(New York Jewish Week) – On Sunday, Mark Shapiro will be running his 15th New York City Marathon. But as he joins the 50,000 or so runners setting out on the 26.2-mile route, he’ll do something he’s never done before: wear a T-shirt adorned with the image of an Israeli child held hostage by Hamas in Gaza.
“These are civilians and [Hamas] crossed every line. Everyone needs to support these innocent people and the hostages and their families,” Shapiro said. “It’s the biggest marathon on the planet, it gets the most coverage. Everybody who can do so really needs to use this as a platform.”
Shapiro is one of two dozen marathon runners who will race while wearing the picture of a child kidnapped by the terror group, which killed and wounded thousands in its Oct. 7 invasion of Israel while taking some 240 people captive, including dozens of children. In the nearly one month since, a massive global movement has emerged to draw attention to the hostages’ plight amid Israel’s onglong war with Hamas in Gaza. The effort has included the dissemination and posting of “Kidnapped” flyers across the globe, as well as public displays such as empty Shabbat tables, strollers and beds to symbolize the hostages’ absence.
“We just thought it would be a good way for us here in New York to remind the world to not forget about the hostages and about the fact that we have 30 children still kidnapped,” said Shany Granot-Lubaton, a prominent Israeli activist in New York City. “We’re trying to keep everyone aware of this in any way we can and the marathon is this huge event in New York.”
The New York City Marathon is the world’s largest, last year boasting more than 47,800 finishers from 131 countries. In addition, thousands of spectators line the route, which begins in Staten Island and stretches across the boroughs before ending in Central Park in the West 60s. This year’s race, the 52nd annual marathon, will be broadcast on ESPN2 as well as locally, on WABC-TV Channel 7.
Granot-Lubaton has been at the forefront of local advocacy efforts for the hostages in New York City. In the aftermath of the attack, the group she helps organize, UnXeptable — which once focused on protesting the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul — changed its motto from “Saving Israeli Democracy” to “Saving Israel.”
Over the past few weeks, Granot-Lubaton has spearheaded several events designed to raise awareness about the hostages, including a candlelight vigil at Columbus Circle on Wednesday night and demonstrations in front of the United Nations. She has also worked with delegations of the families of the missing as they arrived in New York to meet with government officials and the press.
Yaakov Shapiro, a 29-year-old Israeli who is not related to Mark Shapiro, will run this Sunday not only wearing a hostage T-shirt but also wrapping himself in the Israeli flag. Running the marathon has been a dream for him since he moved to New York three years ago, he said, and despite contending with a stress fracture, he felt the attack and the war between Israel and Hamas has made him more committed than ever to complete the race’s grueling course.
“It was a really challenging month — I feel like I literally have nothing left to lean on,” he told the New York Jewish Week. “But somehow I just keep going because I’m full of hope for a better future and for peace.”
He added, “It’s such a big day — the whole city is shut down and everyone is celebrating. It’s a great opportunity to stand out and to show what I believe in. On top of celebrating my first marathon ever, I’ll also be celebrating the fact that I’m a proud Israeli.”
A crowd of supporters will gather on Sunday at Columbus Circle, near the finish line, where they’ll hear remarks from the brother of Yarden Roman-Gat, a 35-year-old mother who was kidnapped from Kibbutz Be’eri on Oct. 7, according to the Times of Israel. Her husband, Alon Gat, and their 3-year-old daughter, Geffen, escaped.
“Time is running out,” Granot-Lubaton said. “It’s almost a month now that they’re over there and we need to save them.”