Mayor Michael Bloomberg was honored Sunday night at the American Society for Yad Vashem dinner in midtown Manhattan, where he was awarded the Yad Vashem Remembrance Award. The Holocaust remembrance and education organization selected Bloomberg for his “visionary leadership in the city of New York, his generous support of Holocaust remembrance and his philanthropic work in shaping a better future.”
Greeted by a sea of nearly a thousand dinner attendees, including donors, ambassadors, Holocaust survivors and their families, Bloomberg took the stage to joke about the award being heavy before expressing how important Holocaust remembrance was to him.
“If I have a sincere regret this evening, it is that my parents did not live to see me receive your award,” he told the applauding crowd. “For them, the creation of the state of Israel, a permanent homeland for the Jewish people, was truly a realization of a dream. From them, my sister and I inherited a lifelong devotion to Israel.”
Bloomberg said he felt privileged to be able to dedicate medical facilities in Israel in the name of his parents. One of the proudest moments during his tenure as mayor, he told the crowd, was when he headed the 2005 U.S. delegation at the opening of the Holocaust history museum at Yad Vashem, a visit he called an “incredibly moving experience,” and during which he developed relationships with Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and former New York City Mayor Ed Koch.
He was specifically moved by the detailed maps showing the towns and villages in Eastern Europe that were home to Jewish communities. “Those communities were wiped out by the Nazis and it was a reminder of the powerful and sacred mission Yad Vashem has to keep them fresh in our minds, to preserve the memories of the six million lost in the Holocaust and to bear with us a crime that must never, ever be forgotten,” he said. “We have to show the world in the clearest and most determined way possible why we said ‘never again,’ and to teach the most important value that human beings anywhere can learn, a value that has always been central to our governing philosophy at City Hall as well, and that is the value of tolerance.”
Bloomberg called New York a “city that people of every faith can and do live side by side in,” whose greatest strength was its diversity. “We are a city where everyone can worship freely, as we wish, and without fear,” he told the crowd.
“I as a Jew I will never forget. You can rest assured, nor will my children. We better make sure that’s true of everyone, whether they are Jewish or not,” he concluded to a standing ovation. “Whether your ancestors were taken in the camps or not, we are all human beings and those were all our parents.”
The dinner also honored the late Eli Zborowski, founder the American and International societies for Yad Vashem, who raised more than $100 million for the organization, and who died in September 2012 at age 86.
In addition, the event paid tribute to Ilan Ramon, the Israeli astronaut who died in the 2003 Columbia Space Shuttle disaster, as well as Czechoslovak artist and author Petr Ginz, who died in Auschwitz at the age of 16. Ramon boarded the space shuttle with “Moon Landscape,” a pencil sketch Ginz drew in Theresienstadt.
Chavie Lieber has written for The New York Times, New York Magazine, The Daily Beast, the Huffington Post, Business Insider, the Times of Israel, and more. Follow her on twitter @chavielieber.