'Today there were many witnesses to the murder of one'

UJC leaders attend Goldwasser funeral hours after standing at the Auchwitz-Birkenau memorial.

auchwitz 88 (photo credit: )
auchwitz 88
(photo credit: )
Within 24 hours last week, American Jews Robert Mann and Lori Klinghoffer stood both in the Birkenau concentration camp in Poland and at the funeral of IDF reservist Ehud Goldwasser in Nahariya. The connection between the two was incidental, but they immediately drew a link. Looking at the long row of media cameras at the funeral on Thursday, including international networks, they could not help but reflect on the difference between Birkenau and Nahariya's small military cemetery. "I said to Lori, 'Yesterday we said Kaddish in the concentration camps, where few witnessed the murder of millions, and today there were many witnesses to the murder of one," Mann later told The Jerusalem Post. As national chairs of committees within the United Jewish Communities of North America, Mann and Klinghoffer were on a trip to Europe and Israel when news of Goldwasser's death broke. Mann, who lives in Chicago, and Klinghoffer, who lives in New Jersey, never met Goldwasser, but they knew his wife, Karnit, because of her work in the United States on her husband's behalf. She visited the US a number of times during her two-year quest to free her husband and Eldad Regev, two IDF reservists killed, but long believed kidnapped, in July 2006. "We felt that it was very important that our presence be known," Mann said. After landing in Israel just after midnight, the pair managed to make it from Jerusalem to Nahariya on Thursday morning to stand with Karnit as she buried her husband. International attention was drawn to this case above and beyond that of other missing soldiers in the past, Mann said. They chalked this up to Karnit, who they said touched hearts around the world with her story of how she as a young wife, in the first year of marriage, needed help to bring her husband home. "Karnit single-handedly raised the level of awareness through her own public presence," Mann said. "When you are in North America it is very hard to relate to the issue, but she put a face on it. Somebody could look at her and think, 'That could be my daughter or my daughter-in-law,'" Mann said. They attributed the publicity the campaign received to Karnit's charisma and hard work. During the past two years, the UJC through its emergency fund for Israel offered money and other forms of assistance to help the families professionalize the campaign, Mann said. Among their initiatives were dog tags with the soldiers' names that they gave out at federation events. "These were ordinary people who were then thrust into extraordinary events," he said. Karnit in particular "developed personal relationships with many of us," Klinghoffer said. As they stood listening to her speaking in Nahariya, they reflected on what it said about Israel and the Jewish people. Juxtapose the "image of this beautiful young woman weeping for the loss of her husband with the celebrations over the release of a child-murderer [Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar] and I do not see a better image for the world," Mann said. Now that the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Regev had been returned to Israel, the UJC planned to focus on helping secure the release of St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit, 21, who has been held by Hamas in Gaza since June 2006, Mann and Klinghoffer said. Evidence has shown that he is alive, but his story has not received the same amount of international attention as that of Goldwasser. "The problem now will be... how to elevate the Gilad Schalit campaign to the same level," Klinghoffer said. It has not had the same human face as that of the Goldwasser campaign, she said. "The advocacy lessons learned from the Goldwasser family campaign could be effective for the Schalit family's as they push for the release of their son," Klinghoffer said.