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The Empty Table - 

שולחן עזוב

The Empty Table: An Evening of Redemption

Ganzberg Sanctuary

Small Table


Yahrzheit Candle

Israeli flag





White tablecloth 

Black cloth napkin

Wine glass


Minha & Ma’ariv

Appropriate insertions of

Prayer for IDF

*Wait to say Prayer for captives



Redemption B’Iyyun

Tefilot and songs


Text study (Preparing a Sefaria sheet)

Setting the Table

Transition to the cafe where everything is in place except the flower

Honor someone with placing that flower in the vase

Have someone read a 200-word-ish explanation of

The Empty Table/השולחן העזוב

The missing man table honors those who are captured or missing in action. This ritual gives a visual to the pain of someone’s absence: We wish they could be here, eating with us, celebrating with us, reassuring us that they are ok. We’ve taken elements from this military practice and adapted them to reflect a richly Jewish spirit. 

  • A Tanakh to accompany us with the wisdom of our inherited texts

  • Yahrzheit Candle, the hopeful burning flame that stays lit through dark nights and evokes the threat of tragedy

  • Israeli flag marking the pride of our people to represent the State of Israel in all they do. And even in their suffering all those who are captive in the hands of our enemies are a source of great pride for Israelis. 

  • Plate with…

  • Lemon and salt, to invoke the bitter, tearful taste we know must permeate any meals they are currently eating

  • Vase with…

  • Flower, to represent the hope and resilience that cannot be stamped out

  • White tablecloth 

  • Black cloth napkin, for the somber mood 

  • Wine glass, set upside down to show that we cannot, yet, drink and toast with our loved ones. 

  • And a chair that sits empty for our dear ones in captivity, evocative of Kise shel Elijah, the seat we leave empty at brit Milah as an invitation for his prophetic visit. The seat is a pleading, prayerful outcry for reunification and the safety of all who are in harm’s way. 

  • Honor someone with the reading of a list of those captured

  • Recite the prayer for those in captivity 

  • Distribute the blue ribbon pins to remember all those in captivity 

Ritual Recipes: Text

Geniza in a Garden

The geniza contents are placed into white pillowcases, 

which are set at the edge of the geniza burial site.

Reader 1: We gather today to say goodbye to sacred materials. These are books, papers, and scrolls that were used with loving care. We return these materials to the earth.

Reader 2: We read in Shemot Chapter 20 that we are forbidden to use God’s name in vain. Later, in the Babylonian Talmud, our rabbis teach us that this also means we should not simply throw texts with God’s name into the trash.

Reader 3:   לֹ֥א תִשָּׂ֛א אֶת־שֵֽׁם־ה׳ אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ לַשָּׁ֑וְא   

כִּ֣י לֹ֤א יְנַקֶּה֙ ה׳ אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־יִשָּׂ֥א אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ לַשָּֽׁוְא

You shall not use the name of your God Adonai in vain; 

for Adonai will not clear one who swears falsely by God’s name.

Reader 4: We treat these papers with care, even as we prepare to place them in the ground. Here we have white shrouds to cover the paper, and the shrouds will be buried beside our garden, Ginat Pressman.

Place the contents into the geniza burial site.

Reader 5: During the seven weeks that fall between Pesah and Shavuot, we count the days of the omer. In ancient times, this marked the countdown to the wheat harvest. This week, we will plant wheat on top of this geniza so that new life can grow where these pages have come to rest.

Reader 6: הֲדַרַן עַלָךְ וְהֲדַרַך עֲלָן: We have returned to you and we will return to you: to remember where these texts lay beneath the soil and to count the stalks of wheat, new life that emerges here.

Reader 7:  As we ask each student to add one shovelful of dirt to complete the burial, we will sing together “Etz Chayim Hi,” just as we do when we close the ark, to close these treasured holy texts respectfully in the ground. 

Sing “Etz Chayim Hi” as each student adds one shovelful of dirt 

with the back of the shovel or using their hands.

Ritual Recipes: Text
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