Evanston residents believed to be among hostages held by Hamas

As Israeli security forces continue to fight Hamas militants, two Evanston residents are believed to be among more than 150 hostages being held by the terrorist organization.

An Evanston synagogue is asking for prayers for Yehudit Bat Tamar and her 19-year-old daughter Natalie, who have been reported missing in Israel amid the heavy fighting.

More than 1,400 Israelis and Palestinians are among the dead in the fighting, with President Joe Biden announcing that at least 11 Americans have been killed in the country.

Biden also believes Americans are among those being held hostage by Hamas.

“It is an outrage, and we will continue to show the world that the American people are unwavering in our resolve to oppose terrorism in all forms,” he said in a statement Monday.

Hamas has threatened to kill hostages if Israel continues bombing the Gaza Strip. Israel has vowed to conduct a “complete siege” of the area in response to the deadly attacks, which began over the weekend.

The Israeli military says it has gained control of many southern towns, and is working to oust militants from the area.

Aliza Ainis, who was raised in Chicago but now lives in Tel Aviv, is among those waiting out the worst of the fighting, and says that streets are mostly deserted during the conflict.   

 “I’ve been home all day. It’s very eerie outside,” she said. “Mostly only dogwalkers out, or people going to the store, getting supplies. We’ve mostly been home, nervous to leave. I feel more safe in my apartment than outside right now.”  

Ainis’ mother Paula Harris is afraid for her daughter.

“I have lots of friends and family who are in Israel, and we’re feeling very vulnerable here and there,” she said. “When I talked to my daughter on Sunday morning, it was the first time I heard fear in her voice, and it really shook me to my core.”

Ainis says she is trying to be honest with her mother about the situation, and the fear she is feeling.

“I’m not really sugarcoating it to her,” she said. “I’m just telling her like it is. She’ll find out from the news, or from friends, and I’d rather it come from me.”  

Michael Traison, who divides his time between Chicago and the Israel city of Petachtikva, said that he’s been told to prepare equipment that will keep him safe for up to 72 hours, gathering everything from first aid kits to water and even cash.

“This is not army against army. These were terrorists who were attacking families,” he said. “This is not just another country. This is a country built on the ashes of humanity’s worst tragedies.”

With the ongoing fighting, Ainis was asked if she had considered leaving Israel, but said that the conflict has her wary of flying.

“I don’t feel safe flying because there are rockets, and I don’t feel comfortable getting in an airplane,” she said. “I also have a dog that I don’t want to leave. I think everything needs to be played by ear. I don’t want to be here during this situation, I don’t want a war to be happening, but getting out of the country, I don’t know how safe it is either.”

The State Department says that the Biden Administration is offering Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu full support, and that they are willing to assist in pushing back Hamas’ efforts in the region.

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