Keeping hope alive is getting harder for the families of the roughly 200 people who were taken hostage during the October 7 attack on southern Israel by Hamas militants.
Nearly two weeks after their loved ones were abducted, family members are left struggling with thoughts of what they might be enduring and how to explain to young children what happened to their parents.
Or and Eynav Levy
For the past week, two-year-old Almog Levy has been asking for his mum and dad, and no one knows what to tell him.
His parents, Or and Eynav Levy, did everything together.
They kept a tent in their car for spontaneous road trips, and they recently took a family trip to Thailand. They also loved music festivals, and drove to the Tribe of Nova festival in the Israeli desert.
They arrived minutes before Hamas militants carried out the deadliest civilian massacre in Israeli history. Eynav Elkayam Levy, 32, was confirmed dead. Or, 33, is missing.
“How can you tell a two-year-old boy he won’t see his mother anymore?” said Or’s older brother, Michael Levy. The family is stuck between heartbreak and hope, and they pray that Or makes it home alive.
Photos from happier times show the couple beaming at the beach and cafés.
“Or is always smiling, always happy, not just in the pictures,” said Michael Levy, 40, who thinks of his brother as a child genius who would break things just so he could fix them.
Or taught himself computer programming and is part of a successful startup, and he and Eynav dreamed of having a bigger family.
A patchwork of text messages captures the couple’s chaotic final minutes together. Eynav texted her mother, who was babysitting Almog, shortly after daybreak to say they’d arrived at the festival site.
Soon after, Or texted his mother to say they were driving back home. It was 6.51am and sirens were sounding as Hamas rockets flew over the desert party.
Or’s mother texted back: “Watch out and call me when you can.”
He called at 7.39am to say they were hiding in a bomb shelter. She asked how they were. “Mum, you don’t want to know,” he replied, before phone service cut off. The family hasn’t heard from him since.
Several days later, the Israeli army informed the family that Eynav’s body was found inside the shelter, and that Or had been kidnapped and taken hostage. The family has no other details.
Almog’s grandparents are taking turns watching the boy, Michael said. They are trying to stay positive, for Almog’s sake. “He is calling out for his mum and dad all the time.”
Judith and Natalie Raanan
Natalie Raanan is a typical 17-year-old: she loves art, makeup, fashion, and DoorDash — “she hates eating at home,” said her brother, Ben Raanan.
She graduated from high school in the Chicago suburbs this year, and has a birthday coming up, according to her brother, who is 34 and based in Denver.
Before she left on a trip to Israel to celebrate her grandmother’s 85th birthday and the Jewish holidays with her mother, Judith Raanan, the teen was deciding between going to college to study interior or fashion design and taking an apprenticeship with a tattoo shop.
The pair had been sending updates as the trip progressed and were enjoying “this really special mum and daughter time together”, said their rabbi, Meir Hecht.
But the family hasn’t heard from either mother or daughter since Hamas launched an unprecedented surprise attack.
‘Stop’: Doctor shares heartfelt plea to worldAustralians stuck in Gaza running out of food, sleeping on streets
Natalie is “just a very loving, kind person,” said her older brother, Ben Raanan. Their middle brother, Adam, is nonverbal and much older than she is, but Natalie made it a priority to maintain a strong bond with him, he explained.
The family has been in touch with both US and Israeli government officials, who confirmed Natalie and Judith were alive and being held hostage by Hamas, according to Ben Raanan.
“This whole situation is surreal,” he said. “We are a very peaceful family. We do not advocate at all for any violence to be done to anyone in this world.”