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Sigal Zamir, left, and her husband Avi return to their seats after speaking at a prayer vigil for Judith Raanan and her daughter Natalie on Oct. 12, 2023, in Evanston, Ill.Charles Rex Arbogast/The Associated Press

Judith Raanan and her teenage daughter, Natalie Raanan, were excited to travel to Israel to celebrate a relative’s 85th birthday and the Jewish holiday season, according to their rabbi.

The pair had been sending updates as the trip progressed and were enjoying “this really special mom and daughter time together,” Meir Hecht said.

The family hasn’t heard from either mother or daughter since a week ago, after Hamas launched an unprecedented surprise attack. The community in their suburb north of Chicago fears they are among roughly 150 people abducted by Hamas militants.

“We received this terrible news that Judith and her daughter Natalie are missing and apparently were most likely taken as hostages to Gaza,” Hecht said. “It feels like our community has been violated.”

They had been celebrating Simchat Torah, a festive Jewish holiday that marks the conclusion of the annual reading of the Torah. They were in Nahal Oz, a kibbutz in Israel about a 1.61 kilometres from the Gaza border.

Natalie Raanan, 17, recently graduated from high school and was looking forward to taking a break and visiting family overseas, her uncle, Avi Zamir, said at a community event for the Raanans in Evanston on Thursday evening.

“Kind person. She’s a sweetheart. She loves animals,” Zamir said. “We fear for her. We pray for her. We hope she’s together with her mom.”

Through tears, Natalie Raanan’s aunt, Sigal Zamir, said: “I pray for them to come back alive. They’re innocent and loving, and they didn’t do anything.”

Just before she left for Israel, Judith Raanan dropped off a pink prayer book for the Hechts’ 7-year-old daughter, who loves the colour, said Yehudis Hecht, the rabbi’s wife and Judith’s friend.

“Judith, we’re thinking of you. Of your resilience, your hope, your love, your generosity, your faith and strength,” Yehudis Hecht said. “We know you’re a strong woman and we pray that we see you safely very soon with your dear Natalie.”

Savage reported from Chicago and is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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