A display of shoes on the lawn of Temple Beth...

A display of shoes on the lawn of Temple Beth Am of Merrick and Bellmore Friday, to raise awareness for the hostages held in Gaza. Credit: Neil Miller

It’s been five weeks, 42 days to be exact, since more than 240 hostages were taken from their homes in Israel by Hamas militants during the Oct. 7 attacks.

For Omer Neutra’s family in Plainview, that’s been five weeks without hearing from their son who was abducted on the Gaza border after he had gone to live in Israel after high school to connect to his family’s roots.

“Omer grew up like any other kid on Long Island,” said a family friend, North Hempstead Councilwoman Veronica Lurvey. “Since then five Shabbat dinners have passed. Five weeks without a call or FaceTime, five weeks of uncertainty. For five weeks, Omer Neutra is being held somewhere in Gaza, along with approximately 240 other hostages … all held with little to no information.”

Lurvey spoke at a program attended by nearly 1,000 supporters Friday, surrounding empty dinner tables in Blumenfeld Family Park in Port Washington, each with a place setting and a chair marked with posters of the missing.

Neutra is one of 10 Americans believed held hostage by Hamas, among more than 240 hostages taken. A small number have been released and negotiations are underway for the release of others. Since the war began, 1,200 Israelis have been killed according to the Israeli government. In Gaza, 11,000 have died, many of them civilians, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. 

The missing were remembered on Long Island Friday with empty Shabbat tables and other displays, part of a worldwide trend to remember those abducted.

At Temple Beth Am in Merrick after sunset, posters of hostages were arranged in the shape of a Star of David on the front lawn off Merrick Avenue, each accompanied by an empty pair of shoes and a tea light.

“When I finally saw it, my heart almost stopped,” said the temple’s co-president Nicole Miller. “No matter where you stand on this war, I think we can all agree these hostages need to come home.”

Ilona Posner, 44, of Merrick came to see the display with her husband and son as they surveyed the missing posters of children and teenagers.

“It is very beautiful and solemn and it’s important to keep people thinking of kidnapped individuals,” she said. “ It’s horrific, and real, and it’s happening now in 2023.”

Jesse Feiner, 9, placing candle on table at Blumenfeld Family...

Jesse Feiner, 9, placing candle on table at Blumenfeld Family Park in Port Washington Friday to commemorate the Israeli hostages still being held by Hamas. Credit: Howard Simmons

Another empty Shabbat table was set up on the lawn of the H. Lee Dennison county government building in Hauppauge Friday, and will remain there through Saturday, with evening prayers scheduled.

In Port Washington, the installation, created by four Port Washington women, will remain in the park through the weekend, protected by police and security. The empty tables included booster seats, sippy cups and toys on the table next to untouched loaves of bread and grape juice, to represent the children kidnapped.

“This was done in our own artistic and emotional way to set the Shabbat table to represent in a very human way what does 240 human being look like after they have been kidnapped,” said Aimee Elan, one of the organizers. “I think it becomes very real when it comes close to home and we have Omer who’s held hostage and the son of a family.”

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