Thousands of people paid their last respects yesterday to Rabbi Menachem Porush, one of the leaders of the Agudat Yisrael party, who died on Sunday at the age of 94.
Large mourning notices posted by various ultra-Orthodox organizations on the walls between Jerusalem's Davidka square and Shabbat Square in the Mea Shearim neighborhood extolled the virtues the long-serving Knesset member.
Porush, portrayed in the notices as a warrior "in the battles for our sacred values," had led the ultra-Orthodox campaigns against a mixed-gender swimming pool, archaeological digs, the High Court of Justice, and even against opening the Karta parking lot on weekends last year.
Porush's death marks the end of an era, which began in the pre-state Jewish community, including all the ultra-Orthodox struggles against the Zionists and all the attempts to cooperate. In Porush's case, this cooperation earned him calls of "extortionist" from the secular side and "traitor" from the ultra-Orthodox zealot side.
His son, Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush, eulogized his father in Yiddish yesterday. He related how his father had wept when the Rabbi of Brisk [Yitzhak Zeev Halevi Soloveitchik, one of the greatest opponents to Zionism] died in 1959. Porush, he said, had learned from him fighting methods, how to "run the campaign to achieve its goal."
Porush, a seventh-generation Jerusalemite and descendent of Lithuanian immigrants, sat in the Knesset for 35 years until 1994 and remained politically active until his death.
Ministers and public figures came to pay their respects, including Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who defeated Porush's son in the 2008 mayoral election. President Shimon Peres attended the cleansing ritual preparing the body for burial yesterday morning.
Addressing the deceased, he said: "I haven't seen a harder working man than you. You did not waste a moment of your life. You devoted every minute to the public, the state and the Jewish people."
"He was a great Jew. He was like one of the stones of the Western Wall in the holy city of Jerusalem," Peres said.
"Menachem my friend, you were filled with vision and hope for the future of the Jewish nation. You loved the nation and worked to unify it. You stood as a bridge between the parts," Peres said.
The son of a deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Porush entered politics through journalism, working as a writer and editor for religious newspapers for two decades until his election to the Knesset in 1959.
He represented the ultra-Orthodox community's affairs in Jerusalem, but unlike his father, who was very poor, combined business with politics to accumulate a huge fortune. His affairs included ownership of the Bikur Holim hospital (which ended badly) and of Jerusalem's Hamerkaz hotel. "God made me lucky," he once said, adding that unlike his father "I won't depend on anyone."
In the hotel, which has since been sold, Porush used to convene opposing parties in Jerusalem's kulturkampfs. This is where he also held the ultra-Orthodox battles, since most of his opponents were not secular but came from his own faction.
In 1984, when Porush defied the Gerrer Rebbe and Council of Torah Sages, who demanded he give up his Knesset seat, dozens of Gerrer Hasidim stormed into the hotel, beat him up and destroyed the place. Shortly afterward he told Haaretz that the event took him back to the 1929 riots.
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