As these words are being written, 136 children, women, and men are being held hostage in Gaza by Hamas. On the 7th of October, around 250 civilians (Israelis and other nationalities as well) were kidnapped from their homes in the Kibbutzim surrounding the Gaza Strip and from the “Nova” music festival, which was held near Kibbutz Re’im. It is very difficult to put into words the shared national consciousness since the attacks and the aftershocks that we have experienced since that Black Sabbath. Thousands of families have lost their loved ones on that terrible day or during the war that broke out thereafter. But there are hundreds of families (an astronomical number, unlike anything we’ve ever experienced) who don’t know if their loved ones are safe, receiving medical care, being fed, or even alive: the families of the hostages.
The Hostage and Missing Families Forum
When you land at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, after you pass the passport control, there is a long and wide corridor that will take you to the baggage claim area and out of the airport. When you pass through that corridor, the first images that will undoubtedly grab your attention are photos of the hostages placed to your left and right. Each photo is captioned with the hostage’s name and age, and underneath it echoes the same demand: “Bring Her\Him\Home Now”. This initiative is led by “The Hostage and Missing Families Forum” , founded less than 24 hours after the 7th of October attacks. The forum is volunteer-based and offers these families medical and emotional support, as well as professional assistance. It advances the ongoing efforts, both locally and globally, to bring back the hostages and the missing safely home.
The Kidnapped Square
Over the past three months, the plaza in front of “The Tel Aviv Museum of Art” has transformed into the central protesting area for the return of the hostages. The reason it has been informally named “The Kidnapped Square” is due to its proximity to the “Kirya”: The IDF’s (Israel Defense Forces) headquarters – where decisions regarding the war and the hostages are being made. Since the 7th of October, the square has been a center of art installations and live performances of Israeli singers advocating for the cause. Mass protests are being held every Saturday: people of all ages and backgrounds from all over the country flood the plaza, wearing black T-shirts and dog-tag steel necklaces with the tag “Bring Them Home – Now”.
Protest Through the Lens of Art
In a place where politicians lack judgment and clarity, and words are quickly losing their meaning on news broadcasts and social media, art can somehow break through and tell the truth. Two of the most powerful art installations in Tel Aviv were a long Shabbat dinner table, set with 200 empty chairs, plates, cups, and silverware, each waiting for a hostage or a missing individual. The second installation was a 30-meter-long cement tunnel, resembling the underground tunnels in Gaza where the hostages are kept with scarcely any food or medical aid. These installations inspired many other cities around the world to stage similar artworks: a long empty Shabbat table in NYC and Amsterdam, empty baby strollers with the kidnapped children’s photos in Bordeaux and Milano, a large mural in Buenos Aires, dozens of red balloons tied to pairs of shoes in Melbourne, and more. Any art installation around the world, big or small, helps draw attention to this urgent matter and apply more pressure on national and international leaders.
Life is the most precious resource we have on this earth. Not just as individual people trying to stay safe and live our lives fully, but as a bigger whole: as a society, even as a whole race. There is an important saying in Jewish tradition: “He who saves one life saves an entire world”. Single life is so sacred that if you manage to save one, it is like the equivalent of saving an entire world: this person’s inner world, accomplishments, and contributions, the family they may have or will have one day, their effect on other people. It is our duty to do everything in our power to honor that saying, now and forevermore.