Rabbi Menachem Fruman and the Israeli Elections

Zelda, one of Israel’s great poets wrote

“Every person has a name
that his enemies gave him
and his love gave him…
Every person has a name
that the sea gave him,
and that his death gave him.” (from a longer poem “Every Man has a Name”)

Sometimes, it’s enough to participate in a man’s funeral to learn who he was. Last week, Rabbi Menachem Fruman, one of Israel’s most fascinating and colorful figures, passed away on the evening of March 4, 2013, at the age of 68. Born in 1945 in the Galilee to a secular family, he dedicated his life to peace and coexistence between Jews and Arabs in Israel. When he was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, Rabbi Fruman added the term “Chai Shalom” (living peace) to his last name.

Rabbi Fruman’s funeral lasted four hours and was packed with Jews and Arabs, rabbis and sheikhs, typical right-wing Jews, and left-wing secular bohemian Israelis. Unlike other great rabbis’ funerals, music was played and Hebrew poetry was read. Thousands of people of all political and religious ideologies and backgrounds were united for these four hours by the love, respect, admiration they felt for Fruman and a sense of a great loss.

Rabbi Fruman was best known for his unique approach to Jewish-Arab relations. He believed that people with a strong religious heritage could more easily achieve understanding than could politicians. An Israel Defense Forces paratrooper who took part in the 1967 capture of the Western Wall and an Orthodox Jewish rabbi and poet, Fruman graduated from Rabbi Kook’s Merkaz HaRav yeshiva, and became a peacemaker and negotiator with close ties to Palestinian religious leaders from the PLO and Hamas. The terms Orthodox rabbi and peacemaker don’t usually apply to one person; often they describe two people with deep ideological divisions. On one hand, Rabbi Fruman was a founding member of Gush Emunim, an Israeli activist movement committed to establishing Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. Following his personal commitment to settle the “whole” Land of Israel, Rabbi Forman served as the chief rabbi of Tekoa in the West Bank.

On the other hand, Rabbi Forman was well known for promoting and leading interfaith dialogues between Israeli Jews and Palestinians, focusing on religion as a source for recognizing the humanity and dignity of all. Rabbi Fruman conducted meetings with controversial Palestinian leaders, including the late PLO chairman and president of the Palestinian National Authority, Yasser Arafat, and the late Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin. These close ties are evidenced by a letter he sent to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in regard to his last conversation with Yasser Arafat: “I remember my last conversation with him, close to his death, when he answered me with emotion: “You are my brother!” and of course it is possible to explain his emotion, that he wanted to tell me, close to his death, that the two nations – the Israelis and the Palestinians – are brothers, that if the fate of one improves so does the fate of its double. The president customarily would thank me for these blessings and would order that these blessings be publicized in the Palestinian newspapers so that the Palestinian nation will know that there are Jewish rabbis who are blessing them with blessings of peace.”

Together with a Palestinian journalist close to Hamas, Rabbi Fruman drafted a ceasefire agreement between Israel and the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, known as the Fruman-Amayreh Agreement. The agreement was endorsed by Hamas but has yet to receive any official response from the Israeli government.

Rabbi Fruman opposed the forced eviction of Jewish settlers from their homes in the West Bank and advocated that the State of Israel withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza. At the same time, he advocated that settlements and Jewish residents under Palestinian sovereignty stay in their homes and continue with their lives. When asked what he would do when asked to leave his home, he answered: “I will die.” Rabbi Forman explained that his connection to his home was based on his love of the Land of Israel.

Rabbi Fruman believed that Jerusalem, the current capital of the State of Israel and the religious capital of all three monotheistic faiths, should be shared between all three religions and turned into a city of peace. He supported the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to attain statehood recognition at the United Nations in 2011, and said that the establishment of the Palestinian state would benefit the peace process and Israel.

All Israeli newspapers across the political spectrum shared their appreciation and admiration of this one person who had enough love to share with all. May he rest in peace.
Two days ago, a new government was sworn in. It will depend on one large new party, Yesh Atid, led by former journalist Yair Lapid, and on the restored modern Orthodox Zionist party, The Jewish Home, led by former businessman Naftali Bennett.

This new government won’t include the Haredi parties, which is a dramatic change for Israel. This change may follow Rabbi Fruman’s vision–think big, dream outside your safe zone, embrace Jewish life in our Jewish State because we believe it is ours, but at the same time, acknowledge the humanity of others who claim their rights to this very land as well.
I pray that this new government will lead us to see that we must live here together, serve, defend, and build our country as equals, and although we may think and look different, we will stand as one, united by our dream and vision, for a better Israel.

Shabbat shalom,
Leah Garber
Vice President, JCC Association Israel Office leah@jcca.org

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