The Israeli who guaranteed three million U.S. voters their rights
A pillar of Rehovot’s Anglo community and Israeli Democrats Abroad activist, German-born American immigrant David Froehlich devoted his life to the public good
Friends and colleagues of David Froehlich, a veteran member of Israel’s English-speaking community in Rehovot who died January 2 at the age of 85 following a long illness, recalled a dedicated communal leader and political activist whose dogged perseverance led to important United States legislation that strengthened the voting rights of Americans overseas, among his other achievements.
“He was the genuine item − a pioneer and a trailblazer,” said Sheldon Schorer, former chairman of Democrats Abroad (Israel), which Froehlich led in the mid-1980s. “He always worked for the public good and cared passionately about liberal-Democratic politics.”
In 1976, when Froehlich did not receive his absentee ballot in time to vote during the American presidential election, he was propelled to action.
“He felt disenfranchised,” recalled Schorer, who said the experience ultimately brought Froehlich to Washington, where he “knocked on doors and met with Congressmen” before attaining what Schorer called Froehlich’s “two crowning achievements”: Congressional legislation, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, that would penalize states that failed to send out absentee ballots on time, while also allowing voters to write in their votes on federally printed write-in absentee ballots in the event the locally printed absentee ballot did not reach the overseas voter in time.
“I had actually seen my original idea become a law, which ultimately benefited over three million U.S. overseas voters,” Froehlich wrote in his autobiography, “Encounters,” published in 2001 (Docostory Publishers, Ra’anana, Israel). He earned a Certificate of Merit for his efforts from the U.S. Department of Defense.
Froehlich was also actively involved in efforts to modify the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) that would enable Americans who lived and worked abroad to earn two pensions. His efforts were unsuccessful. “Thousands of elderly, poor U.S. pensioners residing abroad are denied their due justice,” Froehlich wrote in his book. “This has been one of my greatest disappointments.”
German-born Froehlich, the scion of a well-to-do family in the meat industry, was 11 years old when he and his family fled the Nazis in 1939. They settled in St. Louis, MO, where Froehlich was a teenage member of the St. Louis Municipal Opera, and later a Jewish youth leader.
In New York City, Froehlich became active in politics after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. He worked on the campaigns of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and New York City Mayor John V. Lindsay.
At the couple’s apartment in Rehovot, a central Israeli city some 20 kilometers south of Tel Aviv where Froehlich, his wife Carole and young daughter Rebecca first settled in 1973, Mrs. Froehlich showed this reporter albums of correspondences between her husband and political figures. Among them was a hand-written card to Froehlich from Mayor Lindsay soon after his election in 1965. In 1992, Froehlich was asked to chair the Israeli campaign headquarters for the Clinton-Gore ticket − the only campaign officially approved outside the U.S.
“He was a very generous man,” said Mrs. Froehlich, a retired speech therapist, who noted that her husband’s death came only six months short of their 60th wedding anniversary. “As my daughter said at the funeral, ‘He didn’t have a bad bone in his body.’”
In Rehovot, Froehlich founded the Rehovot English Speakers’ Organizations (RESO), an umbrella organization that unified the city’s English-speaking clubs and organizations, planned English cultural festivals and successfully lobbied the municipality for direct bus routes to Jerusalem and the placement of traffic lights at several city intersections. He established The English Theatre of Rehovot in 1974 and the Rehovot English Players (REP) in 1988, both of which have since disbanded.
“Those of us who knew him as a good friend, an observant Jew and a man dedicated to his community will miss Dave,” said Cleveland native Rosalie Brosilow, who in 1996 succeeded Froehlich at the helm of the Rehovot Reporter, a monthly publication that Froehlich founded in 1985. That paper now appears online three times a year.
Froehlich was a veteran of the Korean War. A teacher for more than four decades, he held degrees from the University of Missouri and a graduate degree in education from Yeshiva University.
His 296-page autobiography is full of personal anecdotes and details of his encounters with American political leaders, including senators Walter Mondale, Gary Hart and a seething John Glenn following a heated meeting with then-Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin shortly after Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981.
“How dare that man chew me out,” Froehlich quoted Glenn as telling him of Begin. “I’m an elected officer of the United States, not some orderly boy ...”
Schorer said Froehlich helped put Israel on the map, politically. “He helped promote Israel from being one of the countries in the world to being one of the most important countries in the world.”
David Froehlich is survived by his wife, the former Carole Tunick, daughter Rebecca Yakobe of Teaneck, NJ, two grandchildren and two sisters, Leah Abramovitch and Ruth Stern of Jerusalem.