By Mica Soffer
Photos: Itzik Roytman/COLlive
Friends and supporters of the Jewish Children’s Museum in Crown Heights gathered for the Museum’s 11th anniversary dinner Monday night.
Seated in an elegant tent set up on Kingston Avenue to accommodate the crowd of 300, guests heard Devorah Halberstam describe her life’s mission after the murder of her son Ari by Arab terrorist Rashid Baz in an attack on a van full of Yeshiva students driving on the Brooklyn Bridge after visiting the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Halberstam related that after her son’s murder, she knew she must “sound the alarm… that terrorism is here in America, whether we call it that or not. That terrorists live by no laws, and we are all fair game.”
And while Halberstam spent years working to raise awareness among law enforcement and government officials that her son’s murder was an act of terror and more than just a random road rage incident, she had one ally as she pursued justice for Ari.
“My response was the core of the Jewish religion, the values and morals that I had been taught, that is the essence of Judaism – to build and create while they destroy, and to survive while they try to snuff us out,” Halberstam said.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who received the Ari Halberstam memorial award at the dinner, “amplified my voice,” Halberstam said. “He understood that it wasn’t just another child being murdered.”
The Mayor, who said he “knew immediately that [Ari’s murder] was a terrorist attack,” believed in her mission, giving the Jewish Children’s Museum their first funding of $7.5 million, and “Ari became a symbol,” Halberstam said.
In his speech, Giuliani cautioned that we are all under attack, every day, whether we like to admit it or not. “We currently have very evil forces around us which require us to be strong and to understand that we have the better values,” he said. “It isn’t just Judaism or Christianity, it’s western civilization that’s under attack,” he said.
Giuliani related he had just returned from a trip to Israel where he was shown videos of young Palestinian children being trained to stab and kill Jews and Christians. “I wish we were living with something different,” he said. “I wish this world was beautiful and everybody loved us. But this is the world we live in,” he said.
Giuliani said he believes that it is imperative that we educate and build bridges between faiths, which he says Halberstam has accomplished with the landmark museum which provides hands-on, high-tech lessons about Jewish life and heritage to people of all nationalities and faiths, and has already hosted 2 million children since opening.
“The fact that you turned this horrible tragedy into something beautiful, is a great testament to you and most importantly, a great testament to the Jewish people. You have survived when so many tried to destroy you,” Giuliani said.
Halberstam thanked Giuliani for his support which helped build the Museum 11 years ago, and said he “can be proud that Ari’s legacy will live on forever in the hearts and minds of children for generations to come.
“Ari’s voice may be silent, but I hear it in the echo of the children,” Halberstam said.
Video: Mayor Giuliani speaks about Ari Halberstam’s murder