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Empty seats at Shabbat table bring horror home

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Few things could hit home the horror of the 240 hostages – mostly children, women, and the elderly – being held by Hamas in Gaza since 7 October as seeing baby feeding chairs at the empty Shabbat table in the heart of Glenhazel’s shopping area last Friday.

Many came from far and wide to stand vigil for those captives who won’t be enjoying a peaceful Shabbos meal with their families for the third week in a row. The crowds joined in as the haunting sound of Shmuli Brill rang out in singing Lecha Dodi; Vehi Sheamda; and Shalom Aleinu.

“On Friday nights, our Shabbat begins with a prayer of gratitude for peace, and we sit and enjoy our time together with those around us,” said Howard Feldman. “When we look around, we see the number of people who aren’t joining their families tonight. These tables are going to be empty.”

Feldman read a tweet that he had received saying, “Hahaha. There were never any butchered babies. Palestinians are people of G-d. Israel stages photos and uses AI [artificial intelligence] to report fake news that the world has now caught up with. You are vile, you are pathetic, you are people of hell.

“I’m probably getting 20 to 30 tweets like this a day,” Feldman said, “and what starts [online] ends with these empty tables. We’re all shocked by the murder, the brutality, the kidnapping. What follows is hatred. We’re shocked by the lack of support from our government and the people of South Africa.

“It’s not just about fighting for the survival of the Jewish people, but the survival of peace, goodness in the world, and to bring back those who are missing,” he said.

“One of the hostages, Ohad ben Kerem [Zechri], turned nine last week. He was kidnapped from one of the kibbutzim around the Gaza envelope that the Jewish National Fund (JNF) visited a year ago to donate a bomb shelter to. There are nine cupcakes for him,” said JNF Chairperson Michael Kransdorff.

South African Zionist Federation Chairperson Avrom Krengel said, “We look at table after table, chair after chair of our people who have been captured and can only be going through unimaginable hell. They have been captured by our enemies, the successors of the Nazis. They came across the border on one of our holiest days. They devastated our communities and mutilated our babies all in the name of hate and a desire to destroy the Jewish people.

“Our response is to show our love – our love for the sanctity of G-d, and our love for the state of Israel. Those who did what they did were allowed to do what they did for only one day because we have a state, we have an army, we have measures to protect ourselves,” he said. “Today, Jewish life is no longer worthless.”

Bishop Enoch Blaai of Shalom Tabernacle Orange Farm, representing the South African Friends of Israel, said, “We’re crying for the lives lost, we’re crying for the souls being held against their will, and we’re crying for the fighting that continues. We’re asking G-d to intervene and bring peace to Jerusalem.”

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