HUC-JIR Mourns Rabbi David J. Forman, z"l, : educator, activist, author, and founder of : Rabbis for Human Rights - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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HUC-JIR Mourns Rabbi David J. Forman, z"l, : educator, activist, author, and founder of : Rabbis for Human Rights

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

The College-Institute’s dear friend, Rabbi David J. Forman, z”l, the founder of Rabbis for Human Rights who fought for religious pluralism in Israel, died on Monday, May 3, 2010, in Dallas, while awaiting a liver transplant.  He was ten days shy of his 66th birthday.   The funeral took place on Thursday, May 6 at 10 a.m. at Kibbutz Maale Hachamisha in the Jerusalem hills.

Rabbi David Ellenson, HUC-JIR President, stated, “We have lost a visionary leader of the Jewish people, whose Zionist commitment to the State of Israel and devotion to Judaism’s core ethical values of human rights and social justice were a source of guidance, wisdom, and inspiration.  Israel has lost a voice of conscience, the Reform Movement has lost a prophetic leader, and our Israel programs have lost a beloved teacher and mentor. He will be missed by many who were blessed to have him as a colleague, a teacher, a rabbi, and a friend.”

Dr. Michael Marmur, HUC-JIR Vice President for Academic Affairs, noted, “The untimely death of Rabbi David Forman robs his wonderful family of a beloved husband, father, and grandfather, and it deprives his many friends of a man of boundless warmth, wisdom, and love. We at the College-Institute lose a man who served here in a variety of capacities, and who provided counsel and support to many in our community. The Reform Movement loses an inspiring leader, who touched the lives of countless individuals. The State of Israel has been deprived too early of a man who strove to hold it to its highest values and its greatest potential, and who embodied those values in his own life.”

Rabbi Naamah Kelman, Dean of HUC-JIR/Jerusalem, stated, “Our Jerusalem campus mourns the loss of an extraordinary rabbi and Reform Jewish educator.  A lover of Israel and Zionist, he added the prophetic Jewish voice to the ongoing struggle for human rights in Israel, and was an outspoken champion of justice, keeping the delicate balance between Jewish and Zionist needs and values and the pressures of universal claims. He held us accountable to do right, seek justice, and pursue peace. He steadfastly pushed us to a better, more ethical, more just, State of Israel.”

Rabbi Forman was ordained in 1972 at HUC-JIR, where he received a doctorate in 1997.  He immigrated to Israel in 1972, and served as the director of the Israel office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the URJ), where he led the effort for religious pluralism in Israel. Between 1977 and 1991 he was a deputy commanding officer in the Israeli army, receiving a citation for meritorious service in 1990.  He served as the chairman of Interns for Peace from 1984 to 1986, the founding chairman of both the Jerusalem Council for Soviet Jewry in 1973 and the Cincinnati Council for Soviet Jewry in 1970, vice chairman of Seminarians for Peace, and a member of Clergy and Laity against the War in Vietnam (1968-1972). In 1964, he joined the Freedom Riders civil rights activists in challenging the U.S. South’s Jim Crow laws and the noncompliance with a U.S. Supreme Court decision that prohibited segregation in all public interstate transportation facilities.

Rabbi Forman founded Rabbis for Human Rights in 1988 and served as its chairman from to 1992, and again in 2002-03. The organization, which calls itself "the rabbinic voice of conscience in Israel, giving voice to the Jewish tradition of human rights," has a membership of rabbis and rabbinical students from all streams of Judaism. Among its concerns is the plight of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. Rabbi Forman keynoted the Nobel Institute conference on "The Role of Religion in Middle East Peacemaking." In 1994, he was a member of the Israeli delegation to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for laureates Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin. 

Forman wrote numerous books, including Over My Dead Body – Some Grave Questions for God (2005), Fifty Waysto be Jewish (2002), Jewish Schizophrenia in the Land of Israel (2000) and Israel on Broadway, America: Off-Broadway – Jews in the New Millennium (1998). His articles and columns on social, political, and religious issues in Israel were featured in the The Jerusalem Post, The Jerusalem Report, the Anglo-Jewish press, and other Israeli and international publications.

The College-Institute expresses heartfelt sympathy to the entire Forman family.  Rabbi Formanwas the beloved husband of Judith (Haberman), loving father of Tamar (Rabbi Michael Schwartz), Liat (Eran KOUBI), Shira (Gabe Reiss) and Orly, devoted son-in-law of Rabbi Joshua and Maxine Haberman, cherished brother of Jim and Bill Forman, proud grandfather of seven grandchildren, Binyamin, Yarden, Zohar, Sivan, Tal, Shani and Nitai, and loved brother-in-law and uncle.

Words of comfort for the Forman family can be posted at:

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.