Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Rabbi Menahem Froman - Baruch Dayan Ha'emet

I think the first Rabbi that I met in Israel when I came here for the first time on a Bnei Akiva program almost 25 years ago was Rabbi Fruman, Rabbi of Tekoa.

I remember my first morning in Israel, going to the small shul in Tekoa, which was so different from either of the active shuls in New Zealand. That first morning, Rabbi Fruman made a point of coming to our minyan, even though he had already davened at the regular minyan of the Yeshuv, and made a point of smiling at everyone and speaking to as many people as possible, making use of his broken English to make us feel as welcome as possible.

Rabbi Fruman made a point of making everyone feel welcome. I remember once in  Shul someone was saying Kaddish, but was not a regular shul goer and was having trouble keeping up with the pace of the other mourners. Rabbi Froman left his seat at the front of the shul to daven next to the mourner, saying Kaddish slowly and clearly together with the newcomer.

Rabbi Fruman was never worried about what other people would say. I remember him standing in front of the open Aron Kodesh during Anim Zmirot, dancing to the voice of the young child singing as is it was the voice of the Malachei Hasharet themselves.

Even then, Tekoa was an unique Yishuv and Rabbi Froman was a unique figure. Tekoa was unusual as it was (and still is) one of the very few yishuvim that had of both religious and less-religious residents. Idealistically the founders of Tekoa believed that is we are to succeed as a country, different segments of society need to learn to live together.

Rabbi Froman took that idea one step further, he believed that as residents of the Middle East, we need to learn to live together and interact with our Arab neighbours. He was one of the first Israelis to meet with Arafat and the PLO (before it was legal), and worked to bring a common understanding between Jews and Arabs, particularly at a religious level.

He believed that a common belief in G-d should unite us, not be a cause of division. And he believed that the religious leaders in Judea and Samaria who lived in close proximity to each other were the ideal people to build bridges between Jews and Arabs.

I have written before that the way forward towards peace is not through government negotiations or arguments over where a future border should be drawn, rather we need to understand and interact with each other on a personal level. Once Jews and Arabs can relate to each other as business partners, colleagues, or neighbours, the question over which government pays for the local school or collects the garbage becomes less important.

Rabbi Fruman personified this belief. He had a close personal relationship with Muslim religious leaders in the towns around Tekoa, he personally knew many of the leaders of Fatah, and after vandalism against Mosques last year made a point of visiting the sites of the damage and providing new Korans to replace the books that were damaged.

According to the Jerusalem Post:
[Rabbi] Froman proposed a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict whereby the Israeli settlements in the West Bank would remain intact within a sovereign Palestinian state. The maverick rabbi also supported Abbas’s push for recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN in 2011.
Not everyone agreed with the approach of Rabbi Fruman, and we still have a long way to go until Jews and Arabs have true understanding of one-another, but hopefully as he moves to the World of Truth, Rabbi Froman will continue to dance to the music of the Malache Hasharet as if it was the song of a young child singing Anim Zmirot.

May his soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life

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