A table for 200 people, perfectly set for Shabbat but painfully empty, is the centerpiece of the installation that spans the whole plaza outside the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
The symbolism is brutally obvious thanks to the high chairs at a few seats, the kid-sized cups at other places, and the white roses next to some of the plates. This table is set for the 200 hostages that Israel claims Hamas is holding in Gaza.
When Hamas struck Israel on October 7 and caused thousands of casualties and injuries, it also took the hostages. Since then, their families and friends have immediately formed a protest movement, using one strategy after another to maintain the world’s focus on their loved ones despite Israel’s conflict in Gaza and disagreements throughout the world on how to react to the atrocity.
One of the most visible and well-known strategies has been the dissemination of “Kidnapped” posters in dozens of languages all across the world, showing the images and biographies of each known hostage.
The empty Shabbat table is now prepared to join those posters as a representation of the misery of the prisoners. Since the movement to free Soviet Jews made it a defining feature of its symbolism in the 1960s, setting an empty seat for prisoners has become a staple of the global Jewish protest lexicon.
Jews pledged earlier this year to dedicate a seat at their Passover seders to Jewish-American journalist Evan Gershkovich, who is now detained in Russia.
The hostage tables are considerably more extensive. In addition to the Tel Aviv table, hostage tables were also set up before Shabbat in Rome’s Jewish Quarter and on Bondi Beach in Australia.