Hamas releases hostages Judith and Natalie Raanan, mother and daughter from Evanston

Judith and Natalie Raanan are back in Israel, IDF says

ByChuck Goudie, Tre Ward, Eric Horng, and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel, Tom Jones and Jasmine Minor WLS logo
Saturday, October 21, 2023
Father speaks for 1st time after daughter, ex-wife released by Hamas
The father and ex-husband of an Evanston teenage girl and her mother spoke publicly for the first time after Hamas freed the pair, who had been held hostage for 2 weeks.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Two Americans released by Hamas are Judith and Natalie Raanan, a mother and daughter from Evanston, ABC News reported on Friday.

The IDF has confirmed that the hostages released are Judith, 59, and Natalie, 17. The IDF said the two women are back in Israel, and their families have been notified. Shortly before 4 p.m. CT the IDF released an image of Judith and Natalie with Israeli soldiers back in Israel.

International Committee of the Red Cross President Mirjana Spoljaric said "ICRC helped facilitate this release by transporting the hostages from Gaza to Israel."

Natalie's father Uri Raanan spoke publicly Friday night for the first time since his daughter and ex-wife were taken hostage two weeks ago. He said he first learned of Natalie's release from Israeli media. Hamas distributed its own video of the release which was brokered with the help of Qatar and the International Red Cross. Uri said he was able to speak to his daughter briefly Friday.

"I told her, 'I love you. I miss you very much.' And I spoke to her for a minute or two, but it was very, very emotional," he said. "I haven't been sleeping for two weeks. Tonight I'm going to sleep good."

WATCH: Natalie Raanan's father speaks publicly for first time

Uri Raanan, father of Natalie Raanan and ex-husband of Judith Raanan who were released to Israel Friday, spoke publicly for the first time since Hamas took them hostage.

Natalie was released four days before her 18th birthday, and the family is now planning a celebration they'll never forget.

"I'm going to hug her and kiss her, and it's going to be the best day of my life," Uri Raanan said.

"The release of two hostages in Gaza today is a sliver of hope," said a Red Cross spokesperson in a video released by the organization. "We are extremely relieved that these two families can now be reunited after two weeks of agony."

Hamas release 2 American hostages Friday, Judith and Natalie Raanan, a mother and daughter from Evanston.

"We were surprised because nobody expected the release of hostages at this time when there is no talk of any negotiation," said Ofer Bavly, director general of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. "And it was it was absolutely a surprise. Of course a good one. But really just the tip of the iceberg, obviously."

The two women had traveled to Israel to celebrate a relative's 85th birthday and the Jewish holiday season, their rabbi said.

SEE ALSO | Brother of Hamas hostage from Evanston speaks out: 'Belief is that they are still alive'

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. worked hard with various governments to get the two released. President Biden also spoke with Judith and Natalie after their release.

Judith and Natalie thanked Biden on that call, and the president pledged to support the Raanans and to continue working to free the 10 other Americans unaccounted for, which include Chicago native Hersh Goldberg-Polin.

"We're going to get them all out, God willing," Biden said on the call.

There are nearly 200 additional hostages being held by Hamas, including about a dozen Americans. They are a top focus for Israeli defense officials who spoke with the ABC7 I-Team Friday afternoon.

"I think that there's a place and a need for the world to call on one voice on Hamas to release them immediately," said IDF Major Libby Weiss. "That is the fastest, easiest way for them to calm and it could happen today. And that would be for Hamas to release them without any terms or conditions. And of course we are thinking about them and getting them back as a top focus."

The Evanston Jewish community celebrated with prayer on Shabbat after receiving news that Judith and Natalie Raanan had been released by Hamas after 2 weeks held hostage.

In Evanston, the community breathed a collective sigh of relief upon hearing that the Raanans had been freed. Their rabbi, Rabbi Meir Hecht, said he's felt unimaginable pain since they were taken hostage two weeks ago, so this moment for him was a breath of fresh air.

"Our hearts are filled, overflowing with gratitude," he said.

"It's been unreal. We love Judith, and obviously our hearts were turned upside down, broken. Our lives were turned into a nightmare," said family friend Yehudis Hecht.

Rabbi Hecht also said this moment means hope for the more than 200 other hostages taken by Hamas.

"We will continue to pray for all of those that remain in the hands of Hamas terrorists - over 200 hostages. We pray for them," he said.

Rabbi Hecht said he knows Judith and Natalie as giving, generous souls, who would never harm anyone. He said this war is an attack on the very heart of civilization, and he is bracing for the moment he gets to see Judith and Natalie again.

Rabbi Hecht said he's planning a large celebration for when they return to the U.S., though he doesn't know when it will be, and that he intends to offer any support he can as they recover from their ordeal.

For now, Rabbi Hecht is asking everyone to light a candle on their behalf at sundown Friday, the start of the Jewish Sabbath, and to say a prayer for their recovery.

Natalie recently graduated from Deerfield High School. Principal Dr. Kathryn Anderson released a statement on Friday afternoon, saying, "Deerfield High School and the entire District 113 community are thrilled with the news that DHS graduate Natalie Raanan and her mother have been released to the Red Cross and are in Israel, as confirmed to D113 by her family. We wish them safe and quick passage back to the US so that they can be reunited with their family as soon as possible."

Gov. JB Pritzker released a statement, saying, "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."

President Joe Biden also released a statement, saying, "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. 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."

ABC News contributed to this report.