JERUSALEM — A mother and daughter from Evanston who were being held hostage have been released by Hamas, the family’s rabbi told WGN News Friday.
Rabbi Dove Hillel Klein with the Tannenbaum Chabad House spoke with the WGN News following the release of Judith Tai Raanan and her 17-year-old daughter Natalie. Hamas had been holding the two American citizens captive in Gaza since its Oct. 7 raid on Israel.
In a statement on Friday, Oct. 20, the Palestinian militant group said that in an agreement with the Qatari government, it was freeing a mother and daughter for humanitarian reasons.
“For us, it’s a very joyous day,” Klein said. “To bring home to America, to Chicago, to Evanston, two wonderful, amazing, Judith and her daughter, Natalie, this is an infinite miracle. … On the other hand, it is also bittersweet because we know there are still 202 other hostages that are still being held by Hamas and we pray that the other 202 hostages should be released as well.”
The mother and daughter were handed over to the Red Cross and will be taken to Egypt. Their conditions are still unknown.
The two traveled to Nahal Oz, Israel, near the Gaza border, to celebrate a relative’s 85th birthday and Jewish holidays on Monday, Sept. 2.
According to the Associated Press, Uri Raanan, the father of the freed American teen, says Natalie is doing well after her release and believes the two are in transit to Tel Aviv to reunite with relatives.
Raanan told the AP that he had spoken to his daughter over the phone and believes both will be back in the U.S. by early next week.
“She’s doing good. She’s doing very good,” said Uri, who lives in the Chicago suburbs. “I’m in tears, and I feel very, very good,” Raanan said.
Raanan spoke about his daughter in a press briefing on Friday night and said he was grateful for their safe release.
“I spoke with my daughter earlier today. She sounds very good, she looks very good, she is very happy and she is waiting to come home,” Raanan said.
Following their release, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker issued a statement:
I am incredibly relieved that Natalie and Judith Raanan of Evanston have been released from captivity in Gaza.
In what was supposed to be a visit to their loving family in Israel, they were violently abducted by a terrorist organization. After being held against their will for nearly two weeks, they are now safe and receiving necessary medical treatment.
I cannot wait to welcome them back home after demonstrating immense strength and bravery in the face of unthinkable terror. We must continue to advocate and pray for the safe return of those still held by Hamas. We will not let those who use terror as their weapon win.Illinois Governor JB Pritzker
Israeli officials did not immediately comment on the statement.
During a press briefing held by the Department of the State, Deputy Secretary Antony Blinken said the two were being held by authorities in Israel following their release.
“About an hour ago, two American citizens held by Hamas since October 7, were released. These two Americans are now safely in the hands of the Israeli authorities in Israel,” Blinken said during the briefing.
Blinken said a team from the U.S. embassy met with the recently released hostages and proivded them with any support or assistance they needed.
“We welcome their release. We share in the relief that their families, friends and loved ones are feeling,” Blinken said.
According to Blinken, 10 additional Americans remain unaccounted for amid the conflict. Some are being held hostage by Hamas alongside nearly 200 other hostages held in Gaza.
In a post shared on X, U.S. President Joe Biden said he spoke with the recently released mother and daughter and said the two would have full support from the government as they recover and heal. The president later shared a video showing him speaking with the two over the phone following their release.
Biden also issued a statement following their release on Friday:
Today, we have secured the release of two Americans taken hostage by Hamas during the horrific terrorist assault against Israel on October 7. Our fellow citizens have endured a terrible ordeal these past 14 days, and I am overjoyed that they will soon be reunited with their family, who has been wracked with fear. These individuals and their family will have the full support of the United States government as they recover and heal, and we should all respect their privacy in this moment.U.S. President Joe Biden
From the earliest moments of this attack, we have been working around-the-clock to free American citizens who were taken hostage by Hamas, and we have not ceased our efforts to secure the release of those who are still being held. I thank the government of Qatar and the government of Israel for their partnership in this work. Jill and I have been holding close in our hearts all the families of unaccounted for Americans. And, as I told those families when I spoke with them last week—we will not stop until we get their loved ones home. As president, I have no higher priority than the safety of Americans held hostage around the world.
Israel says Hamas militants have taken 203 people from Israel into Gaza.