In Memoriam: Rabbi Amnon Haramati, Hero of the Modern-Day Exodus Story

Written by Sarah N. Stern on . Posted in Features

In these weeks when we transition from Purim to Passover, we transition from a narrative that takes place during the time when we were a people which had been cast out of our homeland, to that of our own national liberation movement. The story of Purim takes place in ancient Persia, during a period when we lacked direct prophecy from G-d. Part of the megillah is read in a mournful voice during verses meant to remind us of our expulsion from Israel and the loss of our national sovereignty. In the Talmud, it is written that “of all the religious texts, the ones of greatest importance are the Five Books of Moses and the Book of Esther.”

 

This Talmudic thought is even more interesting considering that G-d’s name can be found nowhere within the Book of Esther. That is why, with the help of the great scholar Yoram Hazony, and his profound book “The Dawn,” I see the book of Esther as a political treatise about living in the diaspora, trying our best, without a guidebook, without Divine intervention, to ascertain, in an uncertain world with various plots, players, and intrigues (not very unlike today’s Washington, D.C.), the best direction to take to help advocate for our people in very trying, uncertain times.

In contrast, Passover is our story of national liberation; and within our liberation story, the Hagaddah, we see G-d’s hand throughout. It is difficult to comprehend us going from Egypt to Israel without the miracles of the 10 plagues, the falling of mana from Heaven, or the splitting of the Red Sea.

What happened to our people within the last century is a modern day story of our national liberation. The Exodus story has been repeated throughout history, as it offers many people the hope of national liberation, a sort of telos for people’s suffering. Martin Luther King Jr. often called upon it in his soaring rhetoric.

And it is almost impossible to contemplate Israel’s rebirth after 2,000 years of exile without acknowledging G-d’s hand. We were the remnants of a remnant, many of our people coming from the hellish, nightmarish suffering of the Shoahto merge into a tiny, impoverished nation devoid of natural resources and surrounded by armies prepared to drive them into the sea.

And the fact that, under these conditions, Israel has managed not only to survive but to thrive as an oasis of high technology, agriculture, renewable energy, medicine, and liberal democratic values within the rapidly imploding and increasingly tribal and radicalized Middle East is nothing short of a miracle.

As I write these words, my hands are trembling, because I have just received the devastating news that our community has lost a great man. Rabbi Amnon Haramati passed away on Thursday morning, on the way home from the morning minyan. Rabbi Haramati, and his life story, are emblematic of the power of the Exodus story, and of the Jewish values of remembrance, resilience, responsibility, and faith that are implicit in the Haggadah that we will be reading on Monday evening.

As low-profile as he was, Rabbi Haramati was a tremendous hero for both the Jewish people and the state of Israel. He would sometimes tell the story of when, as a young man living in Jerusalem, he served in the newly formed IDF in the 1948 War of Independence.

Alongside just one other soldier, Rabbi Haramati was assigned to defend Israel from the invading Jordanian army in what we now know as “Independence Park,” (which sits between King George Street and Agron Street). Together, the two soldiers were told that the Jordanian Army was advancing, and would probably attack that night.

They were each given one gun and had four bullets between them.

When Rabbi Haramati told his commanding officer that that was not enough, his reply was “That is all we have.”

Rabbi Haramati stayed up all night, shivering with fear and praying, but the Jordanians did not attack until the following night.

Rabbi Haramati fired a single bullet. He did not realize at the time that the gun he was issued was a davidka, a primitive rifle which made so huge of a sound that it scared off the advancing army, causing the Jordanians to flee in retreat.

But things were not always so simple. In another battle of the war, in Eastern Jerusalem, Haramati was hit with a bullet to his skull.

Rabbi Haramati was given up for dead, until a young nurse noticed one of the corpses moving.He went through years of rehabilitation, during which he was told to abandon his dreams of becoming a rabbi and consider becoming a bus driver.

Rabbi Haramati would not give up. He not only defied his naysayers by becaming a rabbi and a teacher, but to his dying moment he possessed a photographic memory and could readily call the exact words and place of a passage in the Torah, Talmud, or any of our cannon of Jewish books.

However, all was not easy. The bullet to his skull could not be dislodged, and we would often notice him doubling over in fits of pain, which he had to
endure his entire adult life.

Rabbi Haramati believed in miracles, and in the direct intervention of G-d in our daily lives. I, who always have had a personal inner struggle with faith, have always looked to his life as the manifestation of the Jewish values of remembrance, resilience, responsibility, and faith.

All of those who have had the privilege of knowing Rabbi Haramati should pass these stories down to their children. And it is on the back of giants such as Rabbi Amnon Haramati that we have today a modern, vibrant state of Israel in our ancient Jewish homeland.

Sarah N. Stern is the founder and president of Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), “an unabashedly pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy shop in our nation’s capitol.”