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Remembering Ron Nachman, the Lonely Man of Faith

When Ron Nachman set out to found the city of Ariel, he was not interested in just another community of tens to hundreds of families to the east of the Green Line.

Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman

Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman
Photo Credit: Maya Levin / Flash90

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After 35 years, Ariel’s visionary, founder and longstanding mayor, Ron Nachman was ready and willing to take anyone to task. After all, what other city of 20,000 residents enjoyed the extensive services that Ariel offers? Even cities with much larger populations couldn’t compare. As Ron was fond of noting, Ra’anana can’t boast anything like the Eshel Hashomron Hotel. Modi’in doesn’t have an institution that even remotely resembles Ariel University. And how many cities in Israel can take pride in two industrial parks with a combined 200 factories?

Ron Nachman was proudly and decidedly secular from the outset. He was determined to build a city in Samaria that would not resemble the Gush Emmunim communities of his religious counterparts. Theirs was a Biblical commitment. His was about security. They spoke of the Tanach. He spoke of Zionism. They rejoiced in their middle-of-the-night outpost maneuvers. He prided himself on government approval every step of the way. He simply would not allow another community of tens to hundreds of families to the east of the Green Line to suffice.

Ron’s family founded the city of Nes Tsiyona in 1883. Almost a century later, Ron had the singular notion of following suit by creating another Israeli city where the Jewish State needed it most.

Instead of gathering the traditional 10 to 20 founding families for his new initiative, Ron got 6,000 people to join him. This initial group was named the “Tel Aviv Nucleus,” with the resolute objective of attaining national legitimacy for their ambitious endeavor.

Two tents and a camel quickly became temporary homes and roads. Semi-detached, cottages, private villas and apartment complexes followed. Highway 5 now connects Tel Aviv to Ariel, servicing tens of thousands of vehicles on a daily basis.

Today, Ariel is the regional hub for Samaria and much of the Jordan Valley. When residents of the surrounding communities need to go to the bank, visit their doctor at any of Israel’s four national health clinics, or do their grocery shopping, they come to Ariel. When the women of Eli want to have a women’s recreation evening, they make use of Ariel’s Sports and Recreation Complex. And when communities and municipalities in Samaria want to host a memorable event, the Ariel Regional Center for the Performing Arts is the natural venue.

LEADERSHIP IS an individual quality, and the top of the mountain can be a lonely place. No one else really seemed to comprehend Ron’s vision, but today Ariel maintains a consensus status within Israel. No sovereign Israeli government has considered compromising Ariel. It has remained part and parcel of the State of Israel within the framework of every proposed negotiation, including those of prime ministers Barak and Olmert who offered up to 99% of Israeli controlled “disputed” lands to the Palestinian Authority.

But what about the other communities in Judea and Samaria? Who would safeguard their future? Ron served in the 13th Knesset from 1992-1996 and fought the Oslo Accords tooth and nail.

Successive U.S. presidents, ambassadors to Israel and U.N. representatives were all well aware of Ariel, but refused to draw near. They preferred to ignore the city and its dynamic mayor in the hope that they just might disappear.

An interviewer once asked him, “how can you [the Israelis] build in Occupied East Jerusalem?” After asking the interviewer to repeat the question as a stall tactic, Ron responded: “I just came from my hotel room, where I searched for proof that this land belongs to the British. I found a Bible there, but it made no mention of London. It didn’t speak of Washington D.C., Paris or Berlin. But do you know how many times the word Jerusalem appeared? And you’re asking me if we have rights to our capital city?”

Perhaps because of his convictions, in the Diaspora, Ron Nachman felt like he fell between the cracks. Reformed and, more often than not, Conservative Jewish communities tended to keep their distance, as in most cases their party lines did not allow them to associate with “settlers.” Orthodox Jewish communities, on the other hand, were too parochial to partner with Ron’s diversified worldview and their conventional sensibilities of what a reborn biblical city should look like.

Although lasting relationships with Jewish groups and individuals in the Diaspora were few and far between, Ron developed a unique, personal connection with the Land of Israel. The land had a way of speaking to him. It awakened within him a sense of history, heritage and promise.

In his later years, Ron spoke less and less about security and more and more about G-d’s promises to His people. He spoke about Jewish inalienable rights. About moral conviction and about historic justice. “If this land was given to us by G-d, how can we be considered trespassers?” The proud secular Zionist with the hard earned bulldozer reputation was finally shifting gears.

At least that’s the way it looked on the exterior as faith is not what we feel, think or hope, it’s what we do. The Hebrew term for faith, emunah, shares the same root as ne’eman, which means loyal. Faith is about acting in accordance with what you already know to be true. It’s about being loyal. Faith is about following through with what you’ve built, and making it grow greater. It’s about being true to yourself, even when you’re all alone.

Today, Ron Nachman rests. He is buried on a hilltop, situated along Ariel’s majestic 12 km long mountain range. Although his grave is the only one perched atop the Ariel National Leadership Development Center, Ron is not alone. The playful chatter of hundreds of kindergarten kids, the thoughtful laughter of thousands of schoolchildren and the studious dialogues among 13,000 of Ariel’s university students, all bounce among the hills. Ron gave the future generations of Israel and the Jewish People a city they can be proud of. Thanks to his efforts, the leaders of tomorrow now have the capacity to follow in his ways.

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About the Author: Avi Zimmerman is the executive-director of the Ariel Development Fund.


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