16 Sivan 5769, June 7, 2009
Mr. Ralph Goldman, Honorary Executive Vice President, JDC
Mr. Steven Schwager, Chief Executive Officer, JDC
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would first like to thank, on behalf of the Friedlaender and Agranat families, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), for setting up the memorial for JDC workers who have fallen in the line of duty.
It is my great privilege to be a grandson of Professor Israel Friedlaender, of blessed memory, who was murdered together with Rabbi Bernard Cantor by Bolshevik soldiers in Ukraine in 1920, while serving as American Relief Commissioner of the JDC mission to aid the Jews of Eastern Europe after World War I.
Israel Friedlaender’s gravestone bore the following inscription:
“Emissary of the Jews of America.
Lived for his people; Died for his people.”
I can safely say that this last sentence applies to all JDC workers who perished, and whom we are commemorating today.
Israel Friedlaender was born in Russia in 1876, grew up in Poland and studied in Germany. He was one of the pillars of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York under the leadership of Solomon Schechter. My grandfather was a professor of Biblical Literature and Exegesis, an expert on Maimonides, Semitic languages and Shiite culture, and one of the leaders of the Zionist movement in the United States. He viewed himself as a Semitic Scholar and not only a Bible Scholar.
After the murder, my grandmother Lillian Friedlaender, of blessed memory, decided to make aliyah to Eretz Israel with her six children: Herzl, Benzion, Carmel, Judith, Nehama Joy and Daniel Balfour.
My grandfather’s grave was discovered by JDC personnel in Ukraine in 2000. The JDC and other public organizations arranged the transportation of my grandfather’s remains to Israel.
The fact that Professor Friedlaender and Rabbi Cantor were murdered by Bolshevik soldiers, as concluded by a local JDC Commission of Inquiry, was a closely-kept secret for 80 years. My mother, Carmel Agranat, of blessed memory, found out the truth in 2000 from a study carried out by Dr. Shlomo Yotvat: “The unfinished journey: Israel Friedlaender in the footsteps of Jews in distress and Eretz Israel, 1917-1920” (papers of Carmel Agranat). She read the report of the Commission of Inquiry only in 2003.
At the conclusion of the “El Male Rahamim” (“O God Full of Compassion”) prayer, it is said: “May he repose in peace on his resting place.” Israel Friedlaender was buried in Yarmolintsy, Ukraine in 1920 and reposed in peace for 81 years, which spanned the turmoil and hardships of the Soviet regime, the bloody battles of World War II and the Nazi occupation. My mother, who was eight years old when her father was murdered, was privileged to bring his remains to Israel and lay them to eternal rest on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem, in 2001.
On the morning of the funeral, when the casket arrived in Israel, Rabbi Uri Miller, one of the heads of “Kehilat Yerushalaim” Gahsha (גחש”א) Burial Society, who handled the transfer of the casket himself, said to me that the remains of Israel Friedlaender were wondrously preserved. He said: This is the unique quality of a holy man.
To our regret, the gravestone of Israel Friedlaender here in Jerusalem, on Mount Scopus, has been desecrated twice, most recently just a few weeks ago.
In a lecture Israel Friedlaender gave about martyrs in 1907, he said the following sentence: “While our heart is aroused over the martyrs who fell by the hands of violent mobs, we witness with indifference the disappearance of that for which they became martyrs.” 1
I hope that the memorial we are dedicating today will commemorate not only the JDC workers who have fallen in the line of duty, but also the goals, the ideas and the mission that they filled in the service of the Jewish people.
Haval al deavdin ve-la mishtakchin (“alas for those who are lost but not forgotten”).
1 Israel Friedlaender, “Past and Present: Selected Essays,” 2nd edition, Burning Bush Press, New York, 1961, p. 168.