(August 23, 2020 / JNS) Every generation possesses people who are support-beams of civilization, as they maintain and fortify constancy, consistency and, above all else, truth. Without these extraordinary human beings, society would come crashing down.
Americans for a Safe Israel (AFSI) Co-Executive Director Helen Freedman, who passed away on August 12, was such an individual.
I met Helen at one of the many rallies that I organized in New York City to protest against the terrible Oslo Accords, from their signing on Sept. 13, 1993, until the first Benjamin Netanyahu election victory in May 1996. I continued to do the Concert in Central Park, started in 1994 as an anti-Oslo demonstration. Helen spoke at these events any year that she was in Manhattan and not on her highly successful Chizuk Missions to Israel.
Helen continued to fight for the land of Israel and the Jewish people on the streets of New York from 1995 until her passing. She also made 25 years of Chizuk trips to Israel, each remarkable in its own right.
She devoted her life unselfishly, unflinchingly and wholeheartedly to the Jewish people. It is always truly amazing how much one person can do to change the world. She was an exceptional human being.
I worked closely with her mentor, Herb Zweibon of blessed memory, who founded AFSI in 1970, whom she admired and whose legacy she fittingly carried on.
I went to Israel with Zweibon on a number of occasions. I vividly remember a trip with him in August 1990, when he was accompanied by the great philanthropist, Irving Moskowitz, and great Zionist, Jack Friedler. The purpose of the mission was to fight for the $ 10 billion loan guarantees to save Russian Jewry that were being held up by then-U.S. Secretary of State James Baker. Zweibon passed away in 2011 at the age of 84.
Helen had already re-energized and lifted AFSI to great heights. She was a warrior. No one in America worked harder to prevent the Gush Katif/Gaza expulsion of 10,000 Jews from 21 communities in August 2005 than she.
We all learned valuable lessons, but it was not without trying. It should never have happened, and it led to the Hamas takeover of Gaza, missile attacks against Israel every day since then and four wars. In Jewish History it goes down as one of the most tragic blunders of all time. Helen gave it every ounce of her being. She was a true heroine.
She successfully carried out AFSI’s platform, which promulgates Israel’s historical, religious and legal rights to the land won in the 1967 Six-Day War, and has consistently argued that a strong, territorially defensible Israel is essential to U.S. security interests in the region and that “land for peace” is a delusional policy.
In January 2017, Helen joined me on our mission to Israel with Governor Mike Huckabee, to save Amona. Helen had been working feverishly to prevent Amona from going the way of Yamit and Gush Katif. Amona, which overlooked Ofra in the Binyamin region of Israel, was the site of strong protests in 2006. The Israeli Supreme Court called for its demolition. Governor Huckabee made sure to join us on the solidarity visit, despite being quite ill from food poisoning.
In spite of our efforts, Amona was destroyed in February 2017. On the same trip, we visited then-Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. Helen asked the most important question of the group. She wanted to know why illegal Arab building was taking place in Jerusalem. Mayor Barkat answered that there were 20,000 illegal Arab buildings in Jerusalem, and that he was working on the problem.
Helen was known for having written more “letters to the editor” than anyone on this planet. She had a better command of the English language than most of the writers who worked full time for the various New York newspapers. Before she retired in 1995, she had been an English teacher at Lawrence High School. Following is an excerpt from one of her numerous letters to the New York Post:
“The Post’s Jan. 9 ‘fast take’ on ‘How Trump Can Undo Kerry’s Jerusalem Damage’ is right on the money. Eugene Kontorovich lists five ways of negating Security Council Resolution 2334 which condemns Israel’s for just about everything—and Kerry’s speech which labels Israel the great ‘occupier.’ ”
She concludes: “My suggestion is that the U.S. remove all funding from the U.N. and encourage it to leave NYC. It would be great to have that beautiful waterfront property returned to New Yorkers.”
She organized many highly visible protests, including the one against the Metropolitan Opera for featuring the anti-Semitic “Death of Klinghoffer” in 2014, which glorified the barbaric murder of wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer by the PLO on the Achille Lauro in 1985.
In 2019, she organized a protest against The New York Times for featuring an anti-Semitic cartoon in its international edition. The cartoon showed a black kippah-wearing President Trump with a leash attached to Prime Minister Netanyahu as a guide dog (a dachshund) wearing a Star of David as a collar. The New York Times was forced to apologize for using blatant anti-Semitic tropes.
Israeli Consul General of New York, Danny Dayan, wrote that he was “deeply saddened by the news of the passing of Helen Freedman, the Co-Executive Director of AFSI. Helen was a staunch supporter of Medinat Israel and Eretz Israel, a proud Zionist and lovely human being. She will be missed.”
Her daughter, Judy Kalish, G-d willing will continue in her mother’s footsteps to maintain a strong and secure State of Israel and the Jewish people. May Helen Freedman’s memory be a blessing.
Dr. Joseph Frager, a physician, is the first vice president of the National Council of Young Israel.
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