Empty Shabbat tables set for Israeli hostages

Empty Shabbat tables set for Israeli hostages

This Shabbat table is outside the Art Museum of Tel Aviv.
This Shabbat table is outside the Art Museum of Tel Aviv.

The installation stretches across the entire plaza outside the Tel Aviv Museum of Art — a table for 200, pristinely set for Shabbat yet searingly empty.

The high chairs at a handful of seats, the children’s cups at other settings, and the white roses alongside some of the plates make the symbolism painfully clear: This table is for the 200 hostages that Israel says Hamas is holding in Gaza.

Hamas took the hostages on October 7, when it attacked Israel, killing and wounding thousands of people. Since then, their families and supporters have quickly snapped into an organized protest movement, applying tactic after tactic to keep the world’s attention on their loved ones despite Israel’s war in Gaza and a global fight over how it should respond to the massacre.

Above, empty strollers in front of the Houses of Parliament in London symbolize the children held hostage in Gaza. (Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images)

Among the most prominent and widespread tactics has been the distribution of “Kidnapped” posters all around the world, in dozens of languages, showcasing the faces and stories of each of the known captives. Now, the empty Shabbat table is poised to join those posters as a symbol of the captives’ plight.

Setting an empty seat for prisoners has been part of the global Jewish protest lexicon since the 1960s, when the movement to free Soviet Jews made it a hallmark of its symbolism. Earlier this year, some Jews committed to leaving an empty seat at their Passover seders for Evan Gershkovich, the Jewish-American journalist imprisoned in Russia.

The tables for the hostages are vastly larger in scope. In addition to the Tel Aviv table, tables for hostages were set up before Shabbat in the Jewish Quarter of Rome and on Australia’s famous Bondi Beach, and subsequently in other locations, including Paris; Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Hill; and Los Angeles.

Rome’s Jewish Quarter (European Jewish Congress)

And on Friday evening, the message is scheduled to come to Tenafly.

A group of local Israelis have organized a candle lighting and vigil, around a table with 200 place settings, outside Cafe Angelique, at 1 Piermont Road, set to begin at 4:45 p.m. on October 27.

Tenafly is the home to one of the hostages, Edan Alexander, a 19-year-old recent graduate of Tenafly High School.

Jewish Telegraphic Agency

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