We at the NLI felt we needed to help people around the world realize that the hostages held in Gaza are human beings, not just numbers and faces on a poster. We wanted to illustrate how there is an entire life behind each of these faces, each of these men, women and children. To do this, we decided to make use of the books that fill our library...
Is he behind the door?
Is he under the stairs?
Is he under the bed?
Thousands of parents in Israel and around the world read the words of this classic children’s book night after night as they hold their sons and daughters close in a warm, safe bed.
Today, two Hebrew copies of “Where’s Spot” (Eifo Pinuki?) by Eric Hill wait on two tiny chairs which have been set aside for Yuli and Emma Kunio, twin sisters who are only 3 years old. The questions that appear throughout the book are now given heartbreaking significance.
Since October 7, we have all been overwhelmed with sadness and perhaps a sense of helplessness in the face of the unimaginable tragedy that has befallen so many families.
Yuli and Emma are among the 239 people being held in Gaza.
Like everyone else, we felt the need to do something. Something that could help people realize that these are human beings, not just numbers and faces on a poster. These are real people, with their own loves, hobbies and hopes for the future.
We wanted to illustrate how there is an entire life behind each of these faces, each of these men, women and children. To do this, we decided to make use of the books that fill our library.
This exhibit is called “Each Hostage Has a Story”. Many dozens of black chairs, far too many, have been placed in the middle of our new reading hall. Each chair has a picture of one of the hostages placed on it. Beside these black chairs are a number of smaller, colorful chairs for kindergarteners and young schoolchildren. There is also one baby chair, as difficult as this is to imagine.
Each chair also has a book placed on it that we have chosen specifically for each hostage. The books await their return.
Each book contains a personal library card that we’ve prepared, each one marked with a return date – NOW.
We wanted to illustrate the unimaginable number of people who have been abducted from their homes, while at the same time allowing for a personal look at each and every one of them, to remind us that they all have an unfinished story.
Thanks to relatives who have shared stories of their loved ones, we were able to learn a little bit about each of the hostages. Based on this we chose a book for each person that we thought would help others get to know them better and understand who they are. Secretly, we found ourselves wondering: Will they like the books we chose? Do our choices do them kindness and justice? Do they truly present them as they are and as they would like?
Elyakim Livman, 24 years old, can’t bear to see people picking on those weaker than themselves. His family nicknamed him “Robin Hood”. We’ve placed a copy of “The Adventures of Robin Hood” on his chair.
Liat Beinin Atzili, 49 years old, recently completed a course for tour guides at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial. We’ve placed the book “Our Holocaust” by Amir Gutfreund on her chair.
We placed a copy of the book “Dad’s Building A Cake” on the chair reserved for 35-year-old Sagui Dekel Chen, who builds toys for his children.
79-year-old Channah Peri loves to spend time tending to her garden. We’ve placed the book “My Wild Garden: Notes From a Writer’s Eden” by Meir Shalev on her chair.
We put a copy of “4X4” on Alex Lobanov’s chair, since he enjoys going on Jeep tours.
We chose the book “The Kiss That Got Lost” for 3-year-old Avigail Idan, who is likely missing the hugs and kisses of her parents Smadar and Roy, who did not survive the attack by Hamas.
Yuval Brodutch, 8 years old, enjoys playing Xbox games, so we put a copy of “The Rescue”, from the Minecraft series, on his chair.
Doron Steinbrecher is a veterinarian nurse. We decided to lay the book “Born Free: A Lioness of Two Worlds” on her chair. The book tells the true story of a captive lioness who was released into the wild.
We chose the book “The Art of Loving” for 27-year-old Inbar Haiman, after her partner Noam Alon told us they were reading it together. They’re still in the middle of the book and he awaits her return so that they can finish it together.
Ori Danino only recently proposed to his girlfriend, so we’ve placed a book dedicated to Israeli wedding invitations on his chair.
Moran Yanai was able to realize her dream of opening up her own jewelry stand at the party held in Re’im, and so we placed a catalog of Israeli jewelry on her chair.
Ohad Mundar recently marked his 9th birthday in captivity. We placed a book belonging to Galia Ron-Feder-Amit’s “Time Tunnel” series, popular with Israeli children his age, on his chair. The book’s title – “Black Sabbath” – has now become imbued with tragic, heartbreaking meaning.
For little Kfir Bibas, only 9 months old, we chose the Israeli children’s classic “Where is Pluto?” by Leah Goldberg. Towards the end of the book, there is a line that many Israeli parents know by heart: “You’ve returned home, what joy!”
These are just a handful of examples. Hundreds of other chairs and pictures of hostages fill the hall, each of them representing an entire life. Many of them carry books that we chose because their titles suddenly received even greater meaning: “Run, Boy, Run”, “The Life Before Us”, “Great Expectations”, “Who Will Comfort Toffle?”
On a personal note, I have to admit that the issue of the hostages is a very difficult one for me. I couldn’t bear to think about the people who were kidnapped and the terrible suffering of the families. I had trouble reading the stories about them and looking at their photographs. The pain was unbearable. And then I found myself reading about them day and night, about what happened to them on that day and mostly – who they are, what they like to do and the people they love and who love them. Now each name and picture is a name and picture that I have come to know and love. As a consequence, the pain of their absence has also grown and so has the great hope to see them here again.
This story must have a happy ending.
The exhibit “Every Hostage Has a Story” is now on display in the reading hall (floors -1 and -2) of the National Library of Israel
Dori Gani , a reference librarian at the NLI, is the curator of the exhibit