Chabad UF hosts freed Gaza hostage as Passover nears 

Judith Raanan tells her story about being captured as a hostage during the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.
Judith Raanan tells her story about being captured as a hostage during the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.
Photo by Seth Johnson

On Monday, a week before Passover, Judith Raanan told her story as a hostage in Gaza as more than 400 attendees gathered at the Chabad UF Jewish Student & Community Center.  

Rabbi Berl Goldman, director of the center, said they have always hosted pro-Israel advocacy and especially since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel and subsequent war. In January, Holocaust survivor Irene Zisblatt spoke at the center.  

“The strength of Israel and the Jewish people comes from within and with each other,” Goldman said. “Together we are stronger.” 

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Rabbi Berl Goldman speaks at Monday's special Chabad UF event.
Photo by Seth Johnson Rabbi Berl Goldman speaks at Monday’s special Chabad UF event.

Raanan started her story by reminding the audience that hostages remain in darkness around the world. She said while they suffer, all Jews will continue to suffer until they can follow what Hashem, God, has asked. 

“Even in the dark, as our rabbi said, there is a light. How can that be,” Raanan asked. 

An American from Chicago, Raanan and her 17-year-old daughter visited Israel to celebrate her mother’s 85th birthday. The area they stayed in is close to the border with Gaza, and when the Oct. 7 attack happened, Raanan recalled hiding in the safe room as they heard Arabic voices draw near.  

After getting taken, Raanan told of the walk into Gaza, with hands zip-tied and Hamas soldiers on both sides. Raanan and her daughter stayed in two hospitals and two other houses while held hostage, with a rocket blasting a hole in the side of a wall as they slept. 

Two weeks after the attack, Raanan and her daughter were the first hostages released by Hamas. 

Raanan recalled staying firm in her Jewish faith while in Gaza, asking for Kosher food and praying in Hebrew over her meals. She said she had made a deal with God to do just that more than 30 years before, even if guns were pointed at her. 

“I spoke his word because a deal is a deal,” Raanan said. 

More than 400 people attended to hear Judith Rananan speak.
Photo by Seth Johnson More than 400 people attended to hear Judith Rananan speak.

At the start, Goldman referenced the Iranian attacks on Israel over the weekend, and at the end of the event, a UF student said a prayer for the Israel Defense Forces soldiers. 

“As you know for 25 years here in Gainesville, Chabad does not speak any politics, and we never will,” Goldman said. “When it comes to the holy land of Israel, it’s not a political issue. We see it, and we know it’s a matter of life or death.”   

The Iranian attacks come as the Jewish community prepares for Passover, and this year, the first Passover Seder will be held at UF’s Stephen C. O’Connell Center with an expected attendance of more than 1,000 people.  

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