An empty Shabbat table has been laid by the Jewish community in London to represent the over 200 hostages still being held by the terrorist group Hamas.
In a display of solidarity and unity, as well as a cry for the release of the hostages, over 200 empty places were symbolically laid in the JW3 piazza, a community centre for the Jewish community. They serve as a reminder of the hundreds of families who will be missing loved ones at their Shabbat tables for a third week.
Raymond Simonson, JW3’s chief executive told the gathered crowd: “These are people, they are not just numbers. We urge you today to walk around the table, and look at the faces and names. It’s only when you look at it like this do you realize how many people it truly is,”
Noam Sagi, son of Ada Sagi who is one of the hostages still held captive by Hamas, recounted how three weeks ago, he and his family were preparing to celebrate Shabbat like any other week, and how everything changed the morning after, describing how his family have been dragged into “psychological warfare” by Hamas.
An empty Friday night dinner table at JW3 representing the 220 or so hostages still being held in Gaza. pic.twitter.com/cHHP5VVsU4
— Sabrina Miller (@SabriSun_Miller) October 27, 2023
“No one is in the middle of this psychological warfare more than the families. Every day is worse. This is what it is designed to do.”
Ada Sagi is a 75-year-old mother and grandmother, whom Noam and his family have not heard from since she was kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz the morning of 7th October.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said, “The greeting that we give for the sabbath day is Shabbat Shalom – may you have a peaceful Shabbat. Three weeks ago, the peace of Shabbat was shattered, when a nation was terrorized. Right now we are sickened, and we wonder what kind of a Shabbat will [those taken hostage] be having tonight.”
“This is our statement that we care. We miss every single one of those captives, and we send a strong message that as long as they are in captivity, we shall not rest. The whole Jewish people right around the world we call mishpocha, we are one family, so that is why we share in the pain of all Israelis,” said Rabbi Mirvis.”
“On the eve of this Shabbat, we send a message to those hostages: Shabbat Shalom. May you come home soon, and have a truly peaceful Shabbat,” said Rabbi Mirvis.
“These empty chairs represent in a small way, the enormity of the crime.”
At a moving event at JW3 today, ahead of Shabbat, we declared together that we hold those who are being held hostage by Hamas in our hearts and in our prayers. pic.twitter.com/WcoDWfKy2c
— Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis (@chiefrabbi) October 27, 2023
Noam has spent the weeks since his mother was kidnapped urging the British government to take action and prioritize the release of the hostages.
“I ask the British government to be brave. To do, not just to say. I ask the Israeli government to be brave, and prioritize the names you see here. Because bringing people back to their families, that’s the best outcome we could hope for. Bring them back now and stop this torture.”
The hundreds of empty chairs are a stark reminder of the enormity of the situation and the scale of the suffering currently taking place across the region.
The first installation was set up outside of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on 20 October and organizations around the world are following suit, including in Rome, Sydney, and Times Square in New York City. As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency noted, setting a seat for prisoners has been a symbol of protest for Jews globally since the 1960s, when the movement to free Soviet Jews began the symbolic gesture.
Coupled with the installation, JW3 also distributed extra Shabbat candles along with the name cards for each of the Hostages. Simonson encouraged those in attendance to set an extra place at their own Shabbat tables, to “light an extra set of candles for someone. Pray to bring them home.”
Source: Jewish News