At Tel Aviv Museum of Art, an Empty Table Set for the 200 Hostages Kidnapped by Hamas

In the plaza outside the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Jewish and Israeli organizations have created a stark reminder of the over 200 hostages taken by Hamas on October 7: a Shabbat table, with a place setting for each confirmed missing person.

The organizers include Mosaic United, the World Zionist Organization, and Hostages and Missing Families Forum, a group of over 1,000 family members of the hostages. The organizers also produced a booklet with traditional texts and songs, as well as testimonis from suvivors of the brutal assault on southern Israel, which killed over 1,400 citizens and wounded over 4,000, the Times of Israel reported Friday.

The somber dinner table installation is only one of many tactics that activists in support of Israel are doing to draw attention to the hostages. Many have been distributing and posting flyers emblazoned with the word KIDNAPPED in capital letters and photographs of those taken during the attack in public places, from subway stations to lamp posts, New York, Buenos Aires, Berlin and other cities. The flyers are “part public street art and part viral activist campaign” created by the Israeli artists Nitzan Mintz and her partner Dede Bandaid, according to The New York Times 

Empty Shabbat tables or place-settings have lng been a symbol of solidarity for captive Jews, according to the Times of Israel, the practice having become prominent during the movement to free Jews held captive in the Soviet Union in the 1960s. Empty Shabbat tables, with booster seats for those children taken in the assault, have been organized by the local Jewish community in Rome’s Jewish Quarter and on Bondi Beach in Australia.

The latest reports from military sources indicate there are just over 200 hostages in Gaza, including 30 children and 20 people over the age of 60, according to Reuters. On Friday, two American hostages, Judith Raanan, 59, and Natalie Raanan, 17, a mother and daughter from Illinois, who had been visiting family in Israel, were released by Hamas.

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - OCTOBER 20: A "Shabbat Dinner" table set up ahead of  a special ‘Kabalat Shabbat,’ (welcoming the Shabbat) prayer service for the families of hostages in the Tel Aviv museum plaza, with 200 empty seats, representing the hostages and missing people on October 20, 2023 in Tel Aviv Israel. As Israel prepares to invade the Gaza Strip in its campaign to vanquish Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that launched a deadly attack in southern Israel on October 7th, worries are growing of a wider war with multiple fronts, including at the country's northern border with Lebanon. Countries have scrambled to evacuate their citizens from Israel, and Israel has begun relocating residents some communities on its northern border. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of residents of northern Gaza have fled to the southern part of the territory, following Israel's vow to launch a ground invasion. (Photo by Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

Getty Images

A spokesman for the militant organization said that the hostages were released due to mediation by Qatar and “for humanitarian reasons, and to prove to the American people and the world that the claims made by Biden and his fascist administration are false and baseless,” Reuters reported.

As the Israel Defense Forces has conducted widespread air bombardments of Gaza, the Hostages and Missing Families Forum has conducted a media campaign, #BringThemHomeNow, to draw attention to hostages’ plight, which some have worried has become secondary to Israel’s greater assault on Hamas. The exact location of the hostages is unknown, and Hamas has said that 20 hostages have already been killed by Israeli air strikes.