I had the great privilege of meeting Rabbi Froman in Tekoa as he spoke to the interfaith delegation from Philadelphia that I put together in 2008 in partnership with Leah Green and her Compassionate Listening Project. It had been a most difficult day leaving Hebron early after meeting with David Wilder the day before and then spending the night in the homes of Palestinians. We went on to meet the leadership of the Al Arroub Refugee Camp and then found ourselves unwittingly in the middle of an incident with young Palestinians running literally past us in a narrow alleyway as we walked and being chased by Israeli soldiers who had fired at the rock throwing youth. We quickly found an alternative route to the home of one of the leaders ate lunch and tried to calm down but were all pretty well shaken. We boarded a bus and before we knew it were getting off in the settlement of Tekoa to meet Rabbi Froman. He said we had to go to his Shul, the cliff overlooking the Valley of Blessings, and he warmed us with tales of Amos and the story of the peace he was engaged in building across the West Bank and far beyond. Before we knew it we were all singing Shalom-Salaam-Peace and listening as it reverberated throughout the rocky hills and dales below. We became part of Rabbi Froman’s peace posse forever changed by our brief but stunning audience with the legendary Rabbi. We forgot all about the incident at Al Arroub and left Tekoa floating above the hills along with Rav Froman.
There is little doubt that this interaction would be more than enough to remain alive in the hearts and minds of all of us who joined him on the hill some five years ago. But the Rabbi spoke about his need to meet Barack Obama and to convince him that religion could be utilized as an avenue to peace. I heard him as did others and after some conversation a number of us was convinced that it was our responsibility to try to make the connection. We partnered with the Dialogue Institute in Philadelphia because it was our concept to bring the Rabbi and a Muslim and Christian religious leader together to Washington and then have them speak at Temple University on the Role of Faith in Middle East Peace. We were a mix of dreamers, believers and realists who had all been inspired by Rav Froman. I had some experience in Washington on the political side, but far too little recent involvement. A truly marvelous Episcopal Minister, Reverend Cliff Cutler, who had been a member of our delegation, was both a deep believer and a realist. He reached out to a friend and former Republican Congressman who had a contact/ friendship with former Senator George Mitchell, who happened to have been appointed U.S. Envoy to the Middle East by Barack Obama. Before we knew it Mitchell’s Office was on the phone and we were setting up the meeting for Rabbi Froman and his friend and peace partner Sheikh Ghassan Manasra. It was first scheduled to be at Mitchell’s office in New York and then changed to the State Department in Washington. We had to plan for the Rabbis stay during Shabbat and found that he had students both in Highland Park, NJ and the suburbs of DC. The dates were chosen by Mitchell’s office and ultimately made our program at Temple difficult because of a conflict with an annual Interfaith Peace Walk. But that was secondary to the Mitchell meeting and a meeting scheduled on Capitol Hill in the office of Congressman Rush Holt. Before I knew it with help from Rav Froman’s Assistant Dani Eisenstock, the Rabbi was on a plane and me and my Brother Rafiyq were picking up Rabbi Froman at Newark Airport. Everyone wanted to be part of the private meeting with George Mitchell and instantaneously a dear friend of the Sheikh from the Dialogue Institute and one from the Rabbi; Rabbi Marc Gopin were included in the growing entourage that was set to invade the State Department on a day which coincided with AIPAC’s annual convention in Washington. It was important to the Senator to keep the meeting with the settler Rabbi and peacemaking Sheikh below the radar screens in DC and thus everyone was sworn to secrecy both before and after the meeting. It was my honor to arrange all of this and to Sheppard the Rabbi around during his visit to America. I let Cliff have the one remaining seat in the room since there would have been no meeting at all without him. My goal was to get Rabbi Froman to DC to have that meeting with a high government official. I sat in the office of George Mitchell and watched as the Senator walked by to enter the meeting room. It was a very special meeting that meant a great deal to all of those present. I got to spend many hours and days in the company of a Holy Man who became my friend. We talked and mostly for a change I listened.
It is almost four years later and in December I got an email from Dani that the Rabbi as sick as he was had met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas and had their blessing to lead a delegation of Muslim, Christian and Jewish religious leaders from the Holy Land to Washington to pray for peace together at the upcoming White House Prayer Breakfast and meet the President. I was back in the saddle and before I knew it had contacted Congressman Holt’s Office and they were working to help make it possible along with others. Unfortunately Rabbi Froman’s condition worsened and he has passed on to walk even closer with G-d. I have read many beautiful remembrances of the great Rav, (including here in the Times), and those who were close all underline the fact that we must carry on his work and realize his dream. It is not easy to believe when facts aren’t with you and so very many Israelis and Palestinians, American, Europeans and others have lost faith in peace. But it is our calling as the extended family of Rabbi Froman to hold onto his faith with both hands, to remember his extraordinary will and to marry it to our own. Together we can and will work to bring peace to a Land that is Holy to three great religions. His calling is ours now!
Larry Snider is President of the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace an NGO based in Philadelphia and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . The words represent the beliefs of the author and should not be construed as the policy of the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace.