Judith Raanan and her daughter, Natalie, had been living a typical American life in the Chicago suburb of Evanston for many years before the unthinkable happened.
Judith, a 59-year-old artist, never missed a Sabbath service at her synagogue. Natalie, 17, had just graduated from Deerfield High School and hoped to work in fashion, interior design or tattooing following her summer and fall travel plans, which included visiting Italy before heading to Israel for the Jewish holidays and her grandmother's 85th birthday, NBC Chicago reported.
It was there that Judith and Natalie were taken hostage on Oct. 7, when militants stormed kibbutz Nahal Oz where they had been staying with relatives.
The American Israeli citizens were released Friday after a nearly two-week ordeal.
"Thanks for your prayers. They have been released," Natalie's stepmother, Paola Raanan, posted on Facebook.
Uri Raanan, Natalie's father and Judith's ex-husband, said he briefly spoke to his daughter by phone after their release and she "sounded good, looks very good, and she's very happy and waiting to come home." She did not say anything about how they were treated during their time in captivity, he said.
Speaking to reporters in Bannockburn, Illinois, Uri Raanan, 71, said he expected them to return home in time to celebrate Natalie's birthday Tuesday.
"I told her, 'I love you and I miss you very much,'" Uri Raanan said.
Loved ones describe Natalie and Judith as kind women who are both talented artists in their own right and always willing to lend a helping hand.
“She would take care of elderly people who were lonely in their house and bring them food, make food for them,” Chavah Rochel Golden, Judith Raanan’s friend, said.
For months before the mother-daughter trip, Judith, who was born in Israel and is a painter, couldn’t stop talking about the visit to see friends and family, according to a close family friend and Rabbi Meir Hecht from Evanston Chabad.
Raanan made the trip from Illinois to Israel every few years and often brought her daughter along, Hecht said. Not only was it a way to maintain ties with loved ones, it also reconnected them with a culture Judith deeply loved and wanted to share with her daughter.
“Judith is a very spiritual woman and she loves to pray. She loves to talk about her connection to God,” Hecht said. “She feels very uplifted when she participates in the services and communal events.”
Hecht described Judith as a close personal friend who frequently visited his family and brought toys for his children. A woman of strong faith, she was a regular attendee at Saturday services and on holidays.
Speaking to reporters outside the synagogue Friday afternoon, Hecht said his congregation’s prayers have been answered with their release.
“Both Judith and Natalie are artists — kind, giving, generous,” he said. “Judith is the kind of person whenever someone needed something in the community, she’d be the first one there.”
Relatives say Natalie loved to travel and was not a member of the congregation her mother frequented.
Natalie was born in the Chicago area but lived in Israel with her mother for nearly a decade before returning to the U.S., Ben Raanan, Natalie's brother, told the Chicago Tribune. After graduating from high school, Natalie told family she was interested in pursuing a career in creative fields, he said.
Ben Raanan has said his sister had texted their father when the attack unfolded to say that she was hiding in a guest house with her mom and could hear guns and explosions outside.
“So the last text was from Natalie 12:18 noon on Saturday, saying that they’re hearing shooting out of their apartment,” Natalie Raanan's aunt, Saray Cohen, told NBC News’ Lester Holt. “And she said that the other room out of the security room was bombed. She’s hearing shooting. 'We love you all. But we are OK.'”
Upon their release, they were greeted at the Gaza border by Israeli Brig. Gen. Gal Hirsch and taken to an Israeli military base where they were reunited with relatives, Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Daniel Hagari said.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the women are safe and receiving medical treatment after being released by Hamas.
Former Israel-based NBC correspondent Martin Fletcher revealed Thursday on MSNBC that he is distantly related to Judith and Natalie Raanan on his wife's side. He said he had met them in passing at family events but didn't know them well.
Still, the family has "rallied around them in an extraordinary manner hoping that this would happen, and the fact that it actually happened is a miracle," he said Friday.