Common ground

Israel to consider memorializing Jews killed in antisemitic attacks abroad

The initiative is being led by the Ruderman Family Foundation and World Zionist Organization

The Israeli government this week voted to form a committee to consider formally honoring the memories of Diaspora Jews who have been murdered in antisemitic attacks abroad, as it currently does for people killed in terror attacks or war in Israel.

The initiative is being led by the Ruderman Family Foundation, together with the World Zionist Organization and the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism.

Shira Ruderman, executive director of the Ruderman Family Foundation, called the decision “historic” and told eJewishPhilanthropy that it represented an idea to solidify and “expand Israel’s responsibility to Jews outside of the country.”

Ruderman said this initiative offered an opportunity for Israel and Diaspora Jewry to come together on a noncontroversial issue of mutual importance at a time of tension between American and Israeli Jews.

“We are growing apart in our realities. We are growing apart in our common values,” she said. “And this creates opportunities for common values, for common memories, and it hopefully will bring us back to the table to talk about creating common goals together. Because once we come together, we know how to be successful.”

Ruderman said she hoped that by having the State of Israel officially play a role in commemorating antisemitic attacks around the world, it would push the governments of the countries where attacks occur to take them more seriously.

The decision was adopted by Israel’s cabinet on Sunday. The committee will be led by the director-general of the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, Avi Cohen Scali. “It will put together recommendations for the official commemoration of Jews who are not citizens of Israel who were murdered because of their Jewishness in antisemitic terror attacks in the Diaspora,” the government said in a statement.

The committee, which will also include representatives from the World Zionist Organization, will establish criteria and standards for recognition, specifically to determine what would be considered an antisemitic attack. It will also consider cases of non-Jews who were murdered in attacks of an antisemitic nature in the Diaspora, such as Alexandre Strens, the non-Jewish employee of the Jewish Museum of Belgium who was killed in a terror attack at the site in 2014. The committee will submit its findings by Sept. 1.

Ruderman said her organization’s goal is to have the government include the commemoration of Diaspora Jews killed in antisemitic attacks on the country’s Memorial Day, Yom Hazikaron. Her foundation recommended that a ceremony be held on the day and that a memorial be built. However, she said, it would not include the sort of financial assistance that families receive from the government if a loved one is killed in a war or terror attack.

The effort to get the Israeli government to officially honor people killed in antisemitic attacks in the Diaspora has been in the works for nearly two years, Ruderman said.

Her family’s foundation first began working on the issue over a year and a half ago, speaking to a variety of experts on the matter, “from security officials to the Foreign Ministry to people who lost their dear ones,” Ruderman said.

Around the same time as the Ruderman Family Foundation began researching the matter, Yaakov Hagoel, chairman of the World Zionist Organization, started considering a similar idea.

“I initiated the move about a year ago after I met with bereaved families from the Diaspora and felt their great pain,” Hagoel said in a statement.

Ruderman said that once it became clear that WZO was also working on the same idea, the two organizations banded together.

“There’s no room for competition. There’s no room for two entities to work on this matter separately. The research is Ruderman research. But the effort is a dual partnership,” she said.

Ruderman said that once the research was complete a few months ago, her organization approached Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli about it.

“He took it with open arms. We have tremendous respect for him,” she said.

Hagoel too praised Chikli, along with “the government of Israel and our partners for promoting this important and Zionist decision.”

“Our brothers and sisters living in the Diaspora are an inseparable part of us and unfortunately, they struggle every day with antisemitic events. We will work together with our partners to implement this decision, for the sake of all the People of Israel,” Hagoel said.

In a statement, Chikli called the decision “an important achievement” and praised the Ruderman Family Foundation and WZO.

“For the first time since the founding of the state, the government approved a decision to recognize the responsibility of the State of Israel – the state of the Jews – to remember and commemorate those killed in terror attacks, who were murdered because of their Jewishness abroad,” Chikli wrote.

Ruderman told eJP that she hoped that it would also inspire Jewish communities around the world to connect more deeply to Yom Hazikaron. 

“Memorial Day is not necessarily being recognized by Jews around the world because it’s about the Land of Israel. If you add this element of Jews who were unfortunately murdered in antisemitic attacks, it will bring us together, in pain, but also in the common identity that we are all Jews,” she said.