A Modern Day Hero of the Exodus Story: Rabbi Amnon Haramati

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In these weeks, when we are transitioning 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, where we lived at a time when we are devoid of direct prophecy from G-d. Part of the megillah is read in a mournful voice when we are reminded of having been kicked out of Israel and having had left behind our national sovereignty. In the Talmud, it is written that the rabbis had once said, “ 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 intrigue, (not very unlike today’s Washington, DC) 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 ten plagues, the 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 offering many people the hope national liberation, and some sort of resolution for a people’s enormous suffering. Martin Luther King often called upon it in his soaring rhetoric.

And it is almost impossible to comprehend the fact of 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 Shoah, 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 modern day Oasis of high-tech, agriculture, energy renewal, 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 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 the Jewish people and the state of Israel. He would sometimes tell the story of the 1948 War when he was a young man living in Jerusalem and served in the newly formed IDF.

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

They were each given one gun and had 4 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, and but the Jordanians did not attack.

The following night, they attacked.

Rabbi Haramati fired a single bullet. He did not realize at the time that the gun he was issued was a primitive rifle which made a huge sound that scared off the advancing army, and the Jordanians fled in retreat.

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

Rabbi Haramati was given up for dead, but a young nurse noticed one of the corpses moving.

That corpse was Rabbi Haramati.

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 he possessed to his dying moment, 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 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 an example of the embodiment 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 are privileged to live in a time where we have been able to return to a modern, vibrant state of Israel in our ancient Jewish homeland.

Originally published at Kol Habirah

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About the Author

Sarah Stern
Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

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