American Jewish Committee (AJC) today established an award to honor Ofir Libshtein, a beloved kibbutz leader and Israeli advocate for stronger ties with the Jewish Diaspora community, who was murdered by Hamas terrorists on October 7.

The Ofir Libshtein Bridge Builder Award, announced on stage at AJC Global Forum in Washington, D.C., will be awarded to individuals who exemplify Libshtein’s dedication to forging closer ties between communities, fostering understanding, and promoting peace.

Libshtein was the mayor of the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council in southern Israel, home to ten kibbutzim and 10,000 residents. He was murdered defending his family and community against Hamas terrorists who had stormed the Kfar Aza kibbutz on October 7. Libshtein was the first named fatality among the 1,200 murdered by Hamas. Three of his family members, including his 19-year-old son Nitzan, were among those murdered in the deadliest attack on Jews since the Holocaust.

Libshtein’s brother Doron told the closing plenary session at AJC Global Forum that after the initial attack, Ofir was found by his son Aviv lying under an olive tree, his weapon by his side.

“And he wrote to me: Doron, I love you, Daddy was killed. Let everyone know.”

Doron received a plaque from AJC for the award, which will be given annually starting in 2025.

“He was the heart of our family and always will be,” Libshtein said of his brother. “People at his Council cry when they talk about him. His friends on the kibbutz are his big family and the pain is unimaginable.”

Ofir Libshtein was credited with expanding relationships between Israeli communities near the Gaza border and the Jewish Diaspora, and he frequently collaborated with AJC to improve ties. Sha’ar Hanegev has a sister-city relationship with the city of San Diego. AJC staff and lay leaders were in Israel last May to celebrate 25 years of partnership between San Diego and the Sha’ar Hanegev communities.

"Ofir Libshtein was a remarkable leader and a dear friend who dedicated his life to building bridges between communities and fostering peace," said San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, who became close friends with Libshtein. "The creation of the Ofir Libshtein Bridge Builder Award is a fitting tribute to his legacy, inspiring all of us to continue his work promoting understanding and unity. His impact on San Diego and Sha’ar Hanegev will be forever remembered and cherished." 

Gloria visited Israel as part of a delegation of U.S. mayors through AJC’s Project Interchange, which brings global decision-makers to Israel to see firsthand the Jewish State's beauty, complexity, and diversity. Libshtein had hosted visits from many AJC Project Interchange delegations. He also briefed ambassadors on the situation along the Gaza border in meetings organized by AJC.

“As someone who knew him personally, I can tell you that he had a big heart,” said AJC Jerusalem Director Lt. Col. (res.) Avital Leibovich, who saw Libshtein just a month before the Hamas attack. “He was a visionary with regard to furthering relations with the Palestinians in Gaza and was a big supporter of the relationship between the Jewish Diaspora and Israelis.”

Libshtein was also one of the founders of the Darom Adom (Red South) Festival, where thousands of Israelis travel to experience the beauty of the Western Negev and see the blooming of tens of thousands of red anemones. A march in his memory was held at the festival in February.

“Ofir is no longer with us in body. However, his soul will continue to be with us,” Doron Libshtein said. “His vision of connecting people in doing good for our country and the whole will be his legacy.”

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