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Exhibit at Hostage Square aims to inspire unity and healing

32 individual mosaics, reflecting the symbols of 32 Gaza border communities, were created by students at the Neveh Channah High School, part of the Ohr Torah Stone educational network.

Israel National News | 31 March, 2023

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(Photo credit: Rebecca Kowalsky)

For passersby in Tel Aviv’s Hostage Square last Wednesday, it was hard to miss the long row of 32 mosaics that filled the square in solidarity with residents of the Gaza Border communities.   The installation marked the first stop in the traveling exhibit developed by students at Neveh Channah High School for girls, inspired by the spirit of national unity and healing.

“We conceived this project in the first weeks of the war out of a feeling of deep sadness and pain but also out of a realization that we needed to express solidarity with those from the Gaza border whose lives were completely turned upside down in an instant,” explains Sharon Brand, director of Neveh Channah’s “Etrog” beit midrash who initated the project.  “The concept of people being drawn out of their homes amidst the chaos of war and loss of family and friends, was something that we struggled to comprehend and through this expression we were hoping to reach out and create a sense of unity between us here in Gush Etzion and the people of the border region.”

Brand stresses that this spirit of national unity was something that inspired the artists from the outset.  “As residents of Gush Etzion, a region which we had been expelled from amidst war only to be blessed to return and rebuild, our hope was to share a sense of faith that they too will soon be able to come back home.”

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Sharon Brand (left) with Head of School Ruhama Gebel-Redman.  (Photo credit: Rebecca Kowalsky)

Brand recruited more than 150 students for the project which resulted in 32 individual mosaics reflecting the symbols of the Gaza border communities and an additional mosaic displaying the verse from Isaiah 54:7: ‘For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back’. “The installation is the result of four months of planning, thought and careful implementation,” says Brand. “The process required the students to gain a deep understanding of the history and culture of the communities because we wanted to ensure they were really identifying with their works and would be able to reflect the spirit of return and rebuild even in the face of such utter destruction and pain.”

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(Photo credit: Rebecca Kowalsky)

At the launch event at Hostages Square, the students met with Itzik Tayar Buchstav, whose nephew Yogev Buchstav was among those taken captive by Hamas and the terror group has claimed was killed.  “We are holding on to the hope that this isn’t true, and we are working to give each other strength with the hope that he’s still alive,” he told the students. “We call on everyone to keep him in your hearts and prayers and pray for Yogev ben Esther.”

The students also met with Avivit Yablonka, a sister of Hanan Yablonka who is being held hostage in Gaza. “Since October 7, we have received no information about the medical condition of Hanan, who we know was hit by gunfire, and we have no idea what awaits us in the future,” she said. “Every day when I wake up, I pray that Hanan will come back to us. For three months I’ve been meeting with young people like you, because it’s important for you to get to know the hostages. We are their advocates and now, from this moment on, you have also become their advocates. Your prayers on their behalf move me enormously.”

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(Photo credit: Rebecca Kowalsky)

Tagel Ben Menachem, a tenth grader at Neveh Channah who contributed to the mosaic installation describes the process as deeply personal.  “As someone whose father and siblings were called to the reserves, the reality is that our connection to the war is through those who are in battle and those who have fallen.  In our community of Alon Shvut alone we have been forced to bury four soldiers, so that sense of loss is constantly with us.  But we weren’t really able to feel that real bond with the residents of the Gaza border region until this project gave us the chance to become connected to the families who went through, and are continuing to go through, these horrific traumas,” she says.

“Presenting our project here in Hostage Square really brings things full circle for me,” added Tagel’s classmate Roni Yanai. “I live in Kfar Etzion and we hosted and accompanied residents of Kibbutz Shlomit since the beginning of the war. For this project, I worked on the mosaic letters of Shlomit, and today I sent them photos of the project from here in Hostage Square.”

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(Photo credit: Rebecca Kowalsky)

Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone spoke at the ceremony capping off the Hostage Square exhibition. “Our being here is to show that we have a responsibility where every moment of the day we need to continue to do our utmost to secure the release of the hostages and the rebuilding of the destroyed communities.  These are our brothers and sisters, our parents and grandparents and remind us that every Jew must care for the welfare of the other.  This project is a remarkable example for all of us, that we cannot allow this issue to be forgotten and that we cannot leave the hostages, or the residents of the northern and southern border areas, behind.  Every one of us must take responsibility to bring each and every one of them home.”

Neveh Channah’s Head of School Ruhama Gebel Redman added, “It’s incredibly heartwarming to see how our students and staff were able to transform such intense pain into something so creative and educational that reflects such powerful ideas of solidarity.  Our sincerest hope and prayer is that our national unity will help to usher in days of peace for all of the people of Israel.”  

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