On October 7, 1985, Palestinian terrorists hijacked an Italian cruise ship off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt. The terrorists, affiliated with Abu Abbas' Palestinian Liberation Front, separated the Americans and the British citizens from the over 400 people on board, and paid close attention to American Jewish passengers.
One of those singled out, was Leon Klinghoffer, a sixty-nine-year-old businessman, who was on the cruise with his beloved wife Marilyn to celebrate their 36th wedding anniversary, along with a group of eleven friends who summered together at the Jersey Shore – the “beach people” they called themselves. Leon, who had suffered two strokes, was wheelchair bound.
On October 8, the terrorists shot Leon in the head and threw him and his wheelchair overboard.
The murder of Leon Klinghoffer brought the deadly reality of terrorism home to Jews and to Americans. It was not only a tragedy, but also a wake-up call.
For the family of Leon Klinghoffer, the attack was personally devastating. But to their lasting credit, his daughters, Lisa and Ilsa, were determined to ensure that Leon did not die in vain.
Lisa recalls: “When our mother finally reached us, she struggled with having to tell us the news. But, we already knew. Then she said ‘your father was a hero…do your crying now girls, I have done mine…because, when I get home, we have a lot of work to do.’” Says Ilsa: “In the face of evil, in the aftermath of hate and terrorism our family’s mission became clear. If this could happen to our father, this could happen to anyone, anywhere—and we were going to do whatever we could to put a human face to the deadly reality of terrorism. Within months, we joined with the Anti-Defamation League to found the Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Memorial Foundation—which was created by our late mother, and remains an essential part of our life’s work today.”
Since Marilyn’s untimely death from cancer in February 1986, Lisa and Ilsa have spearheaded the work of the Klinghoffer Foundation. The Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Memorial Foundation of the Anti-Defamation League has educated about terrorism and its victims. Its activities have included the creation of an award to recognize international figures who demonstrate a commitment to eradicating terrorism, sponsorship of conferences involving leading authorities on terrorism, and developing educational, legislative and legal responses to terrorism. In addition, Lisa and Ilsa Klinghoffer participate in the bi-annual Advanced Training School Course on Extremist and Terrorist Threats–ADL’s flagship program for law enforcement. The Klinghoffer sisters tell the participants, who represent federal, state and local law enforcement agencies from across the country about their experiences and the sensitivities required in dealing with victims and their families.