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Shabbat tables in Times Square set with 224 empty seats represent hostages held by Hamas

(New York Jewish Week) — In front of a long U-shaped table in Times Square, set for 224 people, a crowd began to sing happy birthday for a 12-year-old boy named Erez. 

Thursday was Erez’s birthday, but the gathering was no celebration. Erez, along with his sister and father Sahar and Ofer Calderon, are three of the more than 200 hostages taken by Hamas in the terror group’s Oct. 7 invasion of Israel. Erez’s grandmother and cousin were killed. 

And the song was led by Omer Lubaton-Granot, an Israeli activist in New York who has his own connection to the hostages — four of his relatives were taken captive. Two others are dead.

“Erez, we want you to hear us all the way from New York. We’re celebrating your birthday here and we’ll soon celebrate your freedom,” he said. “Your mother deserves to hug you on your birthday and you deserve her hug and we will do whatever we can to make it happen.”

The settings at the table, along with their empty seats, represent each of Hamas’ captives in Gaza. The Israeli-American Council organized the event to push for the release of the hostages and raise awareness of their plight. It’s meant as a Shabbat table and is one of a series that have been symbolically set for the hostages in cities across the United States, Israel and around the world. In other displays, strollers or teddy bears have been arrayed to represent the captive children.

At the head of this one, in Duffy Square, a wooden high chair bore the picture of a 9-month-old Israeli baby named Kfir, beneath the word “kidnapped.” On the table was a pink plate for a child, a loaf of challah and an array of violet and white flowers. 

A separate table for kids was set in the middle of the U-shaped table. Baby bottles lay on the center table next to pastel-colored plates. Splayed out on the pavement were teddy bears, their eyes blindfolded.

“My cousin, her children, 200 other people are trapped and we don’t know where they are,” Navé Strauss, a New Yorker whose relatives are being held in Gaza, told the crowd. “Repeat the call, lay the pressure on everybody in a position of power, anybody in the position to negotiate for their freedom today, right now. Bring them home.”

An empty shabbat table symbolizing the over 200 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, in Times Square, New York City, October 27, 2023. (Luke Tress)

Hundreds of Israelis and supporters ringed the display as passersby stopped to take photos. Some of the Israelis handed out fliers and engaged with tourists, explaining the meaning of the exhibit, which stood in the square for five hours. 

There were no significant counter-protests, though a brief scuffle broke out when a passerby grabbed a man’s Israeli flag. Police quickly separated the pair. Several people spoke out against the demonstration, touching a nerve for the participants. 

“Everything that’s happening and you’re still supporting Israel?” one woman shouted.

“They’re kids. How do you live with yourself?” an attendee responded.

The fliers affixed to the chairs, which were designed by the Israeli artist Nitzan Mintz and her partner, who goes by the name Dede Bandaid, have also become a point of contention The posters have been plastered around New York City and other cities worldwide, and anti-Israel activists have torn them down or defaced them. In New York City this week, someone pasted the word “occupier” over the label “kidnapped” on a poster bearing the name and photo of a child, suggesting that they shouldn’t be viewed as a civilian.

The hostages have now been in captivity for 20 days. Hamas has released four in a move the terror group depicted as a humanitarian gesture but that has been seen widely as a public relations ploy. The Israeli American Council held a rally attended by thousands in Times Square last week and vowed to continue holding events until the hostages are released. Thursday’s event was backed by an array of Jewish groups including the UJA-Federation New York, the World Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee New York and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.

In addition to the Israeli hostages, nationals from dozens of other countries are held by Hamas in Gaza.

Behind the staggering number of hostages, 224 and counting, there are individual lives and families,” Lubaton-Granot said. “Every minute that passes without their loved ones is pure agony.”

The post Shabbat tables in Times Square set with 224 empty seats represent hostages held by Hamas appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Israeli Official: ‘Important Operation’ in Yemen Sends Strong Message to Shiite Axis

Drones are seen at a site at an undisclosed location in Iran, in this handout image obtained on April 20, 2023. Photo: Iranian Army/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS

i24 NewsA senior Israeli security official spoke to i24NEWS on Saturday on condition of the retaliatory strike carried out by the Israel Air Force against the Houthi jihadists in Yemen.

“This is an important operation which signals that there’s room for further escalation, and sends a very strong message to the entire Shiite axis.”

“We understood there is a high probability of counter attacks, but if we do not respond, the meaning is even worse. Israel has updated the US prior to the operation.”

The strike on Hodeida came after long-range Iranian-made drone hit a building in central Tel Aviv, killing one man and wounded several others.

The post Israeli Official: ‘Important Operation’ in Yemen Sends Strong Message to Shiite Axis first appeared on

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IDF Confirms Striking ‘Terrorist Houthi Regime’ in Yemen’s Hodeida

Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi addresses followers via a video link at the al-Shaab Mosque, formerly al-Saleh Mosque, in Sanaa, Yemen, Feb. 6, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

i24 NewsThe Israeli military on Saturday confirmed striking a port in Yemen controlled by the Houthi jihadists, a day after the Iranian proxy group perpetrated a deadly drone attack on Tel Aviv.

“A short while ago, IDF fighter jets struck military targets of the Houthi terrorist regime in the area of the Al Hudaydah Port in Yemen in response to the hundreds of attacks carried out against the State of Israel in recent months.”

After Houthi drone attack on Tel Aviv, reports and footage out of Yemen of air strikes hitting Hodeida

— Video used in accordance with clause 27A of Israeli copyright law

— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) July 20, 2024

Yoav Gallant, the defense minister, issued a statement saying “The fire that is currently burning in Hodeidah, is seen across the Middle East and the significance is clear. The Houthis attacked us over 200 times. The first time that they harmed an Israeli citizen, we struck them. And we will do this in any place where it may be required.”

“The blood of Israeli citizens has a price,” Gallant added. “This has been made clear in Lebanon, in Gaza, in Yemen, and in other places – if they will dare to attack us, the result will be identical.”

Gallant: ‘The fire currently burning in Hodeida is seen across the region and the significance is clear… The blood of Israeli citizens has a price, as has been made clear in Lebanon, in Gaza, in Yemen and in other places – if they dare attack us, the result will be identical.’

— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) July 20, 2024

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One Part of Cyprus Mourns, the Other Rejoices 50 Years After Split

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan leaves after attending a military parade to mark the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus in response to a short-lived Greek-inspired coup, in the Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus, in the divided city of Nicosia, Cyprus July 20, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

Greek Cypriots mourned and Turkish Cypriots rejoiced on Saturday, the 50th anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of part of the island after a brief Greek inspired coup, with the chances of reconciliation as elusive as ever.

The ethnically split island is a persistent source of tension between Greece and Turkey, which are both partners in NATO but are at odds over numerous issues.

Their differences were laid bare on Saturday, with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attending a celebratory military parade in north Nicosia to mark the day in 1974 when Turkish forces launched an offensive that they call a “peace operation.”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was due later on Saturday to attend an event in the south of the Nicosia to commemorate what Greeks commonly refer to as the “barbaric Turkish invasion.” Air raid sirens sounded across the area at dawn.

Mitsotakis posted an image of a blood-stained map of Cyprus on his LinkedIn page with the words “Half a century since the national tragedy of Cyprus.”

There was jubilation in the north.

“The Cyprus Peace Operation saved Turkish Cypriots from cruelty and brought them to freedom,” Erdogan told crowds who gathered to watch the parade despite stifling midday heat, criticizing the south for having a “spoiled mentality” and seeing itself as the sole ruler of Cyprus.

Peace talks are stalled at two seemingly irreconcilable concepts – Greek Cypriots want reunification as a federation. Turkish Cypriots want a two-state settlement.

Erdogan left open a window to dialogue although he said a federal solution, advocated by Greek Cypriots and backed by most in the international community, was “not possible.”

“We are ready for negotiations, to meet, and to establish long-term peace and resolution in Cyprus,” he said.

Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960, but a shared administration between Greek and Turkish Cypriots quickly fell apart in violence that saw Turkish Cypriots withdraw into enclaves and led to the dispatch of a U.N. peacekeeping force.

The crisis left Greek Cypriots running the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European Union since 2004 with the potential to derail Turkey’s own decades-long aspirations of joining the bloc.

It also complicates any attempts to unlock energy potential in the eastern Mediterranean because of overlapping claims. The region has seen major discoveries of hydrocarbons in recent years.


Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, whose office represents the Greek Cypriot community in the reunification dialogue, said the anniversary was a somber occasion for reflection and for remembering the dead.

“Our mission is liberation, reunification and solving the Cyprus problem,” he said. “If we really want to send a message on this tragic anniversary … it is to do anything possible to reunite Cyprus.”

Turkey, he said, continued to be responsible for violating human rights and international law over Cyprus.

Across the south, church services were held to remember the more than 3,000 people who died in the Turkish invasion.

“It was a betrayal of Cyprus and so many kids were lost. It wasn’t just my son, it was many,” said Loukas Alexandrou, 90, as he tended the grave of his son at a military cemetery.

In Turkey, state television focused on violence against Turkish Cypriots prior to the invasion, particularly on bloodshed in 1963-64 and in 1967.

Turkey’s invasion took more than a third of the island and expelled more than 160,000 Greek Cypriots to the south.

Reunification talks collapsed in 2017 and have been at a stalemate since. Northern Cyprus is a breakaway state recognized only by Turkey, and its Turkish Cypriot leadership wants international recognition.

The post One Part of Cyprus Mourns, the Other Rejoices 50 Years After Split first appeared on

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