When President Kennedy was killed, 50 years ago, on Nov. 22, 1963, Jews around the world joined in mourning a man who was seen as a great friend. “Few heads of state anywhere have ever been so accessible to their Jewish fellow-citizens and so informed and concerned over problems involving the Jewish people as was John F. Kennedy, thirty-fifth President of the United States,” JTA reported. (Citing an unnamed member of Kennedy’s staff, JTA also reported that “Jewish Telegraphic Agency news dispatches were frequently studied by the President in his desire to be informed of all facets of a given situation.”)
Jewish communities across America and farther afield held memorial services for the slain president. Israel’s president, Zalman Shazar, and foreign minister, Golda Meir, flew to Washington, where they attended a requiem Mass and a memorial service at a local synagogue.
Among the many Jews participating in such services was the man who would kill Kennedy’s assassin. On the night of November 22, nightclub owner Jack Ruby attended a memorial service for the president at Temple Shearith Israel in Dallas. Two days later, he would shoot and kill Lee Harvey Oswald, fueling a half-century of conspiracy theories.
The Warren Commission examined Ruby’s Jewish background and the role it may have played in his decision to shoot Oswald. As JTA reported in 1964:
Ruby contended that his Jewish beliefs motivated his thinking and actions. He was shown by the Commission’s findings to have had a life-long record of volatile responses to anti-Semites, many fights arising from anti-Semitism, and participation in street fights against the German-American Bund before World War II. According to Ruby, prior to the shooting of Oswald, he watched a rabbi deliver on television a moving eulogy of President Kennedy. Ruby said the rabbi’s words “created a tremendous emotional feeling for me…I was carried away.”
In January 1967, Ruby died and was buried beside his parents in Chicago, after a private Jewish funeral attended by members of his family.
Earlier this month, in an article for JTA, veteran journalist Steve North wrote about his discussions with members of Ruby’s family. And last month, Ira Stoll, the author of a new book positing that Kennedy — a liberal icon — should actually be understood as a conservative, wrote a JTA essay on the special reasons that Jews should mourn JFK on the anniversary of his assassination.
One additional Jewish tidbit: Less than two weeks after the day he was assassinated, Kennedy had been scheduled to address a New York dinner for Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science. The president’s planned appearance had been touted as a “milestone” for the institute, which instead set to the task of creating a memorial for Kennedy. The institute ended up awarding fellowships and prizes to scientists in his memory. The Weizmann Institute continues to award its Kennedy prizes to the present day.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article mistakenly referred to Golda Meir as Israel’s prime minister at the time of the Kennedy assassination. In fact, she was Israel’s foreign minister at the time and became prime minister in 1969.