Empty Shabbat Chairs Mark Commitment to Hostages Taken by Hamas
On a Friday night late last month, an unusual Sabbath evening meal was set near the Lincoln Memorial. No food was served and no dinner guests arrived. The chairs—more than 200 of them—sat empty before a huge Shabbat table, each of them representing one of the more than 200 hostages taken by Hamas terrorists in their initial attacks on southern Israel.
The names of the missing were on fliers—one flyer, one name—distributed to the crowd assembled to honor the hostages and commit to their return. The Hostages and Missing Families Forum sponsored the event. They, along with other Jewish groups, including the National Council of Jewish Women, the World Jewish Congress, the Israeli American Council, the Jewish Federation and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, have been working to raise awareness and advocate for the U.S. and Israeli citizens taken hostage.
They were not alone. Massive empty Shabbat tables set up in solidarity for the hostages were in evidence in Times Square; in Tenafly, New Jersey; in Beverly Hills, California; at Philadelphia’s Independence Mall; and overseas in Italy, Australia and Tel Aviv.
“As we gather around empty tables yet another week, their absence is overwhelming,” Gil Preuss, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, told the people assembled in front of the empty Shabbat table at the Lincoln Memorial.
“And yet this very Shabbat table in front of us and those like it around the world remind us that we are not alone. Our Jewish community is here to sustain us,” he said.
Family members of those believed kidnapped by Hamas sat close to Preuss. They had earlier met with Vice President Kamala Harris.
CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, Sheila Katz—who had just returned from Israel where she comforted a friend who had five family members believed to be kidnapped, two of whom were confirmed dead during her visit—said, “I committed to people that I met there and here that I would spend every day speaking up until their family’s home, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Later, at the Lincoln Memorial event—which included songs and prayers in Hebrew, along with chants of “Bring them home!”—Katz addressed the crowd, pointing out that among the traditional Shabbat dinner songs is one, “welcoming the divine angels who join us for Shabbat for their blessing.”
She then shared the wish that the hostages would know “our fervent prayers for their return are accompanying them, and that they can feel how desperate we are to have them home, feel blessed by our love, and that they can feel it fluttering like wings.”
As of this writing, the hostage count is more than 240, including at least 33 children. Of those hostages one, an Israeli soldier, was rescued, and four others were released—an American Israeli mother and daughter, and two Israeli women.