Rabbi David J. Forman, educator, human-rights activist, author and long-time columnist for The Jerusalem Post, died on Monday from sudden complications of a long-standing illness, at the Dallas Baylor Medical center. He was to celebrate his 66th birthday next week.
Born in Boston, Forman earned his bachelor’s degree at Boston University majoring in drama, and was ordained in 1972 at the Cincinnati campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He made aliya the same year.
Forman founded Rabbis for Human Rights in 1988, and was its chairman between 1988 and 1992 and between 2002 and 2003. He held a number of key leadership positions during his rabbinic career, including director of the Israel office of the Union for Reform Judaism (1976-2003), where he led the struggle for religious pluralism in Israel.
Before that, Forman was chairman of Interns for Peace (1984-1986), founding chairman of both the Jerusalem Council for Soviet Jewry (1973) and the Cincinnati Council for Soviet Jewry (1970), vice chairman of Seminarians for Peace, and a member of Clergy and Laity against the War in Vietnam (1968-1972). In 1964, he joined the Freedom Riders civil rights activists in challenging the US South’s Jim Crow laws and the noncompliance with a US Supreme Court decision that prohibited segregation in all public interstate transportation facilities.
“Rabbi Forman was simply one of those people who stood up for what he believed in, and used the incredible respect and trust that he had from Jews in Israel and in North America, where he was known due to his long-term work bringing youth to Israel and raising generations of rabbis and leaders, to also take a stance on issues that were sometime controversial,” Rabbi Arik Asherman, executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights, told the Post on Tuesday. “He acted first and foremost out of a deep and passionate Jewish belief in human rights, stemming from the idea that we were all created in God’s image.”
Asherman, who met Forman in 1981 when he worked for him as a counselor at Interns for Peace, called him “a moral compass for generations of North American Jews and many Israelis” on human rights, who “believed in the centrality of Israel to Jewish life, which was one of the reasons he was so involved in bringing youth to Israel.
“That’s why he was so deeply and passionately concerned when Israel didn’t live up to the ideals it could and ought to have,” Asherman continued.
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Forman could never be pegged to one set of ideas or opinions, Asherman said. “There were even occasions when he criticized Rabbis for Human Rights in his column; he was always true to his Torah and wherever it would lead him.”
Forman keynoted the Nobel Institute conference on The Role of Religion in Middle East Peacemaking, and lectured on human rights in the Jewish tradition around the world. In 1994, he was a member of the Israeli delegation to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for laureates Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin.
Forman wrote numerous books, including Over My Dead Body – Some Grave Questions for God
(2005), Fifty Ways to be Jewish
(2002), Jewish Schizophrenia in the Land of Israel
(2000) and Israel on Broadway, America: Off-Broadway – Jews in the New Millennium
(1998). His articles and columns on social, political and religious issues in Israel were featured in the Post
, The Jerusalem Report
and other local and international publications.
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Reform Movement in Israel, described Forman as a true lover of Zion who created generations of Jews committed to the Land of Israel and the People of Israel.
“His love of Zion was expressed in his ongoing efforts to make Israel
an exemplary society,” Kariv told the Post
Monday. “He didn’t let his love of Israel get in the way of his
criticism of it, nor did he let his criticism of the state ever cast a
shadow over his love of it.”
Terry Hendin, who knew Forman since 1983 and worked closely with him
from 1991 until Forman retired as director of the Israel office of the
International Education Department of the Union for Reform Judaism,
described him as “a talented and gifted educator and a passionate
“He was a significant mentor to colleagues and students throughout his
professional career and deeply appreciated as a role model who
influenced several generations of Reform Jewish educators, leaders and
social activists,” Hendin said. “His devotion to his family, friends,
community, society and country was awesome.
“Forman was generous of heart and spirit,” Hendin continued. “The
Reform Movement, Israel and the world have lost a great and beloved
leader. Baruch dayan emet
[Blessed be the true
Forman was husband to Judy, and father to Tamar, Liat, Shira and Orly. He will be laid to rest in Israel on Thursday.
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