Rabbi Menachem Froman

Rabbi Menachem Froman died yesterday aged 68. I met Rabbi Froman in the settlement of Tekoa in the West Bank in 2004. I had taken a group of young adults from the Council of Christian of Jews on a tour of peace projects in the Holy Land, and this was the part of the tour that in all honesty I was least comfortable with myself. It was the first time I had ever visited a settlement, though not my first time in the West Bank.
We had to get up pretty early as our travel insurance insisted we travel to Tekoa by armoured vehicle. We had hired a bus to bring the group back but had to get up in time for the public bullet proof bus first thing in the morning. We arrived so early that Rabbi Froman was still davening Shacharit (saying his morning prayers). He took considerably longer than any one else in the congregation, keeping our group waiting an hour past our appointment time.
But our remarkable meeting was worth the wait. Here was a man utterly devoted to his faith, and to living in the promised land (indeed he was a leader of the settler movement Gush Emunim). Yet he saw no conflict in this with trying to live in peace with his neighbours. He spoke wistfully of his meetings with the spiritual leaders of Hamas (one of whom had been assassinated the week before our meeting). Perhaps most surprising of all, he did not rule out the possibility of settlements continuing under Palestinian authority.
The next time I came across the Rabbi was a picture in an Israeli paper (below) - leading a Jewish Muslim prayer meeting for rain- something sorely needed by all on the land, and an area where Rabbi Froman saw there could be religious co-operation:

Rabbi Froman advocated for dialogue, even with those who would not appear to be natural allies, and in doing so isolated himself from some who might have been his natural allies. I probably didn't agree with all he taught or believed, but he was, for me, a beautiful example of how complex humanity and humans can be, and how there is always the possibility for a person to surprise you, especially when you have prejudged them and put them in a box before meeting them, as I had with Rabbi Froman. He saw ways to make peace that others would have been uncomfortable with, or would have overlooked, but tributes on the web today from Jews, Christians and Muslims suggest he will be sorely missed by many, as will his vision.

The day we met Rabbi Froman was Yom HaShoah - Holocaust Memorial Day, which is marked in Israel with a long siren, indicating all should stop, followed by a nationwide silence - a bit like Remembrance Sunday. On our way back from Tekoa, in our bullet proof bus, the siren sounded. And so in the middle of a West Bank road, we clambered off said bus, as the traffic around us had stopped and drivers and passengers had all disembarked to stand next to their vehicles in quiet respect. Remembering the dead - both known and  unknown. It was an incredibly poignant silence. I felt it to my bones. But the strange irony of standing next to our bullet proof bus in a land so plagued by violence and division, to remember those millions of victims, left me with chills that were hard to shift for several days.

May Rabbi Menachem Froman's memory inspire others to work for peace and to pursue it, finding ways to live together - even when it requires thinking outside the box.


Popular Posts