Milwaukee walk for hostages is weekly | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Milwaukee walk for hostages is weekly 

At first, she walked alone. 

In January, Liya Chernyakova walked with posters calling attention to the hostages held by Hamas. She walked alone, through the streets of Milwaukee’s east side, from the Urban Ecology Center to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee union, and back. 

“I taped posters to the front of my coat, and in back, and I walked through the city. It felt really good. It felt good for myself,” she said. “Some looked at me and were scared or hopeful or angry. I was not afraid of it.” 

Then, someone joined her, and another, and the walk grew into a group and merged with a similar Mequon group. Now, about 15 to 20 local people walk or run together weekly to remember the hostages still held by Hamas and its allies in Gaza.  

Most walk; running is the exception. The grassroots group changes locations weekly, announcing the starting point to participants only. The walk is every Sunday at 10:30 a.m. The effort is just one of many global “Run for Our Lives” groups and events, “calling for the immediate release of the hostages held by Hamas,” according to, a California-based site for the grassroots network.  

There are believed to be at least 100 hostages in Gaza still held, alive, as of Chronicle press time. The local walk, which has no official leader, tries to avoid politics. “It’s just about the hostages, and it’s really not about the war,” Safer said. “It’s just about the hostages.” 

Why do it? 

Chernyakova is from Ukraine, once part of the Soviet Union, and said she is familiar with propaganda. She said she now hears propaganda from people who say they are pro-Palestinian. 

“Propaganda does not go away by itself. It becomes more and more aggressive,” Chernyakova said. “I don’t want this propaganda in America.” 

Heather Polan, Cedarburg, said she does the weekly walks for herself, really. “If you care about Jews … every day you wake up, and the nightmare has not ended, and you feel helpless,” Polan said. The walk is an antidote for that. 

Safer walks, in part, to “keep the hostages in the forefront of people’s minds. We don’t want them to be forgotten. Every week we want to make sure people remember that they’re still being held and that we need to bring them home.” 

The walks have brought together Jews from different levels of observance or parts of the Milwaukee area. 

“The group has been amazing and healing for many of us,” Polan said. “I have lived in Milwaukee my whole life, and I thought I knew all the Jews. Almost everyone I have met so far has been people I didn’t know. We also have had non-Jews show up.” 

Safer does the walk, in part, “because the Jewish community needs it. There are a lot of people who, just to have that time with other Jews, to talk about what’s going on, and how they’re feeling about it, it’s been it’s been very therapeutic for a lot of people in the group.” 

How it unfolded 

Alexa Safer, Shorewood, a longtime local activist, noticed online that a woman – Chernyakova – was walking for Israel, near the east side of Milwaukee.  

“I just noticed on the Riverwest page that this woman was walking all alone. And so I was like, well, I’ll come walk with you,” Safer said. “It just kind of grew from there.” 

Polan held a first meeting for the Mequon group, and they started walking at the end of January. They walked on Sundays in Mequon, on the Ozaukee Interurban Trail, then learned about and merged with Chernyakova and Safer’s group. The merged groups have turned to spots that are more public, carrying posters to get the word out. This has included walking on Oakland Avenue or through Milwaukee’s Third Ward. 

Passion for the cause 

Dogs on the walk wear bandanas, with a message, “Bring Them Home Now.” Bobbi Rector, Glendale, who is active in the Jewish community, brings her dog Yogi, sporting one of the bandanas. 

Reaction from people who see the group has included questions and honks of apparent support. In late March, someone shouted out of their car: “Free Palestine.” 

There’s no shortage of passion in the group. Safer said she’s getting a tattoo based on the art of Shani Louk, 22, OBM. Louk’s lifeless body was infamously paraded past Hamas supporters, in the back of a pickup truck, at the time of the early October attacks against Israel. Louk was a German-Israeli tattoo artist.  

“I can wear (the tattoo) for the rest of my life,” Safer said, adding that if somebody says it’s ‘beautiful,” she can say it’s from a victim of the Nova music festival.  

“I want people to remember the deadliest day in Jewish history since the Holocaust,” she said. “It wasn’t a nothing.” 


Liya Chernyakova is a founder of the local Run for Our Lives group, that walks through the Milwaukee area for the hostages.