Olivia Shapiro, 8, of Woodmere, and her grandmother Cindy Gelnick...

Olivia Shapiro, 8, of Woodmere, and her grandmother Cindy Gelnick at Young Israel of Woodmere in Woodmere, setting up Sabbath tables Friday with empty seats in honor of the hostages taken by Hamas. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

The Shabbat tables extend from one end of the parking lot of Young Israel of Woodmere to the other — accompanied by empty seats that won't be filled and plates that won't be used for dining.

Hanging across each of the nearly 230 chairs outside of the nation's largest Orthodox synagogue are photos of the men, women and children taken hostage by Hamas militants on Oct. 7. 

On Friday evening, a team of synagogue members worked feverishly to set a ceremonial table in honor of the 229 hostages missing in Israel and believed held by Hamas.

"We should not lose sight from the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters in Israel cannot participate at the Sabbath table because of the fact that they're being held captive," said Rabbi Shalom Axelrod." And this solidifies that message for all of us that these people will be missing from their table."

In Jewish tradition, a Sabbath table, set for dinner on Friday evening, is more than just a place to eat dinner. Rather, it represents the shared history of the Jewish people, through both triumphs and the tragedy.

But Young Israel's table — adorned with fine china, glasses, flowers, grape juice and Challah bread — symbolizes much more, temple officials said.

Shabbat table set at Young Israel of Woodmere in honor...

Shabbat table set at Young Israel of Woodmere in honor of hostages taken by Hamas. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Attached to each chair are "kidnapped" posters of the individuals taken by Hamas: heartbreaking images of children frolicking on a playground, infants rolling on the floor and entire families celebrating together.

Dr. Aaron Glatt, an associate rabbi at the synagogue and chairman of Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital's Department of Medicine, said the tables are a reminder to the world not to ignore the atrocities committed by Hamas, including the killing of 1,400 people, a majority of them civilians, in the initial surprise attack on Israel.

"All of these tables represent a real person or real family, including babies that have been orphaned and are now sitting in a Gaza dungeon," Glatt said. "This is just horrific."

For Long Islanders, the hostage crisis hits close to home.

Among the hostages is Omer Neutra, 21, a Plainview native who joined the Israeli army after graduating from The Schechter School of Long Island.

The hostages, Israeli officials said, hail from more than two dozen countries and include 30 children under the age of 16. Hamas has released four hostages since the terror massacre.

Young Israel Rabbi Shay Schachter met with the families of some of the hostages this week during a meeting at the United Nations.

He said the pain felt by the families — and the uncertainty of not knowing if their loved ones were alive — prompted the synagogue to send a bold message.

"It's important that our community not just shows solidarity, not just prays, but … that we do a very bold initiative to make people understand the severity of the crisis," he said.

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