Israel honors all victims of antisemitism

The government has decided to memorialize Diaspora Jews who have been murdered in antisemitic attacks around the world.

A makeshift shrine to the victims of the mass shooting at Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Credit: Brendt A. Petersen.
A makeshift shrine to the victims of the mass shooting at Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Credit: Brendt A. Petersen.
Jay Ruderman
Jay Ruderman
Jay Ruderman is president of the Ruderman Family Foundation.

The sentencing phase is underway in the trial of Robert Bowers, the shooter who murdered 11 worshippers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in 2018. The shooting remains the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history.

For Jews around the world, the significance of this news seems obvious. But it’s still important to ask: What is the most meaningful takeaway for our community?

Bowers’s conviction in mid-June was the precursor to the current public debate over whether he should receive the death penalty. But for American and Israeli Jews, the trial meant much more than the question of his sentence.

Until now, the State of Israel has not had a mechanism for memorializing American victims of antisemitic attacks like those murdered in Pittsburgh. This was a glaring gap in Israeli policy, given that antisemitism threatens both Israeli and American Jews. Israel cannot ignore the reality that antisemitic incidents in the U.S. reached an all-time high in 2022, according to the latest data from the ADL.

Antisemitism, no matter where it happens, threatens all Jews. This is why Israel must take antisemitism in the Diaspora into account when formulating its policies.

Israel’s neglect of this issue changed in May, when the Israeli government adopted the Ruderman Family Foundation’s “Ruderman Roadmap,” which sets out strategic guidelines for Israel-Diaspora relations, formalizing a shift in Israel’s approach to non-Israeli Jews who are victims of antisemitism.

Based on these guidelines, the government announced that it had launched a process that will result in honoring the memory of Diaspora Jews who have been murdered in antisemitic attacks around the world.

Specifically, the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs is forming a committee that will work to ensure that, as the Jewish state, Israel recognizes its obligation to officially memorialize non-Israeli Jews worldwide who have been murdered for being Jewish.

Especially at this time of disagreement and tension between Israel and American Jewry, the Israeli government’s new approach to victims of antisemitism abroad presents an opportunity to unite the Diaspora with the State of Israel based on something that, sadly, all Jews have in common: The threat of antisemitic discrimination and violence.

In the pre-state era, when virtually all Jews lived outside Israel, being Jewish in and of itself was a sufficient basis for uniting Jews worldwide. The global Jewish community was united by exile. But since the establishment of the State of Israel, Jews across the globe have been searching for new ways to connect, celebrate and even remember together.

Ideally, we should not need tragedy to help us find common ground. At the same time, we need to unite by any means possible, and the government’s new initiative ensures that we are moving in that direction.

The government’s committee on memorializing non-Israeli victims of antisemitism around the world will submit its conclusions and recommendations to the Minister of Diaspora Affairs no later than Sept. 1. The committee will examine how victims are commemorated and formally grant recognition to the various Diaspora families who have lost their loved ones in antisemitic attacks.

Crucially, the government of Israel has also expressed its intention to deepen the connections between the state, its citizens and Diaspora Jews. In doing so, the government is embracing its responsibility to work to ensure that Israel is the state of the Jewish people. It also signals its understanding that only through unity as a people and the mutual guarantee between us can we ensure our security and prosperity.

This process is important because Jewish communities in Israel and America have abundant opportunities to forge closer ties beyond the mutual threats they face. The Ruderman Family Foundation cultivates these opportunities and makes tireless efforts to solidify the relationship between the State of Israel and the American Jewish community.

American Jews consistently stand by Israel in its struggle against terrorism and provide support in times of need. Now, it is time for Israel to stand by American Jews at a time of historically high antisemitism in the U.S.

Although Robert Bowers’s sentencing will be notable in one way or another, it will not be the key development that serves to unite the Jewish community. Rather, it is how we memorialize the victims that will bring us together.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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