Israel’s history and the worst attack against Jews since the Holocaust.
Omer is being held hostage in Gaza by Hamas terrorists. Today is his 79th day in captivity. This is his story.
How Omer Was Kidnapped
On Friday, October 6, Omer (in yellow), his two older siblings, and his father, Malki, celebrated his mom Shelly’s birthday in Jerusalem. After dinner, Omer headed to the Nova music festival with his friends for a night of partying and dancing.
The following morning, the Shem Tovs woke to the sound of rocket sirens. They immediately reached out to Omer to check on him. It’s then they learned that Omer was running from gunfire. He told them he was in a friend’s car trying to leave.
In a video, Shelly and Malki recount the moment they learned of Omer’s dire situation.
“With each conversation with Omer, he sounded more and more panicked,” said Malki. He told his mom, “We got into a friend’s car; we’re trying to get out of here.”
He sent his family his live location on his phone, and the Shem Tovs watched helplessly as Omer headed toward and eventually into Gaza. From that moment forward, he no longer answered his phone.
Later that day, a friend showed Shelly a Hamas-released video showing Omer on the floor of a pickup truck with his friends.
Omer’s hands were handcuffed behind his back, and he was wearing the same yellow shirt seen in their family picture from the night before. He did not appear to be injured at the time of his abduction.
Omer’s Celiac Story
In November, my friend Abbe Odenwalder, a blogger at This Is How I Cook and a contestant on PBS’s The Great American Recipe, asked me if I would join her in a campaign called #Recipes4Return. It was in collaboration with Bring Them Home, an organization that mobilized after 240 Israelis were taken hostage, to give them a voice. I immediately agreed to help.
The Bring Them Home team asked me to share Omer’s story by cooking a meal for him and posting it on social media. They told me Omer has celiac disease and he loves to eat fried chicken and fish. You can watch the video I made for Omer below or on Instagram.
I recently exchanged messages with Shelly to learn more about Omer’s celiac story.
She told me that Omer was diagnosed with celiac disease as a boy, around the age of 13, and he was always “not feeling good” and experienced a lot of stomach pains.
His doctor thought to test him for celiac disease, and from that day forward, they knew celiac was behind Omer’s stomach pain.
Shelly says Omer is the only one in the Shem Tov family who has celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the small intestine every time a person eats gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. The only treatment for celiac disease is a strict gluten-free diet.
In a video with Noa Tishby, Shelly says that the released hostages are saying they are “eating bread there [in Gaza], and he [Omer] gets a lot of pain in his stomach from that.”
Shelly told me that several gluten-free bakeries and companies in Israel are mobilizing to share Omer’s story. She says she is also trying to collaborate with supermarkets in Israel to remind people that “You can eat pizza, but Omer cannot.”
Above all else, Shelly wants Omer home. She says he is a very happy guy who loves life but is now suffering because he doesn’t have food. She says he also has asthma and doesn’t have his inhaler. “Where in the world is this situation right?” she asks.
“We want everyone to help us and shout it all over the world that this situation must end, and Omer and all the hostages come home now,” she says.
Bring Omer Home
Omer’s family is working tirelessly to bring awareness to the ongoing and increasingly difficult hostage situation in Israel. Today, more than 100 men, women, children, and elderly souls remain in captivity.
In an act of solidarity, my husband, Darren, went to Israel in November to bear witness to the atrocities, volunteer, and show support from America.
Darren met with several hostage families to hear their stories, and, in a serendipitous moment, he met Malki, Omer’s father.
Bring Omer Home
My husband says the entire country of Israel is united in wiping out Hamas and bringing home the hostages. He noticed that all the billboards, everywhere he went, showed pictures of the hostages, and the entire country is holding its collective breath until all of its friends, colleagues, and citizens are safely returned.
Even as he walked through Ben Gurion Airport, he saw hostage posters lining the corridors, and he, of course, snapped this photo of Omer’s hostage poster.
Omer needs gluten-free food. He needs his inhaler. The world must demand that Hamas stop using innocent humans as pawns in its sick game.
On top of that, every celiac organization and gluten-free influencer should be outraged that one of their own is being held hostage and denied gluten-free food.
Until Omer is home, I will give him a voice and demand that the world not sit idly by while Omer suffers. Doing nothing is not an option.
To support Omer and his family, share Omer’s celiac story. You can share this article, pictures of Omer, and/or my Instagram video.
If you have a platform (I’m looking at you, bloggers and influencers), reach out to Bring Them Home and offer to do a #Recipes4Return video for another hostage. Do not sit idly by. Do not let Omer’s story fade away. Do something. Say something. The world is watching. Silence is deafening.