The world waits and prays for the release of more than 200 men, women and children kidnapped from their homes in Israel and held hostage in Gaza. While the anguish of their families and the communities in Israel is nearly unbearable, for some Jewish communities outside Israel the agonizing wait for news is also very personal.

Hostage Judith Ra’anan was born in Israel but moved to the United States 30 years ago. The now-59-year-old settled in Evanston, Ill., and is an active member of Chabad of Evanston, which has been advocating for the return of Judith and her 19-year-old daughter, Natalie, as well as supporting their extended family.

Judith and Natalie were traveling up and down Israel earlier this month visiting family, and celebrating the High Holidays and Sukkot. On Oct. 7, Judith and her daughter were in Kibbutz Nahal Oz near the Gaza Strip when Hamas terrorists broke in and began their rampage—killing men, women and children, and dragging them to Gaza.

“Two days before the attack, we celebrated Judith’s birthday,” her sister, Sarai Cohen, told Yediot Achronot from her home in Israel. “On Saturday, we woke up to war. I immediately called them and made sure they knew they had to enter the bomb shelter. They explained to me that they were not able to talk on the phone, only on WhatsApp, so we texted. We were in touch throughout the morning. They said that they heard a lot of gunfire, but that they were fine.”

At 12:18 p.m., Cohen received the last message. “They wrote that they heard gunshots outside the apartment. That they are in the shelter and are fine, and they love us very much. This is the last we heard from them,” she says.

"We know that they were taken by the terrorists from their apartment to another family’s apartment in the kibbutz, where a Hamas squad rounded up another family and kidnapped them all. We can say with certainty that they arrived at the apartment safe and sound, and from there they were taken into a car.

“They [officials in Israel] confirmed to us that they were kidnapped,” Cohen explains, “but we feel in the dark. Even when they announced that they were kidnapped, they did not share with us any additional information about their condition. We are calling for negotiations to return those who were kidnapped so that they will not be forgotten there in a tunnel in Gaza.”

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They are certainly not forgotten by their friends in Evanston. “Judith is a really kind, giving, sharing, generous individual who always wants to be there for others,” Rabbi Meir Hecht, co-director of a Chabad House in Evanston with his wife, Yehudis, tells “She would come to our house and bring gifts to our kids. She wanted to be with our family and our community, attending our programs and helping out any way she could.”

“Judith,” Hecht continues, “is the first person to stand up and be present for anyone going through a challenge. She is caring and always wants to contribute.”

The rabbi spoke about how the community is pained by everything that is going on in Israel, and how, because of Judith, it hits especially close to home. “People here have been praying around the clock and trying to beseech G‑d any way we can, through mitzvot and prayers. We are trying to be there for each other and support each other in this very painful time.”

At a communal tehillim gathering last week organized by Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries from across the Chicago area and attended by some 1,000 people, prayers were said for Natalie and Judith.

At a smaller service organized by the Evanston Jewish community, family members spoke about Judith and Natalie. “They are innocent and loving,” family member Sigal Zamir said through her tears. Judith’s sister spoke to the gathering via video from Israel, according to NBC News affiliate 5 Chicago.

Natalie recently graduated from Deerfield High School in Deerfield, Ill. She took some time off after school to do some traveling. She had visited Italy for a short while and then met up with her mother in Israel.

According to The Northwestern Daily, principal Kathryn Anderson sent a letter to the school community saying, “We keep Natalie and her family in our hearts, along with all the innocent lives lost, wounded and impacted by the terrorist attack. Sadly, we know that many students and families have been impacted by the tragic events in Israel. We come together as a school community to support each other during this difficult time.”

In Larnaca, Cyprus, a frequent destination for tourists from Israel, Rabbi Arie Raskin of Chabad of Cyprus organized a solidarity event for the hostages.
In Larnaca, Cyprus, a frequent destination for tourists from Israel, Rabbi Arie Raskin of Chabad of Cyprus organized a solidarity event for the hostages.

It is not only Illinois that is reeling.

At a gathering in Kingston, N.Y., organized by the Chabad of Ulster County, people came together to pray for those in Israel and for a local Jewish family whose relatives were kidnapped by Hamas. Among those in attendance was County Executive Jen Metzger, who wrote on social media: “I spoke with many local families, including one member of the synagogue who has six relatives missing in Israel amid the violence. My heart breaks for him and his family and the many hundreds of lives lost in this continuing tragedy, and I pray for peace.”

In Larnaca, Cyprus, a frequent destination for tourists from Israel, Rabbi Arie Raskin of Chabad of Cyprus organized a solidarity event attended by representatives of the hostages’ families, community residents, members of parliament and ambassadors from several countries, including the United States, Italy, France and Israel. During the event, the Kaddish prayer was recited for the victims, and Psalms were said for the quick and safe return of the hostages.

As Rabbi Hecht of Evanston said, “We ask that everyone have Judith and Natalie—along with all the people of Israel, the hostages, the wounded and the families of those who have lost loved ones—in your prayers. Do all you can because every good deed will reverberate and make a difference for the better.”