Family of slain US-Israeli soldier Itay Chen retains hope for larger hostage deal

The family of American-Israeli soldier Itay Chen remained hopeful for a larger hostage release even after his death was announced Tuesday.

“Unfortunately, we are where we are, and somehow we need to pick up the pieces and move on,” Chen’s father, Brooklyn-raised Ruby Chen, told the New York Daily News. “Now, it’s putting the focus on the hostage deal, getting a deal in place to help all the other families to have their loved ones back.”

Chen, 19, was thought to be taken hostage by Hamas in the group’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel. However, Israeli authorities announced Tuesday Chen was killed in the attack and his body was being held in Gaza.

Around 250 people were taken hostage in the assault. According to Israel, 134 hostages were still held by Hamas on Tuesday, though 34 of them were dead.

“We still need a deal to get all 134 loved ones back, regardless of state, meaning alive or not,” Ruby Chen said. “That’s the mission for the Prime Minister of Israel, for the President of the United States, keep on putting pressure on all the international players, and get a deal done.”

Though Itay Chen grew up in Israel, he had many connections to New York through his father, a Knicks fan.

Ruby Chen said the family had continued hoping for his son’s safe return as the war dragged on. However, they identified his body Tuesday morning through videos and intelligence information.

“He’s been missed for five months, and he’ll be missed for much more,” Chen said. “He’s a good kid. He’s like any other kid you’d meet on the streets of New York City. He loves basketball, PlayStation. He has two siblings, one elder, one younger, he’s the connector.”

Chen said he believes a deal for the remaining 134 hostages is close to completion. The return of his son’s body would “enable my family to have closure, and to be able to move on,” he said.

Hagit Chen, Ruby’s wife and Itay’s mother, was a guest of Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) at last Thursday’s State of the Union address. President Biden released a statement Tuesday after Itay’s death was confirmed.

“Today, as we join Itay’s parents, brothers, and family in grieving this tragic loss, we keep this reminder close to our hearts,” the president said. “And I reaffirm my pledge to all the families of those still held hostage: we are with you. We will never stop working to bring your loved ones home.”