In the square in front of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, an unlikely mixture of Israeli artists dropped their paint brushes and charcoal pencils and ran for cover as a siren signaling an incoming rocket wailed on October 26.
After waiting in a nearby bomb shelter until they heard the rocket’s detonation, the group members — which included a middle-aged Orthodox woman in a headscarf and a tattooed woman in her 20s wearing a black halter top — returned to their easels and refocused their attention on the photos mounted beside them.
The photos were of Israelis reported as missing or kidnapped following the bloody massacre by Hamas terrorists on October 7, which left 1,400 dead — most of them civilians, including women, children, the elderly and entire families. To date, some 240 families of hostages have been notified by the military that their relatives are now being held in Gaza.
Each artist in that Tel Aviv square was directing their talent toward a singular cause: the creation of a portrait of one of the hostages as part of a project called This Is Us, which seeks to call attention to the plight of the missing and help bring them home safely.
The artists worked in two shifts of 10 every day last week. Others painted from their own studios as well, bringing the total number of participants up to 150, organizers said.
“It was a very intimate experience for me to paint the portrait of one of the kidnapped hostages,” said Hodaya Gilad, who lives in the central Israeli city of Elad and chose to portray 18-year-old Liri Albag. “I kept on thinking about what she was going through and I felt that somehow I was getting to know her personally.”
Gilad is a member of Yotzrim Seviva (Artists of the Environment), an organization that provides a platform for artistic output by women in Israel’s Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, community. It was founded a decade ago by artist Michal Rozner, who came up with the idea for the current portrait project during a discussion with Yifat Gurion, a curator of the annual Tel Aviv Fresh Paint art fair.
“We both believe in the power of art to create empathy among people and here was an opportunity for two very different groups to work together,” said Gurion. She pointed out that the project’s name is meant to say, “It’s about all of us, it could be any one of us who was kidnapped.”