In the days following the Hamas massacre in Israel’s south on October 7, the color palettes of our lives changed. Charred black and gray became the colors of the incinerated Gaza border communities, once lush green. Our cities were cloaked in blue and white, as flags scurried up flagpoles and flag-bearing residents lined the streets to pay tribute as mourners passed on their way to the funerals of massacre victims and fallen soldiers. Black and red became the colors of the hostages, whose faces peered at us from billboards and street corners, bus stops and television screens, accompanied by the cry BRING THEM HOME NOW! Yellow became the longing for freedom, as yellow ribbons adorned our lamp posts and tree trunks, and yellow balloons filled the air.
And our hearts turned orange.
Our hearts turned orange because of two splashes of orange that flashed across our television screens in a terrifying snippet that played over and over, day and night, on the news and in reruns in our minds: the image of Shiri Bibas, a young mother from kibbutz Nir Oz, surrounded by terrorists and holding her two red-head sons, four-year-old Ariel and then nine-month-old Kfir, as they were taken captive from their home and whisked off to the tunnels of Gaza. Her face bundled fear and anguish and horror and helplessness and supplication all in one, standing out against a backdrop of foliage, as she looked toward an ominous dark figure on the right of the frame.
Shiri’s two tots were swaddled in a gray and white sheet that was draped around her as a makeshift papoose, holding them together and close to their mother’s heart as she tried to protect them. Carrot-topped Ariel, with his thick head of hair, gazed off to the left, the pacifier in his mouth emphasizing that he is just a toddler. Poking out of the sheet was the back of little Kfir’s head, covered in orange fuzz, and there were hints of blue pajamas between the two boys. In the days to come, we would see Kfir’s sparkling eyes and bright smile as he held a pink elephant in the photo that would make him the most famous hostage in the world. We would also hear his infectious giggles, as his father Yarden, wounded and kidnapped separately on that fateful day, blew raspberries on Kfir’s back, in home videos.
We were left with the haunting image of a mother’s anguish and two circles of flaming orange hair, standing out in the frame like Spielberg’s girl in the red coat, symbols of innocence amidst the horrors that surrounded them. The iconic image, unlike traditional depictions of mother and child in Western art, was not one of serenity and confidence in a world of faith and hope, but rather an image that conveyed violence and fear, an assault on motherhood, and unspeakable evil.
In no time at all, the color orange would remind us of the “Gingim” (pronounced “jinjim”) – the ginger-haired Bibas boys. We would see them everywhere – in orange basketballs and balloons, in tangerines and flower buds, in Hanukkah candles and sunsets, and of course, in any child with red hair.
And when our hearts turned orange, our art turned orange. Across social media, artists began to share artwork inspired by the haunting image of the abduction and the unfathomable idea of children – and especially a baby – being held hostage. They also shared works inspired by beautiful photos of the Bibas family from happier times, and expressions of hope for the family’s eventual return. Prominent among these artists are Zeev Engelmayer, an illustrator, cartoonist, and protest artist who, under the name of his activist character “Shoshke,” has been posting a brightly-colored “daily postcard” each day, conveying hopes and fears for the hostages held by Hamas; hi-tech executive Maya Lipkin-Goldberg (aka @iron_swords_2023), who has created a series of posters for hasbara purposes, some of which participated in exhibitions in Sidney and in Berlin; and illustrator Or Yogev, who has created a series of digital art related to the war at @shabloolim. Their works, along with works of other artists presented below, have reflected and informed our national trauma. As our waking nightmare continued in the weeks after October 7, these images gave voice to feelings that are difficult to express and provided us with insight into events too painful to fully comprehend.
On October 8, the day after the horrors of the Hamas incursion unfolded and the shocking image of the abduction of Shiri Bibas and her children aired, painter Dana Krinsky went to her studio and started to paint. The result was a watercolor painting of Shiri Bibas, then an anonymous mother, cradling her two ginger-haired boys as she was taken into captivity by Hamas terrorists. “I also have a red-haired son and I was deeply touched by the photo of a mother who wraps her two little red-haired children in a hug and a blanket in the hope of protecting them somehow,” Dana explained. “I truly hope that they will safely return home soon.” Dana continued painting continuously for the next 104 days, eventually compiling her artwork and the thoughts that accompanied them in an extraordinary English war journal, which is available to the public online.
In Or Yogev’s chilling image of Shiri and her babies flanked by Hamas terrorists, posted a week after the kidnapping, the orange hair of the Bibas family is amplified by the flames of destruction that surrounded them. Rather than looking terrified, Shiri looks serene, and the symmetry of the image, in stark contrast to the chaos of the day, gives the sense that she is an anchor and source of calm for her young children.
A week after the war began, a woman named Orly from the town of Omer painted a haunting image of the abduction of Shiri Bibas and her two sons patterned after Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream.” On November 8, Eli Bibas, Ariel and Kfir’s grandfather, shared the image on Facebook with the instruction “spread this throughout the world.” His friends and family complied. Two days later, the image exploded on social media in Israel. The painting portrays Shiri’s silent scream and the terror in her eyes at the time of her kidnapping. In Orly’s depiction, Shiri’s two sons are swaddled not only in a blanket, which envelopes them completely, but by their mother’s cascading hair. In a conversation, Orly explained that her painting was an expression of the heart-rending pain she felt when she saw images of the abduction and that she shared it in the hope that the language of art, which is universal, could shock those who are denying that the atrocities took place. She prefers to remain anonymous because her work is intended to draw attention to the horrifying event, rather than to itself or to the artist.
Eti Gamliel, an artist who teaches ceramics and sculpture, shared a photograph of her sculpture of Shiri Bibas and her two children at the time of their abduction. A menacing black hand is gripping Shiri’s shoulder – something that many of us did not notice in the original footage of the abduction. In her description of the sculpture, Eti refers to Shiri as a lioness, a particularly apt description not just because of Shiri’s valiant efforts to protect her young children, but because their names are “Ariel” (lion of God) and “Kfir” (young lion).
The Experience of Captivity
On November 30, 2023, as the temporary cease-fire and hostage release from Gaza was drawing to a close and Shiri Bibas and her two sons, who were supposed to be included in the exchange, were still in the hands of terrorists, Zeev Engelmayer posted a depiction of captivity titled “Still There.” Drawn in colored markers and published under the name of Shoshke Engelmayer, this “daily postcard” depicts Shiri Bibas holding her orange-haired boys, much as she did when they were being abducted. This is how she is etched in our memory: it’s hard for us to imagine her ever letting go of her boys, protecting them no matter how uncomfortable it may be. On the mattresses around her are kidnapped young women, one apparently wounded, who are curled up in fetal positions, trying to protect themselves. We imagine they long for their mothers, and that their mothers are longing to hold them as well.
The image of Shiri holding her sons while in captivity can also be found in the work of Esti Marlinsky Zakai, who has a studio for designing textile products and dolls. Her tapestry “Time is Running Out,” depicts the minutes, hours, days, and months that are passing while the Bibas family and other hostages are in captivity. Inspired by the image of the silent scream of Shiri Bibas as she embraced her children when she was kidnapped, the work depicts the urgency of releasing the hostages.
The depictions of Kfir Bibas in captivity emphasize the depravity and incomprehensibility of holding an infant hostage. Katie of Studio KTB took the beautiful picture of smiling Kfir with his pink elephant that has appeared in newspapers worldwide and added rope binding his hands and masking tape across his mouth to keep him quiet. “Kfir Bibas turned 11 months old last week,” she wrote on December 24, 2023. “He has now spent almost 25% of his life in Hamas captivity. Kfir’s family should be getting ready to celebrate his first birthday, instead they have to spend every day fighting for his return. Kfir should be safe, and he should be home.”
In a poster accompanied by the call “release the kids,” Or Yogev depicts Kfir looking out forlornly from behind the bars of a white crib. The flames in his eyes, though, indicate that this is not a normal situation of a child peering out from his bed; Kfir is in prison. Although some may see it as a Jewish star, Kfir’s pacifier is in the shape of a red anemone flower, an image that features prominently in Yogev’s work related to the Gaza war. As he explains it, during the “Darom Adom” (“Red South”) festival each year, anemones carpet the area in which the massacre took place. For him, the anemone commemorates the victims of the Hamas atrocities, much in the manner that the poppies of Flanders Field commemorate fallen British soldiers.
Maya Lipkin Goldberg, an Israeli high-tech executive and mother of three who is fascinated by the combination of art and technology, is the force behind the Instagram account @iron_swords_2023. Since the October 7th massacre, she has been expressing her emotions using generative AI and computer graphics. Her posters depict the events of October 7, everyday life in Israel during wartime, IDF soldiers, hostages, and violence against women. The Bibas family features prominently in her work. “All I wish for is the victory over Hamas so that all hostages can be returned to their families as soon as possible,” says Maya. “Every day my heart goes out to the Bibas family.”
In the images below, Maya depicts Ariel and Kfir Bibas amidst the rubble of Gaza, with two orange balloons in Ariel’s hands; Shiri and carrot-topped Ariel and Kfir in an underground tunnel; and a fantasy image of the three hostages in tattered clothes, standing before the judges at the Hague-based International Court of Justice, where Israel has been accused of committing genocide in Gaza.
As Kfir’s first birthday approached, three months after he was taken captive, social media was flooded with AI-generated pictures of a red-headed baby incomprehensibly being held in the dark tunnels of Gaza, with a cake with a solitary candle and the message “bring me home.”
Some artists chose to depict happier images of the Bibas red-heads, based on family photos, channeling their prayers into their work. Bezalel graduate Yael Dryzin Reboh wrote out the kabbalistic liturgical prayer “Ana B’koach” on a wooden board and painted a portrait of Shiri and one of her sons on top of it. The prayer beseeches God, with His strength, to hear our entreaties and cries. Yael explained that as she wrote out the prayer, she prayed, because painting for her is a channel for connection, what some call meditation and others call prayer. “As I worked, I concentrated on Shiri and Kfir and prayed for their health and for their return. And all the while, the prayer was playing in my head,” she said. “Would that they return healthy and whole.”
When Kfir was ten months old, Naomi Fuks, an international multidisciplinary artist based in Israel, painted a beautiful painting of the two Bibas boys, with Kfir smiling and holding his pink elephant and Ariel blowing iridescent soap bubbles. She sees the painting as a depiction of the two sweet children who have found their way into all of our hearts. “Our orange hearts are beating for your hearts,” she wrote in the accompanying text. The painting is now being used as part of a poster campaign in France to raise awareness of the plight of the Israeli hostages. Naomi’s other works relating to the Gaza war include paintings of fallen soldiers, victims of the Nova massacre, and a portrait of singer and Fauda star Idan Amedi, who was wounded in battle while fighting in Gaza.
The day after Kfir Bibas’s first birthday, Tanya Zbili Katz, a Toronto-based artist who specializes in portraits and Judaica, shared a brightly colored painting of Shiri Bibas holding her two red-haired boys, who are wrapped in a colorful blanket. Shiri is looking down at her boys serenely, while they are looking straight at the camera, with Kfir sporting the broad smile and glistening eyes that have captured the hearts of people across the globe. “The whole nation has been haunted by the last images we saw of Shiri hugging her boys as they were taken into Gaza,” explains Tanya. “I needed to visualize and create a different version of this hug, almost as my prayer for what is to come.”
Dikla Gedulter Agmon’s painting of Shiri and her two red-head babies also seeks to give us a replacement image for the haunting video of the abduction. Redheads speak deeply to Dikla, who has a ginger-haired daughter and a ginger-haired nephew, and the Bibas family has been in her thoughts since October 7. Her painting, which echoes the mother and baby in Gustav Klimt’s “The Three Ages of Woman,” expresses the love and compassion that all mothers have for their children. As she explains it, her painting expresses her hopes that we will see Shiri embracing her children with eyes full of love and tenderness, rather than the expression of horror that we remember from the day of her kidnapping.
Visions of redemption
In November, as reports of an impending hostage release began to surface, and especially during the temporary cease-fire, when mothers and children were in the category of hostages who were to be freed from captivity first, artists started sharing their visions of Shiri and her sons coming home. A week before the exchange began, Zeev (Shoshke) Engelmayer portrayed them sailing over the sea, past orange mountains and an orange octopus, in a drawing titled “Shiri and the Gingies Return from Captivity.”
On November 27th, the fourth day on which Israel waited with bated breath to find out who was on the list of hostages who were to be released that night, Shoshke gave voice to what everyone was hoping, and penned a postcard that proclaimed “Shiri and the Gingies – today it’s your turn!” Shiri and her two orange-haired sons are dressed exactly as they were in Shoshke’s depiction of them in captivity and are in exactly the same position, with Shiri holding one child in each hand and the boys clasping their mother, but their sad faces now have smiles, and the boys are glowing with the same rays as the sun behind them.
On that same day, Ben Mizrahi, a photographer who specializes in bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah photography, created an AI-generated painting of Shiri holding her two boys. “Would that we have an orange day,” he wrote in the accompanying text, adding “Bibas family, we are waiting for you at home.”
On November 30, when there was just one day left in the temporary cease-fire to release Israeli women and children from their captivity, as Israel held its breath for the release of Shiri and her two redheads, Ben Mizrahi painted the flag of Israel orange and added the hashtag #BringThemHomeNOW, in a post that was shared thousands of times. “We are all with the redheads,” he wrote in the accompanying text. Tragically, Shiri and her children were not on that last list of hostages to be released. Hamas first claimed that it didn’t have them. It then claimed that Shiri and her children had been killed by Israeli bombardments of Gaza. The temporary cease-fire agreement fell apart, and Ariel and Kfir Bibas became the only children who remained in captivity.
After the disappointment, people began to set their hopes on Hanukkah as the next target for seeing the Bibas family freed and reunited at home. The following AI-generated image of Kfir and Ariel playing dreidel in front of glowing Hanukkah candles was shared thousands of times on Facebook, despite the strange ostensibly Hebrew letters on the sides of the spinning tops and the unusual number of branches and distribution of candles of the Hanukkah menorah. The glowing image of the boys celebrating the holiday of light in the warmth of their home after being held hostage in the darkness was irresistible.
At around the same time, AI-generated pictures of joyous, orange-haired brothers running together also began to fill our feeds. In one, silhouettes of soldiers appear behind them, in another, they are making their escape between cars on a road, in a third, they are running in a green field, and in others, they are surrounded by cheering crowds. In some, baby Kfir has learned to walk; in others, he is still crawling.
When Hanukkah came and went and Shiri and her sons were still in captivity, sights were set on Kfir’s first birthday as a target date for his release. As his birthday approached, 21 artists were asked to imagine what Kfir will look like on his birthdays in the years following the release that we are all praying for. Each one drew Kfir at a different stage of life and in a different style, creating an overview of milestones from childhood through retirement. Their works were compiled in a moving video in which ginger-haired Kfir undergoes a transformation from toddler to bar mitzvah boy, soldier, groom, and more, as the song “When I Grow Up” from Raould Dahl’s Matilda plays in the background. Eventually, Kfir is seen as the head of a dynasty of redheads. (Watch it on Instagram below or on the mako website here.) Would that he reaches these milestones, in freedom and in good health.
On January 18th the Bibas family and people across the world marked Kfir’s birthday while he was still in captivity. Orange balloons filled Hostage Square in Tel Aviv and were released in Washington Square in New York. The Knesset was lit up in orange, as was the chord bridge at the entrance to Jerusalem. Nature also joined in the commemoration, as the sunset glowed orange throughout the country.
Bring them home
In late November, Hamas claimed that Kfir, Ariel, and Shiri were killed during an Israeli strike in the war in Gaza, but their death has never been confirmed by the IDF. Consequently, friends, relatives, and people in Israel and across the globe continue to remain hopeful; after all, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad announced that hostage Hannah Katzir was dead and soon after, she was returned to Israel in the first stage of the hostage release, very much alive. Hamas also released a video of a distraught Yarden Bibas, who was being held separately from the rest of his family, calling for the return of their bodies to Israel after being told by Hamas that his wife and children had been killed.
It is Yarden Bibas, who was taken captive separately from his wife and children, who is missing from most of the artwork produced during the time of his family’s captivity. Or Yogev has rectified that by creating a picture of Yarden Bibas walking with Kfir on his shoulders and Ariel at his side with the two orange-haired boys snuggling into their dark-haired dad, who is said to have referred to them as the “first redhead Yemenites.” While we pray that this father and child reunion is only a moment away, Or has widened our focus: he has explained that the image is a tribute to all the fathers, sons, grandfathers, and grandsons who are still being held in Gaza, and a reminder that we are waiting for their return too.
On a black Shabbat in October, our hearts were captured by a searing image of a valiant mother and two children with flaming orange hair being taken into captivity. At the time of this writing, 111 days later, the “gingies” have not returned. But there are also hostages with silver hair, brown hair, blond hair, and no hair at all – men and women, young and old – who fill the hearts of their ashen-faced relatives with all the colors of the rainbow and who are in mortal danger. And while we may long to see the orange hostages released first, we pray that all the hostages will be returned to their heartbroken families, so that October 7 will finally end and all our hearts, whatever colors they may be, can begin to mend.