The way home

Hostages’ sister creates trail of shoes on Tel Aviv boardwalk

Osnat Sharabi wants people to think about what it’s like to ‘walk in our footsteps’

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

  • Hundreds of shoes on the Tel Aviv boardwalk to make people think about what it's like to be in the hostages' proverbial shoes, including brothers, Yossi and Eli Sharabi, taken hostage on October 7, 2023 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
    Hundreds of shoes on the Tel Aviv boardwalk to make people think about what it's like to be in the hostages' proverbial shoes, including brothers, Yossi and Eli Sharabi, taken hostage on October 7, 2023 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
  • Hundreds of shoes on the Tel Aviv boardwalk to make people think about what it's like to be in the hostages' proverbial shoes, including brothers, Yossi and Eli Sharabi, taken hostage on October 7, 2023 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
    Hundreds of shoes on the Tel Aviv boardwalk to make people think about what it's like to be in the hostages' proverbial shoes, including brothers, Yossi and Eli Sharabi, taken hostage on October 7, 2023 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
  • Hundreds of shoes on the Tel Aviv boardwalk to make people think about what it's like to be in the hostages' proverbial shoes, including brothers, Yossi and Eli Sharabi, taken hostage on October 7, 2023 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
    Hundreds of shoes on the Tel Aviv boardwalk to make people think about what it's like to be in the hostages' proverbial shoes, including brothers, Yossi and Eli Sharabi, taken hostage on October 7, 2023 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
  • Osnat Sharabi set up hundreds of shoes on the Tel Aviv boardwalk to make people think about what it's like to be in the hostages' proverbial shoes, including her brothers, Yossi and Eli Sharabi, taken hostage on October 7, 2023 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
    Osnat Sharabi set up hundreds of shoes on the Tel Aviv boardwalk to make people think about what it's like to be in the hostages' proverbial shoes, including her brothers, Yossi and Eli Sharabi, taken hostage on October 7, 2023 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

A trail of shoes snaked along a stretch of Tel Aviv’s beachfront promenade in “The Way Home,” an installation created by Osnat Sharabi, sister of Yossi and Eli Sharabi, who were taken hostage from Kibbutz Be’eri to Gaza by Hamas terrorists on October 7 as they killed, burned, assaulted and abducted hundreds of people.

“I’ll be here as long as the shoes are here,” said Sharabi, who gathered boots and sneakers, slippers and sandals from friends and neighbors and brought them to Tel Aviv in two pickup trucks early Sunday morning to set up the display.

By Sunday afternoon, there were hundreds of shoes in the trail leading from Charles Clore Park — where Tel Aviv meets up with Jaffa — all the way up the boardwalk to Banana Beach. There, where the trail of shoes stopped, Osnat Sharabi sat on a bench with her husband and some friends.

Sharabi had permission from the city of Tel Aviv to leave the shoes on the boardwalk throughout Sunday, and hoped she could leave them there until Tuesday.

She also hoped that other people — Tel Aviv residents and visitors — would bring their shoes, perhaps ones that they never wore but could be repurposed in this installation that aimed to remind people what it’s like “to walk in our shoes, in our footsteps,” she said. She was referring to the hostages and their families who have been rallying for the last 93 days to bring their loved ones home.

Passersby strolling along the boardwalk on the warm January day, taking in the sun, blue skies and Mediterranean, asked, “What are these shoes doing here?”

Hundreds of shoes on the Tel Aviv boardwalk to make people think about what it’s like to be in the hostages’ proverbial shoes, including brothers Yossi and Eli Sharabi, taken hostage on October 7, 2023 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

And then they stopped and read one of the signs posted at the start of the line of shoes.

That’s exactly the idea, said Sharabi.

“I’m the oldest sister,” she said. “I didn’t protect them and I’m not sure I can.”

One of her brothers, Yossi Sharabi, 53, a resident of Be’eri, was seen on October 7 being taken by Hamas on a pickup truck along with Ofir Engel, 18, a Jerusalem resident who was visiting his girlfriend, Yuval Sharabi.

Hamas terrorists broke into his brother Eli Sharabi’s home, shouting in Arabic and laughing loudly, according to text messages between other family members with Eli, his wife Lianne and their daughters, Noiya, 16 and Yahel 13.

The terrorists shot the family dog, then took the family hostage and set fire to the house.

Yossi (left) and Eli Sharabi, brothers who were each taken hostage by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023 (Courtesy)

The family was at first considered missing, until the bodies of Lianne, Noiya and Yahel were identified more than a week later.

It’s been 93 days since the Sharabi brothers were abducted, and Osnat and her third brother, Sharon Sharabi, are awaiting their return.

“It feels like the hostages are in the news less. People are going back to their regular life,” said Osnat Sharabi. “We want to make sure that no one forgets them.”

It is believed that 132 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released prior to that, and one was rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military.

The Israel Defense Forces has confirmed the deaths of 25 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

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