A recent graduate of Deerfield High School and her mother are believed to be hostages held by Hamas following weekend attacks in Israel and Gaza that left more than 1,500 Israelis and Palestinians dead.
Natalie Raanan and her mother, Judith, were reported missing while visiting family in Israel during the attacks, according to a Facebook post by Chabad of Evanston, where Judith is a longtime congregant.
“I want them back,” said Uri Raanan, Natalie’s father, his voice breaking as he spoke to the Tribune. “It’s been a very bad time.”
Natalie and Judith were visiting relatives in Nahal Oz for Simchat Torah, a festive Jewish holiday that marks the conclusion of the annual reading of the Torah.
The kibbutz, located near the Gaza border, was attacked by militants Saturday, according to CNN.
Violence broke out Saturday following Hamas’ attack on Israel and Israel’s declaration of war. The death toll has surpassed 1,500, with thousands more injured or missing.
Since his daughter went missing, Uri has been in contact with the Federal Bureau of Investigations and local family in Israel.
Rabbi Meir Hecht of the Evanston Chabad said Judith had been talking about the trip for weeks and was very excited to return to her place of birth for the holiday season.
“Judith is the kind of person who always loves to celebrate with others,” Hecht said. “She’s a really caring, giving, committed and generous soul. She’s someone who’s always there to help others.”
Hecht added that the congregation is “greatly distressed and pained,” and concerned for the welfare of Judith, Natalie and all the citizens of Israel.
A letter by Deerfield Principal Kathryn Anderson was also sent to the school community about the missing teenager.
“It is with great sadness that I share we have received word that DHS alumna, Natalie Raanan (Class of 2023), who was visiting family in Israel, has been reported missing.” Anderson said in the letter. “Her family fears that she has been taken hostage by Hamas.
“We keep Natalie and her family in our hearts, along with all the innocent lives lost, wounded and impacted by the terrorist attack,” the principal wrote.
Anderson noted in the letter that counseling services are available to all students.
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Evanston, said that over the weekend she had 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.”
She said her office immediately reached out to the U.S. State Department to tell officials about the missing constituents, and State Department officials quickly responded, “letting us know that they are looking into the case.”
“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,” Schakowsky added. “We must all stand united and unequivocally condemn the vicious attacks carried out by Hamas.”
President Joe Biden announced Monday that at least 11 Americans have been killed in Israel, but that many more are believed to be among those held hostage by Hamas.
Check back for updates.