To All of My Brothers, Sisters and Friends

April 02, 2024

Kabbalat Shabbat in the Hostages Square in Tel Aviv

On a sunny and exceptionally warm Friday afternoon at the end of March, Beit Avi
Chai organized a special Kabbalat Shabbat in the Hostages Square in Tel Aviv.
These are obviously not the circumstances under which we would have wanted to
come to Tel Aviv, but unfortunately, they made this event all the more necessary.

Once a month Beit Avi Chai hosts a communal Kabbalat Shabbat in its courtyard in
Jerusalem, but this time it was held in the Hostages Square in front of the Tel Aviv
Museum of Art, which is just opposite of the IDF headquarters. The public plaza in
which the event was held received its current name following the October 7 attack.
Since then, the families of the hostages and their many supporters gather there on a
daily basis. It is a sight of public rallies for the release of the hostages and art
installations highlighting their plight.

Last Friday we opened a large circle right there, as part of our wish, and our duty, to
support the hostages' families in this difficult time. We gathered and welcomed
Shabbat in song and prayers led by Beit Avi Chai's Efrat Shapira Rosenberg. Next to
her sat Dani Miran, father of the hostage Omri Miran, and Elisheva Barak of
the Masorti Movement. The uplifting and comforting music was provided by the
Yagel Haroush Ensemble, singer Ester Rada, and cellist and musician Maya

Since the color yellow has become a symbol of solidarity and support for the
hostages' release, yellow flowers were handed out to attendants, together with song
booklets containing the lyrics to the event’s repertoire. Led by the professional
musicians, everyone sang songs as diverse as Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and the
Piyyut Lekha Dodi – composed in the 16th century by Safed Kabbalist Shlomo
Halevi Alkabetz.

One of the most powerful moments was Belsitzman’s rendition to the Meir Banai
song Sha'ar Harahamim, “The Gate of Mercy”. This refers to the only eastern gate of
the Temple Mount; it is believed that the Shekhinah, or Divine Presence, used to
appear through the eastern Gate, and will appear again when the Messiah comes.

“We pray that just as we sang with one united voice throughout the Kabbalat
Shabbat, the Gates of Mercy will open and all of our hostages will be free and we will
be able to hold a large, festive meal of rejoicing, united in one voice,” said Beit Avi
Chai director, David Rozenson."In recent years, Beit Avi Chai has held many
Kabbalot Shabbat programs, but there is no doubt that the Kabbalat Shabbat in
Hostages Square this past Friday was the most moving of them all. As in our
courtyard, we also made sure that this Kabbalat Shabbat was organized with all the
musicians, and the hundreds of participants, in the form of a circle. This format aims
to express an equal and united experience – and this is how we felt: tremendous
unity of the Jewish people.”

Musician Maya Belsitzman clearly felt this too. “Playing in the Hostages Square is
the little bit I can do in this very complex time, to give us all, both the audience and
me, a moment of togetherness, a moment of communication without words,” she told
us. She was especially moved by the reaction of Dani Miran, whose son is being
held hostage in Gaza. “Dani sat with us,” she recalls, “and after a few songs, he said
that this was his most emotional day in all his time in the square. He looked me in
the eyes and said, 'Your playing opens the gates of heaven.' If we were able to give
him one moment of grace, him and all those present, one moment of something that
penetrates the heart, then as far as I'm concerned, the event was worth it. There are
no words that can describe how important and meaningful it is to me.”

Efrat Shapira Rosenberg expressed similar sentiments. “This event symbolized for
me not only a departure from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, but to a large extent also a
departure from our protected home out into the Israeli streets, into the complex
reality in which we all live since the October 7, and especially closer to the families of
the abductees,” she said. “It is difficult to describe in words the intensity of the
emotions that arose in the circle of music, singing and prayer that took place in the
heart of the Hostages Square. A unique Israeli mix was there: religious, secular,
traditional, kibbutzniks, urbanites, settlers, tourists, men and women who are in the
square every day alongside passers-by who came by chance and sat with us in the
circle. With poems and songs from the Land of Israel we welcomed the Sabbath
together, hugged the hostages’ families and prayed together with them for the return
of their loved ones – all of our brothers and sisters – safely home.”

Photos credit: Nikolay Busyagina

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