Edmonton’s Empty Shabbat Table raises awareness of the hostages

An Empty Shabbat Table installation comprised of 133 empty chairs representing the Israeli hostages who remain captive in Gaza over six months from the Hamas attack was on display in Edmonton last month.

By Jenna Vetsch

(AJNews) – October 7 – what was once an unremarkable day – is now a terrible stain in history marked by the attacks on southern Israel by Hamas. Six months later, the aftermath continues to reverberate throughout Israel and the world outside of its borders.

Heart wrenching efforts are being made in Israel and around the world to keep the plight of the hostages alive after over 180 days in captivity. Families, friends and advocates are lobbying the Israeli government to do more to negotiate the release of the remaining 134 hostages and calling for Arab countries to pressure Hamas into releasing them.

On April 5, Jewish Federation of Edmonton held a somber and impactful event featuring an empty Shabbat table installation to commemorate the hostages who are still held captive in Gaza by Hamas. The empty seats were a stark reminder of the loved ones who have not seen the safety of their homes for months and of the dire conditions where they are held.

Located at the Alberta Legislature Grounds’ Violet King Henry Plaza, members of the Jewish community, friends, and allies including some government officials attended the installation and the short program that followed.

Stacey Leavitt-Wright, CEO of Jewish Federation of Edmonton, Shane Asbell, Erin Wright and Steven Shafir were in Israel on a Canadian Coast-to-Coast Mission back in February. While there, they visited the Empty Shabbat Table installation in Hostage Square in Tel Aviv. Having spoken with the families of hostages, and listened to their stories, Stacey wanted to bring this visual to Edmonton and provide an opportunity for Shane, Erin and Steven to talk about their experiences during the mission, as witnesses to the devastation caused by the Oct. 7 attacks.

One by one, the names of the hostages were read aloud by members of Edmonton Hillel and BBYO, followed by emotional presentations by Shane, Erin and Steven. Rabbi Schwarzman concluded the program with a prayer and Hatikvah was sung.

“We need to keep speaking about this,” said Stacey. “I feel [the hostages] are being dehumanized and these are real people. I think we need to remind people about that.” She went on to explain that there is tremendous grief and trauma that will impact people for years to come. “A lot of people feel abandoned, hurt, gaslit, and scared.” This was an opportunity for people to stand in solidarity with those who remain captive, their families, as well as all Israelis.

Over 160 people attended the installation. There was security in place with the Alberta Legislature sheriffs in attendance and although there were some protesters with signs – they were remained on the periphery of the square and did not disrupt the program.

Stacey said that she has been sensing a craving for the community to gather, which set in motion Friday’s commemorative event. She acknowledges the emotional toll the attacks on October 7 have had on people and expresses the importance of staying connected during this heavy time.

“We thank our volunteers and staff and everyone who attended this important commemoration. Am Yisrael Chai.”

Jenna Vetsch is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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