Sarit Steinfeld

To the men who pray by the empty chairs


The men who pray by the empty chairs

There is a group of men who pray

By a long row of empty chairs

And every Friday, as we drive by, we see them there

Last week was the first time we decided to pull over and get out of the car

I hadn’t realized just how far

My walk past these chairs would be

Chair after chair for a mile was all I could see.

But as I walked by this small group of men who had come there to pray

I stopped in my tracks when I heard one of them say:

“Every minute of every day

That we think about the hostages

That we speak of them

And pray for their return

We are helping to bring them home

We are sending the message that they are not alone.”

Then the men began to sing a sad but hopeful song

They followed it by dancing in a way that was just joyous enough and not at all wrong

I was overcome with emotion as I continued my way, stopping to look at each and every empty chair

But I realized there

That the tears I had were not of hope; they were of despair

I so wanted to believe like the men who pray by the chairs do

But all I found myself doing was asking each photo on a chair, “Will we ever see you?”

I left with a heavy heart

Heavier in a way than I had from the start.

And then on Monday morning, we woke up to the news — the impossible suddenly became real

A celebration we could all deeply feel

The rescue mission that brought two of them home

And they said to the soldiers, “You warmed our hearts. You had not left us there alone.”

In that moment, I thought back to the men who sang their hopeful song

And realized that I had gotten the idea of hope all wrong

Hope is not for when things are looking up

It is not even about the half-empty or half-full cup

Hope exists for the darkest hour

When you pray and pray and pray with all your power

And you shout to the world that no matter what I’m told

I will believe

I will imagine that they will live

I will envision that moment they reunite with family

And however painful life can be, I will never give up on humanity.

This hope turns into fuel for the universe

To take even the things that are the most perverse

And put the pieces back together

This lesson in life, I will always remember.

So, to the men who pray by the empty chairs – you got it right

No matter how dark the long night

One must never ever cease to imagine the light.

A row of chairs for the hostages in Reut. (courtesy)

About the Author
Sarit was born in Israel and grew up in Toronto. She obtained a Masters in Public Policy and worked as a Policy Advisor for the Ontario government. In 2019, Sarit moved to Israel with her husband and baby boy (they now also have a little sabra). Within a year of their move, Sarit became a writer for high-tech, and her husband became a chef. She no longer cooks. You can follow their journey on Instagram (
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