David Clayman, one of Israel's most respected and long-serving advocates, died Thursday at the age of 69.
As director of the Israel office of the American Jewish Congress in Jerusalem for close to 30 years, Clayman "worked tirelessly for Middle East peace, for interfaith understanding and toward improving communication between the secular and religious communities," said American ambassador Daniel Kurtzer in a tribute Thursday.
"He helped build the strong bridge of understanding that exists between Americans and Israelis. He was so kind and wise and warm. [My wife Shelia and I] will miss him very much," he added.
Dore Gold, a former ambassador to the United States and president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, where Clayman was a fellow, said that Clayman acted as a "bridge between American Jewry and the Israeli political elite."
He commented that Clayman, who was a Conservative rabbi, conducted his role not only via his formal activities for the American Jewish Congress, but also around the Friday night dinner table at his home in Jerusalem, where he and his wife Roslyn would frequently host diplomats, journalists and Diaspora leaders. "There would be someone from the Philadelphia Enquirer, someone from the Foreign Ministry and a Jewish leader from Washington," said Gold. "He was always very concerned with Israel's condition and Israel's struggle."
One of his most outstanding achievements was the central role he played in establishing and organizing the annual Jerusalem Conference of Mayors, together with the mayor of the city - Teddy Kollek and later Ehud Olmert - which attracted mayors from all over the United States and, in later years, all over the world. The conference has provided a framework for building strong ties between Israeli officials and their counterparts abroad, many of whom have subsequently risen to more senior office.
"I relied on many occasions on David's deep understanding of the different aspects of American Jewish life," Minister of Industry and Trade Ehud Olmert told Anglo File on Thursday. "I always enjoyed his very sincere and frank manner. He was a tolerant and enlightened person, with exceptional sensitivities to the needs of the non-Jewish communities in Jerusalem and he was always a major power in the life of the city. Jerusalem will miss David Clayman and I will miss him as a friend."
As part of his work for the AJCongress, Clayman wrote a regular newsletter called "Inside Israel," in which he illuminated current issues facing the Israeli government and Israeli society for an influential American Jewish audience.
In the last edition he penned last month, he wrote: "The Passover holiday celebrated the release from near unbearable anxiety and tension [in Israel]. Newspapers reported that 95 percent of Israelis attended a Passover Seder. By no means does this imply that the religious-secular controversy has evaporated. Rather, it perhaps indicates that this year almost all Israelis felt they had to give some kind of expression to those events which saved Israel from the threats of weapons of mass destruction."
Clayman, a well-known figure in the Anglo community in Jerusalem, was considered the doyenne of the American Jewish organizations representatives in Israel. Many governmental leaders of Israel sought his counsel, said fellow Conservative Rabbi James Lebeau on Thursday.
"The moral standards of the State of Israel were always of concern to him as he analyzed issues," he added.
In a voluntary capacity, Clayman led the non-profit organization Midreshet Yerushalayim, which reaches out to provide Jewish education and experiences to immigrants from the Former Soviet Union, under the auspices of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, where Clayman was closely linked and served as a board member for many years.
Clayman also maintained strong links with politicians across the spectrum and was regarded as a political moderate with regards to Israeli peace policy.
In an interview with Anglo File in January 2001, he explained the reluctance of American Jewry to support a peace deal that would include handing over the Temple Mount: "Israel is a make-believe land for American Jews. It's a symbol. They don't live here, they don't drive on the roads, or send their sons to the army. But part of this is ]Israel's[ fault because Israel talked them into these symbolic views years ago. I don't make light of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. But it's nice to live in New York, Philadelphia, and L.A. and to know that the Temple Mount is in our hands. But what is really to see up there? Mosques. And for what price?"
Clayman was a founding board member of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, a long-time member of the Israel Interfaith Association and was instumental in establishing several feminist organizations, as well as supporting and encouraging feminist leaders in Israel.
Born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, Clayman graduated from Harvard College and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. After 10 years of service as a US Navy Chaplain and working as a pulpit rabbi in Philadelphia, he moved to Israel with his family in 1970. For 13 years, he served in various senior administrative capacities at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; his last position there was as associate dean of the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work.
Clayman, who passed away after a short illness, was very active until the last few weeks. He leaves behind his wife of 47 years, Roslyn, and three children, Tamar, Daniel and Jonathan, and five grandchildren. He was buried Thursday at Eretz Hachaim cemetery in Beit Shemesh.
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