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Giving hostages a seat at the table



At the height of a couple’s joy under the chuppah, the groom smashes the glass to remember the destruction of the Temple and that there’s pain, loss, and injustice in the world.

Now, amidst unimaginable antisemitism and the abduction of innocents, one South African couple took this notion one step further by laying places for two hostages kidnapped by Hamas at the main table at their wedding.

“What’s going on in Israel has deeply affected all of us, the entire Jewish nation. We’re all heartbroken for what our innocent people, our future, our brethren, are unjustifiably going through,” says Marnie Gordon, who married her husband, Stan, on 19 November. “While watching CNN, we happened to hear the parents of these two particular hostages speak about them – their free spirits and easy-going ways, their love for life and music, and something resonated, as well as a tremendous sadness for all the hostages and their families.”

They therefore included places for Omer Shem Tov and Mia Schem, both 21, and both still held captive by Hamas for 50 days and counting. The photos were impossible to miss, placed at a central point as guests entered the hall, and many tears were shed. Though some hostages have since been released, these two young people remain kidnapped.

“Feeling guilty for having such a happy celebration while our people are locked up in some dark tunnel, somewhere, possibly hungry, uncomfortable, horrific, cold, who knows what the conditions are, we felt we needed to feel close to them, to remember them, as the Jewish spirit will prevail,” says Gordon.

“Right through our wedding, although it was the most joyous occasion, we couldn’t help but worry about our soldiers. We’re praying for their safety and for Israel’s victory. I felt proud to be Jewish, singing Hatikvah, and following all our magnificent traditions, listening to Rabbi David Masinter from River Club Chabad, who inspires goodness and kindness, as well as the beautiful voice of chazzan Ezra Sher from Pine Street Shul echo through the gorgeous garden.

“It was a simply spiritual experience, and I think everyone felt it. We needed some light in the darkness,” she says. “Being Jewish is a privilege, and it breaks every Jewish heart to feel the antisemitism that has arisen in this time. I can’t understand why the world chooses evil and turns a blind eye to the truth.

“A friend who attended the wedding conveyed our thoughts to the parents of the hostages, who were apparently very grateful,” says Gordon. “Please bring them back safely now.”

Hostages are also being given “a seat at the table” through an initiative started by The Village Shul in London called #YouBeTheirLight. All one needs to do is light two candles and take a card that has the name, photo, and age of one hostage, along with tehillim 121 – the prayer for captives. Bernice Berson in Johannesburg was so touched by the initiative, that she organised with others to get the hostage cards printed, and created a pack with candles to the women in the Johannesburg Jewish community.

Tanya Midzuk received one of these cards. “This little card came with two candles just before Shabbos from Linksfield Shul,” she says. The card had the name and photograph of hostage Eitan Levy, who is a 53-year-old Israeli. “We’ve brought him into our home,” she says. “This is a man, he’s 53, he’s not likely to be among the first 50 hostages to come out, and he’s going to be gone for a while. We therefore looked up his story, talked about him over Shabbat, pray for him, and we’ve almost adopted him as ‘our person’ that we’re davening and praying for. I intend to find out more about him.

“His story is that he was a taxi driver, and he got a request on the morning of 7 October to do a 06:00 lift to Kibbutz Be’eri, and as his son says, he’s a good man and couldn’t say no. He got up at 06:00, and by 07:00, he was in trouble. He phoned his family and the family heard Arabic in the background and after a while it went dead and they assumed that he had been kidnapped.”

Another woman, speaking anonymously, told Berson she was “absolutely humbled that I got this woman to daven for while lighting candles! As soon as I opened my phone and looked on the news, I saw [that she had been released]. Got the absolute shivers and just began to sob! Baruch Hashem! May Hashem bring back all the hostages.”

Another woman lit candles for South African-born Channah Peri, who was then released.

Instagram influencer @ChayaofLondon (Chaya Raichik) said she partnered with The Village Shul in Hampstead to bring #YouBeTheirLight to fruition. “I come to you with a unique opportunity to stand together in solidarity as we hope and pray for the safe return of our hostages,” she said. “As you may have seen, in the past couple of weeks, I’ve been lighting two blue candles. But these aren’t just any candles. They are a symbol of hope, a silent prayer, and a beacon for the safe return of our friends who cannot light candles wherever they are held.”

Speaking almost prophetically before a hostage deal came into being, she said, “With these candles we aren’t just pushing away the darkness, but igniting the divine spark that is within them and all of us. I would love nothing more than for you to take part in this with me. Just imagine the power of synchronising our hearts and prayers across the world at the same time, every Friday. Light your candles, make a blessing using the card provided, and take a moment to think about your hostage. Say their name out loud, close your eyes, and let your prayers shine through.”

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