An Illinois teenager and her mother are feared to have been taken hostage by Hamas militants.
Natalie Raanan, 18, and her mother Judith Raanan, 59, of Evanston, arrived in Israel in early September to visit relatives and celebrate the High Holidays, their family told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Neither have been heard from since around midday on Saturday, they said.
Early that morning, Hamas fighters blew through Israel’s heavily fortified separation fence and crossed into the country from Gaza. Militants went on a rampage, gunning down people and taking others hostage. Israel formally declared war on Sunday.
Raanan and her mother were last in Nahal Oz, a kibbutz located less than two miles from Gaza, their family told the newspaper.
The Evanston Chabad posted a message on Facebook, asking followers to pray for the mother and daughter.
“Our broken hearts are with our brothers and sisters during this most painful and devastating time in Israel,” the post said.
“Please pray and do an extra mitzvah for all the wounded and captured, and for our dear Chabad of Evanston congregate Yehudit bat Tamar and her daughter Natalie bat Yehudit who have apparently been adbucted from Nachal Oz, Israel.”
In a statement to Newsweek, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat from Illinois, said: “This weekend, my team and I received the horrifying news that two of my constituents, who were visiting Israel for the Jewish holidays, are missing, and are believed to have been abducted.”
Schakowsky said her office reached out to the State Department.
“Very quickly, we received a response letting us know that they are looking into the case,” she said. “I remain in close contact with the family and friends of my missing constituents and will continue to do all I can to ensure their safe and immediate return. We must all stand united and unequivocally condemn the vicious attacks carried out by Hamas.”
Who is Judith Raanan?
Judith Raanan has been a member of Chabad of Evanston for a decade.
“She’s an exceedingly warm, kind, giving, generous woman,” Rabbi Meir Hecht, the chabad’s co-director of community outreach, told the Sun-Times.
“She was always involved in helping people and being there to show support whenever someone needed a shoulder to lean on. She’s a really kind woman,” he said.
Newsweek has contacted Hecht for further comment via email.
Saturday’s surprise attack was the deadliest in Israel in decades. The death toll in Israel has risen to more than 900, The Associated Press reports, citing the Israeli military. In Gaza, more than 680 people have been killed, according to AP, citing authorities there.
President Joe Biden on Monday said 11 Americans were among the dead.
“It’s heart wrenching. These families have been torn apart by inexcusable hatred and violence,” he said in a statement. “We also know that American citizens still remain unaccounted for, and we are working with Israeli officials to obtain more information as to their whereabouts.”
Some families who have not heard from their missing loved ones do not know whether they have been killed, taken by Hamas or are on the run.
Biden said it is likely that U.S. citizens are among those being held hostage by Hamas.
“While we are still working to confirm, we believe it is likely that American citizens may be among those being held by Hamas,” he said. “I have directed my team to work with their Israeli counterparts on every aspect of the hostage crisis, including sharing intelligence and deploying experts from across the United States government to consult with and advise Israeli counterparts on hostage recovery efforts.”
State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told Newsweek on Monday that authorities are working to locate Americans.
“We can confirm that there are unaccounted-for U.S. citizens, and we are working with our Israeli partners to determine their whereabouts,” Miller said.
Neither U.S. nor Israeli authorities have provided details about how many Americans may be being held hostage by Hamas.
But as Israel retaliates with air strikes, Hamas has warned it will kill one of the more than 100 hostages it says it has captured every time Israel’s military bombs civilian targets in Gaza without warning.
Hamas spokesman Abdel-Latif al-Qanoua told The Associated Press that the group’s fighters had captured Israelis as recently as Monday morning.
He said the group wants all Palestinian prisoners held by Israel to be freed. In the past Israel has agreed to exchange deals in which it released large numbers of prisoners for individual captives or even the remains of soldiers.
Update 10/11/23, 7:50 a.m. ET: This article has been updated to add comment from Rep. Jan Schakowsky.