Forty years ago, a young Israeli woman went into the only building that had a television set in Erez, her kibbutz on the border with the Gaza Strip, to watch coverage of the Olympics in Munich and root for her country to win a medal.
The traumatic experience of finding out that 11 of Israel’s Olympic athletes and trainers had been held hostage and then murdered by terrorists made the woman vow never to set foot in the building again.
She kept that promise for four decades until last Friday, when she decided that it was fitting to return for the dedication of a new library facility built there in memory of New Jersey philanthropist Ted Murnick.
“She returned because of what the library symbolizes: renewing the kibbutz and passing it on to the next generation,” said Amir Shacham, Israel operations director for the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, who spoke with her at the ceremony.
The woman’s story was not the first time the two communities came together in solidarity.
Greater MetroWest’s connection with Kibbutz Erez began on Sept. 11, 2001, when a high-profile federation delegation led by Frank Lautenberg (who was not a senator at the time) came to show support for Israeli victims and survivors of terrorist attacks. Shortly after leaving the kibbutz, mission participants were informed by an NJ Jewish News reporter that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.
The kibbutz members ironically ended up showing solidarity with their visitors from New Jersey, and the relationship blossomed from there. The federation started taking visiting families from New Jersey to see Erez, and funded “safe rooms” and other security measures on the kibbutz, which came under increasing rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
A visit to Erez by longtime federation supporters Theodore (Ted) and Maxine Murnick of Short Hills and their three children in 2006 made a positive impression on them. When Ted died in January 2010, the family decided to finance the building of the library to memorialize him, in what became the federation’s biggest project to date on the kibbutz.
The substantial gift included an endowment for the library’s operation. Symbolic of the partnership, the Arazi family of the kibbutz decided to join in the gift in memory of Baruch Arazi, the family’s patriarch.
Three generations of the Murnick and Arazi families came together to dedicate the building in a special ceremony attended by kibbutz members of all ages on Aug. 31, which would have been Ted Murnick’s 75th birthday.
“It was bashert to dedicate the library today,” Maxine said in her speech at the ceremony. “Ted was a loving husband, father, and grandfather. He was a principled person — a doer, not a talker. He used libraries his whole life. This library will be used by people young and old. It is a fitting memorial, and we will visit often.”
A tree was then planted in Ted’s memory by Maxine; their children Jay, Lee, and Amy; daughter-in-law Jodi; son-in-law Mark; and grandchildren Jacquelyn, five, Evan, three, and Taylor, one. Lee has a special connection to Erez, because she lived on the kibbutz for a few months and worked at its petting zoo.
“The ceremony was emotional and bittersweet because Ted passed away,” Maxine said. “It was good to do things but it’s sad that these are the circumstances. Ted would have approved of it, but he didn’t seek name recognition. He would have been more likely to build the library than dedicate it.” Ted owned the Murnick Property Group, a residential real estate business.
Maxine came to Erez a year ago for the ground breaking and then again in July as president of the federation’s Women’s Philanthropy division. While rockets continue to fall in the area (and one fell in nearby Sderot the morning of the dedication) she said she did not believe the library would be targeted.
“I don’t believe rockets will hit the library and I think the people will be OK,” she said. “The walls are thick, and it has a safe room. But when you’re here you don’t think about such things. This is their home.”
Jay Murnick, who serves as president of the Jewish Community Housing Corporation, said he learned from his father that it is important for those who have been fortunate to give their time and resources to the Jewish community.
“If you focus only on yourself, you lose your place in the world,” Jay said. “There are so many people who need our help in the U.S., Israel, and the world, and there are so few people willing to give from their time and not just their money. My sisters and I saw firsthand our parents involved in the community and it inspired us.”
Sha’ar Hanegev Region Mayor Alon Shuster, whose jurisdiction includes the kibbutz, thanked the Murnicks. He said at the ceremony that the library would help connect the new generation of Israelis with Jewish and global culture.
“The library is part of the emotional connection between Israel and the Diaspora,” Shuster said. “It is symbolic because the kibbutz’s founders fought for this place physically, and now we are fighting to connect our young generation to Jewish history and their responsibility to the Jewish future.”