One year after a woman was gunned down in an anti-Semitic attack at a synagogue in Southern California, a retired lobbyist in San Mateo has sparked a regenerative idea to honor her memory.
Following up on a grant pitch from 63-year-old Michael Ross, the Combat Anti-Semitism Movement has planted 25 olive trees in Kfar Silver, a youth village in Israel on the outskirts of the coastal city of Ashkelon. The trees, planted during a ceremony on May 18, are a “symbol of life and hope” and will “perpetuate the memory of Lori Gilbert-Kaye,” a press release said. Gilbert-Kaye, 60, was killed in the attack at Chabad of Poway in April 2019.
The idea to plant trees in Israel as a way to combat anti-Semitism came to Ross after he saw online that CAM, a relatively new organization formed in February of last year, was promoting a contest seeking “creative” ideas to fight anti-Semitism.
“My idea was simple,” Ross said. “It was, anytime somebody says something anti-Semitic, or somebody gets hurt, to plant a tree in Israel” or make a donation. “What they decided was to find a place to actually plant the trees, and hopefully build our own forest.”
CAM allocated $10,000 to the project and suggested the Kfar Silver youth village as the site for an olive grove. The trees were planted by local youth, and a plaque was laid with the inscription: “May these trees grow to be a source of strength and hope of a bright future, befitting of Lori’s blessed memory.”
“I wanted to create a meaningful response to anti-Semitic attacks,” Ross said. “The olive trees will grow as a symbol of life and hope in the face of hatred. Wherever anti-Semitic attacks occur, they will serve as a physical reminder that we must eradicate the evil of hatred and discrimination.”
Ross, a native of Northern California, spent decades lobbying in Sacramento, including on Jewish issues, and once edited the Shofar, a publication of the Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region. He also led an effort to light a menorah on Hanukkah at the state Capitol. He has called himself a “very strong Zionist” and has lobbied for pro-Israel issues at the state and federal level.
CAM recently announced a new Venture Creative Contest with a prize fund of $50,000. To learn more, visit combatantisemitism.org/herzl-award.