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Rabbi Froman and Hamas -- a Marriage Made in Heaven

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It's been more than two months since the death of Rabbi Menachem Froman, the Israeli "settler rabbi for peace." I was lucky enough to have videoed his activities several times in the last few years, interviewing him, and accompanying him on sympathy visits to Palestinian villages whose mosques had been vandalized. Many of the videos can be viewed here.

It wasn't enough that Froman was longtime friends with Yasser Arafat. His most notorious outreach activities to Palestinians were with several leaders of Israel's most hated enemy, Hamas. Froman cultivated a relationship with -- among others -- Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual founder of Hamas. Froman visited Yassin in Israeli prison, and then even appeared on a stage in Gaza with him in 1997, after Yassin had finally been released.

I have been searching for video footage (so far, without luck) from that day, when Rabbi Froman and Sheikh Yassin spoke on the Hamas stage together. Larry Derfner interviewed Froman several years after that. Froman related to him how Yassin had proclaimed from the stage that he agreed to a cease fire, and to two states with a border at the Green Line. Froman said he relayed this message to the Israeli government, who made no response. Two weeks later Yassin apparently changed his tune, saying Israel has no right to exist, and encouraging terror.

By now, it's all of course a lot of scarce Middle East water under the bridge (Yassin was killed by an Israeli missile in 2004).

Rabbi Froman told me another Hamas story last fall: how he literally owed his life to Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, the Muslim preacher and activist after whom Hamas named its military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades (and whose rockets are also named after him).

I won't give away the story. Suffice it to say that, for me, Froman's life path was always about turning his own wounds (and Israel's wounds) into ways of healing and reconciliation. About somehow bringing together opposites. And getting material for unforgettable tales in the process.

One of Froman's mentors was the early 19th century Chasid, Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, who coined the Hebrew term "ezut d'kidusha" (usually translated as "holy chutzpah"), a tool to turn ordinary ways of seeing and being in the world on their head. As the 21st century mystic, Leonard Cohen, sang in his song Anthem, "There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in."

Here in Israel, a few of Froman's proteges, settlers and Palestinians, are together struggling to find ways to continue Froman's work of "holy chutzpah." While left wing people often regard the West Bank settlements as the central obstacle to peace, Froman often said that on the other hand they can be "the fingers of the hand that is extended to peace."

Lately, John Kerry has been voicing the increasingly prevalent opinion that time is rapidly running out for a two-state solution to the Israel/Palestine wound. We can only hope that a tidal wave of holy chutzpah might save the day: crashing through the Israeli Knesset, of course also flowing over Bibi Netanyahu's desk, and through Hamas' offices in Gaza as well.