"Pluralism is not the same thing as tolerance,” Prof. Gerald Cromer said on a recent visit to Canada. “Tolerance implies a willingness to put up with the other side, but pluralism suggests that everyone has something to offer."
Prof. Cromer himself had an enormous amount to offer. He stood out as an Orthodox Jew who believed in religious pluralism for all Jewish streams, and an academic who realized that ideas only had value if they were put into practice.
Born in London, England in 1944, Prof. Cromer earned his Ph.D. from Nottingham University and immigrated to Israel in 1972. Until his death, he served as a Professor of Criminology at Bar Ilan University.
Prof. Cromer was one of the founders of Netivot Shalom, Israel’s religious peace movement. In founding Netivot Shalom, he argued that Orthodox Jews were in a unique position to counter fundamentalist and extremist political arguments that erroneously placed the value of the land of Israel ahead of human life, justice and peace. He saw these concepts as central to Jewish law and tradition.
NIF President Peter Edelman said that any gathering that included Prof. Cromer was enriched by his presence. "He brought to NIF simultaneously a passion for justice, a gentleness of manner, a respect for every person and a sweet sense of humor."
Prof. Cromer, who served devotedly on NIF's Pluralism Committee, Grants Committee and SHATIL Committee, deeply influenced NIF through his incisive understanding of the country's shortcomings and his ability to prescribe innovative remedies.
Rachel Liel, Executive Director of SHATIL, recalls an example of this intellectual brilliance in defining NIF's role. "He distinguished between the need for raising consciousness and conscience," she recalled. "He felt it was our role to raise the consciousness of the disadvantaged, while raising the conscience of the middle class on matters of social justice."
Prof. Cromer brought together Israelis from all walks of life in Jerusalem's Liberty Bell Park for a major Tisha B'Av event on the eve of disengagement.
On Tisha B’Av 2006, the eve of Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, Prof. Cromer helped produce the landmark event "For These Things I Weep", organized by NIF and symbolizing Prof. Cromer's own commitment to pluralism. At this traumatic moment of national division, Prof. Cromer's concept successfully brought together 1,000 Israelis from all backgrounds in Jerusalem, to hear speakers who included Peace Now activists, right-wing settlers, rabbis, rap artists and many more. The event was a beacon of reconciliation at a time of crisis.
"He believed in religious freedom while preserving his roots in Judaism," said Eliezer Yaari, Executive Director of NIF Israel. "But more than anything else, he embodied tikkun olam."
Last Yom Kippur, Prof. Cromer was asked by NIF News how we can best bring about tikkun olam.
"We must continue putting issues on the public agenda," said Prof. Cromer. "Unfortunately some problems are simply accepted as part of the landscape and are not even viewed as problems by most Israelis. I’m thinking, among other things, of poverty and the occupation of the West Bank. We must persuade much larger numbers of Israelis that there is a problem that must be tackled on these matters in the way that we have succeeded on the issue of violence against women."
"We can take some comfort that thanks to the social change movement built by NIF over the years new norms of wrongdoing have been established," he stressed. "In part we are finding more corruption because we are looking in places that were once left unexposed. There were always battered and abused women. It is just that there is now a consensus that this is not acceptable."
Prof. Alice Shalvi, who served together with Prof. Cromer on the NIF Board observed: "He never failed to penetrate to the heart of matters and he was always ready to listen as well as to speak his mind."
Prof. Cromer's sanguine determination to change society in the face of the momentous challenges confronting Israel will be sorely missed by the NIF family.