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WASHINGTON D.C., AUGUST 28 -- Rabbi David Saperstein, director and counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement today in response to the death of internationally respected peace activist Abie Nathan, who died Wednesday at age 81:
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and many, many friends of Abie Nathan today. Abie Nathan was one of a kind – passionate, creative, dedicated and, above all, committed to being a force for peace in a region that has known so much bloodshed. Nathan was a coworker for justice whose personal friendship I will always deeply cherish. His tireless and innovative work toward an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict made him an inspiration to a generation of Israelis and to Jews worldwide.
In 1966, long before Egypt and Israel entered into a peace treaty, he flew his private plane to Egypt in a daring solo attempt to talk peace with then-president Gamal Abdel Nasser. There began Nathan’s lifelong public and personal commitment to engaging in Middle East diplomacy, meeting individually with Egyptian officials, participating in hunger strikes and, often, putting his own life on the line in the pursuit of peace.
Following his flight to Egypt, Nathan took similar trips across the world, meeting with leaders such as Pope Paul VI and Sen. Robert Kennedy, and was jailed multiple times for his efforts to speak with political figures such as Nasser and PLO leader Yasser Arafat. “The Voice of Peace,” Nathan’s pirate radio station off the coast of Tel Aviv, broadcast Top 40 music as well as news and messages of good will, inspiring Israelis and Arabs alike to pursue peace.
The Reform Jewish Movement cooperated closely with Nathan on multiple projects, including raising funds in 1985 to build a tent city for famine-ravished Ethiopian refugees – on each tent was written, with a Star of David, “From Jerusalem with Love.” Nathan helped organize a coalition of national Jewish organizations to raise money for a large field hospital in war-torn Somalia in 1992. In 1994, he again mobilized Jewish support to raise funds to help finance the construction of refugee centers in genocide-ravaged Rwanda.
Glenn Stein, the former Associate Director of the RAC who worked on such projects with Nathan during his tenure, fondly recalled Nathan’s passion for peace and dedication to his work:
“Abie Nathan was one of those rare larger-than-life characters with a can-do attitude and the tenacity to persevere until his projects became reality.”