The settler and the activist: Isaiahnic outlook

Rabbi Froman rendered the us-and-them - the “peaceful” activists vs. “violent” settlers divide –irrelevant.

Rabbi Menahem Froman 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Rabbi Menahem Froman 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
One thing, above all, that I appreciate about the life and work of Rabbi Menachem Froman is the fact that he was complicated. Rabbi Froman defied stereotypes: founding member of Gush Emunim, close ties to leadership in the PLO and Hamas, deeply religious Jew, worked tirelessly for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, rabbi of Tekoa settlement in the West Bank. Many would assume that some elements of this equation simply cannot fit together. But they did, in him.
Rabbi Froman claimed that, given a two-state solution, he would choose to remain in Tekoa under a Palestinian government. He had a profound and abiding connection to this land, deeply rooted in the prophetic vision of the Bible, while simultaneously demonstrating a sincere yearning for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. His answer to the question of “whose land is this?” was clear, consistent and challenging: the land belongs to God. With this answer, Rabbi  Froman rendered considerations of belonging and entitlement not along lines of national identity, but in terms of a rootedness in a consciousness that respects all people, strives for peace, and sees divinity in everyone.
All too often in this country’s human rights arena, we encounter people who settle for easy answers. The healthy rejection of a black-and-white, us-and-them divide between Israelis and Palestinians can be all too easily replaced by an equally cancerous us-and-them divide between Left and Right, religious and secular, “peaceful” activists and “violent” settlers.
In defying easy answers, Rabbi Froman made a new way of seeing the path towards peace in this land seem just a little more possible, the path of seeing beyond surface categories and narrow political stances to a more complex, human, overlapping and interrelated peace. He strove for a peace that was far more than mere security, a peace that does not require walls and checkpoints, a peace that could accommodate the terrifying and exalted possibility of actually living together, as neighbors.
Some of his initiatives, ideas and relationships were deeply controversial: Jerusalem as an international city of peace with no national sovereign; his brokered cease-fire with Hamas in Gaza; close working partnerships with Yasser Arafat and Sheikh Yassin. Like any visionary, his thoughts and actions could be deeply troubling, even to those of his own kind.
Whatever your feelings about this or that element of Rabbi Froman’s work, his life stands as a living demonstration that if we are truly going to find peace in this land, it’s going to take all of us—Right, Left, Palestinian, Israeli, religious, secular…and all of the gradations in between. Rabbi Froman’s elevated capacity to see, think and live beyond easy, black-and-white categories serves as an example to us in our own work.
As Rabbis for Human Rights, this defiance of stereotypes is central to our goals. Our call is to bring a Jewish voice, rooted in our religious tradition, to the struggle to live together as two people in this land –in whatever political constellation the people will choose as long as it respects principals of equality and human rights.
As a man living and breathing that tradition, and that struggle, we can look to him to see that underneath his complexity as a figure, Rabbi Froman lived the underlying truth that we are far more than two peoples, that to find real peace we must open to the more complex, and true, vision that we are many; he was a living example who showed that what truly unites us is not our political outlooks, our national identities, where we live or what we think, but our underlying humanity. In defying easy categories, Rabbi Froman lived the terrifying truth that it is only in living and loving our multiplicities that we can come to see that which we all share, that it is through our many, often seemingly incompatible, facets that we can come to know, live as, serve and become one.
He will be missed.
The writer is the Assistant Director for the Occupied Territories Department of Rabbis for Human Rights. He is a studying for the rabbinate in Jerusalem.