Empty strollers in London call attention to child hostages in Gaza as families head to the UN


(JTA) — Empty strollers in London and Shabbat tables with empty seats in at least half a dozen cities represent the latest efforts to bring attention to the hundreds of Israelis held hostage in Gaza since Oct. 7 through striking visuals in public spaces.

Hamas released two hostages, a mother and daughter who were American citizens, on Friday night. Since then, number known to be held hostage has risen, from 203 to 222. Dozens of the hostages are children, including several thought to be held alone after their families were murdered during Hamas’ attack on Israel.

On Sunday, two weeks after the attack, Israeli President Isaac Herzog met with family members of 80 hostages, vowing to “do everything to bring your loved ones home.”

Israel’s foreign minister, Eli Cohen, is flying with representatives of the families to New York City, where he is scheduled to speak at the United Nations on Tuesday. Among those traveling with him are Rachel Goldberg and Jon Polin, whose U.S.-born son Hersh Goldberg-Polin was abducted from the site of the outdoor party where 260 people were killed.

The United States has reportedly urged Israel to refrain from a ground invasion in Gaza while negotiations, through a third party in Qatar, are underway to secure the release of additional hostages, particularly those with foreign passports.

Activists with the #BringThemHome movement — which aims to make sure the hostages are not forgotten as Israel strikes back against Hamas and leaders discuss humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza — have bought billboards in city centers and plastered public walls with “Kidnapped” posters showcasing the people known to be held hostage.

In New York City, where the posters tend to be removed quickly, often by pro-Palestinian activists, a kosher barbecue company covered its food truck with them before a festival on the Upper West Side Sunday. “Real estate billboards in New York City are a fortune,” Wandering ‘Que wrote on Instagram. “Today we are taking full advantage of every square foot we have.”

Less than a mile away on Sunday, as part of the advocacy efforts, Israeli singer David Broza played a free concert at B’nai Jeshurun Synagogue, which is collecting 201 pairs of used shoes to represent the hostages.

An empty Shabbat table for 200, with high chairs for the toddlers known to be held hostage, drew worldwide attention after it was set outside the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on Friday. Similar tables appeared in Australia and Rome and were subsequently set in other locations, including Paris; Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Hill; and Los Angeles.

A Shabbat table for the Israeli hostages appears in Washington, D.C., Oct. 20, 2023. (Courtesy Scott Lasensky); a similar table, showcasing the names and faces of the hostages, appears in Paris, Oct. 22, 2023. (Remon Haazen/Getty Images)

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