February 29, 2024

Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History Will Display the Paintings Before Artists Give Them to Hostages’ Families

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (February 29, 2024) – In an effort to remember and honor those taken from Israel by Hamas on October 7, eight local artists have painted portraits of more than 200 hostages.

On March 8, Philadelphia’s Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History (The Weitzman) will open a special art installation, Their Portraits: Philadelphia Artists Honor October 7 Hostages, featuring these paintings.

Awakened by sirens as terrorists infiltrated Israel’s border on the morning of October 7, Philadelphia artist Sivia Katz Braunstein counted the hours while sheltering with her family in a safe room on the kibbutz where she was visiting family. Only later did she learn that some 1,200 people were murdered and 252 were abducted on that terrible day.

After making her way home, Braunstein decided to use her artistic talent to raise awareness of the hostage crisis. She and a group of fellow women artists in Philadelphia – Nancy Gordon, Deborah Morris Zakheim, Judy Rohtbart, Jane Bennett, Carol Lert, Sue Seif, Carol Sack Denmark volunteered their time and talent to paint 8×10 inch portraits of each hostage, including the dead, the freed, and those still in captivity.“We’re artists,” said Sivia Katz Braunstein. “This is our way to bring attention to the men, women, and children forcibly taken from Israel on October 7th. They were just living their lives, like we are doing now, when Hamas invaded Israel and abducted them.”

The Weitzman is honored to present these loving portraits in Their Portraits: Philadelphia Artists Honor October 7 Hostages in its 3rd floor atrium beginning March 8. There will be a reception on March 17 at 2 p.m. and the installation will be open through April 14, the day of the Museum’s annual Passover storytelling event, Freedom Seder Revisited. Like the Weitzman Museum, which shares and celebrates the narratives of American Jews since 1654, this exhibition seeks to illuminate the individual stories of the hostages and remind us of their humanity. Arrangements will be made to deliver the paintings to the families of the hostages in the coming months.

“In our core exhibition, we document how the American Jewish community has demonstrated resilience and responded to crises throughout U.S. history,” said Emily August, Chief Public Engagement Officer at the Weitzman. “What these artists have done in honoring the hostages will become a part of the ongoing story of American Jewish life that we strive to explore every day in our Museum.”

Among the contemporary stories of antisemitism and the American Jewish response to crisis, The Weitzman shares are the Colleyville, Texas synagogue hostage crisis, as well as the Tree of Life terror attack and Charlottesville, VA “Unite the Right” rally, both through the special exhibition “The Future Will Follow the Past: An Exhibition by Jonathan Horowitz.” After October 7, the Museum added a large Israeli flag banner to its building and has raised awareness about the hostages via large-scale photos projected onto the Independence Mall façade of its building and a collage of the hostages’ faces on its window, as well as supporting the Israeli-American Council of Philadelphia empty Shabbat Table installations.

This installation is presented in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and Combat Antisemitism Movement.

“The horrific October 7th massacre and its aftermath have presented a clear choice to the international community – stand with Israel in the fight to defeat terrorism and safeguard modern democracy or align with Hamas and the forces of tyranny,” Combat Antisemitism Movement CEO Sacha Roytman said. “Nearly five months after the attack, more than 130 Israeli men, women, and children are still languishing in captivity, and this powerful exhibit embodies our call on countries across the globe to do everything in their power to help end this unimaginable ordeal and bring them home.”

“Amidst all the news of the war, it sometimes feels that the plight of the hostages has been forgotten.  We speak about the hostages as a number, a group, not as individuals,” shared Jeffrey Lasday, Senior Chief, External Affairs at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. “The hostages have been held in horrendous conditions for over 150 days. This unique exhibit personalizes each hostage and brings their individual stories to life.”

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Established in 1976, and situated on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall, the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History is the only museum in the nation dedicated exclusively to exploring and interpreting the American Jewish experience. The Weitzman presents educational programs and experiences that preserve, explore, and celebrate the history of Jews in America. Standing as a joyful bulwark against antisemitism, bigotry, and hate, The Weitzman serves to connect Jews more closely to their heritage and to inspire in people of all backgrounds a greater appreciation for the diversity of the American Jewish experience and the freedoms to which Americans aspire.

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