Rabbi David Clayman, one of the leading American Jewish advocates in Israel, died overnight Thursday from cancer at the age of 69.
As the longtime director of the American Jewish Congress’ Israel office, Clayman walked a tightrope, prodding Israeli leaders on civil liberties and gender issues more popular in the United States than in Israel.
It was a tightrope he walked well, according to those who worked with him.
“He had the ability to engage Israelis on controversial issues without turning them off,” said Henry Siegman, who worked with Clayman for 16 years as president of the American Jewish Congress.
Clayman was buried Thursday in Beit Shemesh.
Clayman “worked tirelessly for Middle East peace, for interfaith understanding and toward improving the communication between the secular and religious communities,” the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, said at the funeral.
One of Clayman’s lasting achievements was helping to establish the Jerusalem Conference of Mayors, an annual meeting that has attracted mayors from around the world to meet with their counterparts in Israel.
In the last few years, Clayman was disappointed by the regression on an issue that animated his life: compromise on peace with Palestinians. But he never gave up.
“I don’t make light of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount,” he told Ha’aretz’s Anglo File section in 2001. “But it’s nice to live in New York, Philadelphia and L.A., and know that the Temple Mount is in our hands. But what is really to see up there? Mosques. And for what price?”
Clayman was well suited to link the American Jewish and Israeli communities because he himself straddled both words.
Born in Boston, he graduated from Harvard and earned his rabbinical ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary. He later served as a U.S. Navy chaplain and a congregational rabbi in Philadelphia until 1970, when he made aliyah.
After moving to Israel, Clayman “was clearly one happy guy. It changed his whole life. Aliyah for him was essential and it worked,” said Theodore Mann, who was president of the AJCongress in the mid-1980s.
Clayman also was a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a frequent lecturer on Israeli and Jewish affairs.
In addition to his intellectual and communal work, Clayman is remembered for his kindness and sense of humor — even in difficult times.
“David Clayman was an extraordinary” representative for the Jewish people, said Neil Goldstein, executive director of the AJCongress. “We were shocked by his demise and are extraordinarily saddened. All of us will miss him dearly.”
Clayman is survived by his wife of 47 years, Roz, and children Tamar, Daniel and Jonathan.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.