Ger­ald Cromer

BORN LON­DON, DE­CEM­BER 23, 1944 . DIED JERUSALEM, MARCH 30, 2008, AGED 63.

The Jewish Chronicle - - Obituaries -

ADYNAMIC PER­SON­AL­ITY, Pro­fes­sor Ger­ald Cromer com­bined aca­demic study with deep con­cern for so­cial jus­tice, writes Mordechai Beck. Af­ter Has­monean Gram­mar School for boys in Lon­don, he spent his gap year at Gateshead Yeshivah be­fore study­ing so­ci­ol­ogy at the Lon­don School of Eco­nomics. He stud­ied for his PhD un­der Pro­fes­sor Julius Gould of Not­ting­ham Univer­sity.

Ac­tive in the In­ter-Univer­sity Jewish Fed­er­a­tion, fore­run­ner of the Union of Jewish Stu­dents, he was elected ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cer in 1967 while a post­grad­u­ate stu­dent. His en­er­getic pro­gramme showed his life­long en­thu­si­asm for en­gag­ing un­af­fil­i­ated Jews with­out brain­wash­ing or hec­tor­ing them.

Two years later he put his ideas into prac­tice by open­ing up his North Lon­don flat in Finch­ley as an off-beat cen­tre, “Ex­ile”, for fringe Jews. He of­fered them in­tel­lec­tual stim­u­la­tion through con­tro­ver­sial big-name speak­ers like Louis Ja­cobs and Shlomo Car­lebach.

With a rep­u­ta­tion for open-mind­ed­ness, he was ap­pointed by B’nai B’rith as stu­dent di­rec­tor of the re­built Lon­don Jewish stu­dent cen­tre, Hil­lel House, in Eus­ton. His month-long arts fes­ti­val which opened the build­ing in 1970 at­tracted celebrity names, with au­di­ences to­talling 4,000.

He turned his Gold­ers Green home into Bri­tain’s first chavu­rah, a group com­mit­ted to Ju­daism but ex­per­i­ment­ing on how to live it. Most mem­bers were, like him, Ortho­dox.

He left Hil­lel in 1971 to fin­ish his doc­tor­ate, prior to mov­ing to Is­rael in 1972. There he com­bined an aca­demic ca­reer with projects that sup­ported so­cial jus­tice. He be­came pro­fes­sor at Bar Ilan Univer­sity, where he switched to crim­i­nol­ogy. In 1973 he mar­ried Chana. She was born Anne Roth­stein in a DP camp in Italy to sur­vivor par­ents, who set­tled in the US.

He was an early mem­ber and chair­man of Ne­tivot Shalom, a fo­rum to dis­cuss the pur­suit of jus­tice and peace in the frame­work of Jewish tra­di­tion.

This set him against the ris­ing tide of right-wing ex­trem­ism sweep­ing Ortho­dox rab­bis and their com­mu­ni­ties, both in Is­rael and abroad. Many of his aca­demic sub­jects were ex­trem­ists like Rabbi Meir Ka­hane and Baruch Gold­stein, who ap­palled him as rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Ju­daism but fas­ci­nated him as a crim­i­nol­o­gist.

A pop­u­lar lec­turer, he be­lieved that de­bate rather than phys­i­cal vi­o­lence or ver­bal abuse should settle ar­gu­ments. He had a unique gift for creative think­ing, which caused his lis­ten­ers to rad­i­cally re-ex­am­ine their as­sump­tions.

Among his creative re­sponses to the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in Is­rael was to bring the recital of Eicha (“Lamen­ta­tions”) on the fast of Tisha B’Av to the grave of as­sas­si­nated prime min­is­ter, Yitzhak Rabin, thereby in­tro­duc­ing a re­li­gious di­men­sion to his love of peace.

In 2005, at the height of the disen­gage­ment from Gaza, he or­gan­ised an­other Tisha B’Av event, a pub­lic de­bate in Jerusalem’s Lib­erty Bell Park. He not only got peo­ple from across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum to talk with each other, but made left-wingers in­tro­duce rightwing speak­ers, and vice versa, as they stepped up to the podium.

In the late 1970s, he co-founded the Mod­ern Ortho­dox com­mu­nity of Ye­didyah, with an im­pact far be­yond south­ern Jerusalem, as well as the Efrata school. He was tire­less in his ef­forts on be­half of the New Is­rael Fund, which fights for so­cial jus­tice in many ar­eas.

De­spite his mod­esty, he was renowned for his in­tel­lect, hu­mour and per­sua­sive power, al­lied to a pas­sion for jus­tice and re­spect for the in­di­vid­ual.

He died from can­cer and is sur­vived by his wife, daugh­ter, three sons, and four grand­chil­dren.

Ger­ald Cromer: com­mit­ted to Ortho­dox Ju­daism and jus­tice for Arabs

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