Rabbi-activist for the rights of Israelis, Palestinians, and foreign workers in Israel
Arik Ascherman is Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel. His personal journey has evolved from acquiring a Harvard education to standing trial in Israel for blocking home demolitions.
Born in Erie, Pennsylvania, Ascherman graduated from college in 1981. From then until 1983, he worked for Interns for Peace, a community work program in Israel involving Jews and Arabs. For most of this time, Ascherman lived in the Arab village of Tamra.
In 1989, he was ordained as a rabbi in the U.S. at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. During his training, he worked with soup kitchens and homeless advocacy in Israel. Following his ordination he worked as a rabbi and with Hillel chapters in the U.S. In Israel, he was director of Congregation Mevakshei Derech and was the part time rabbi of Kibbutz Yahel, a Reform kibbutz near Eilat.
He became a citizen of Israel in 1994, where he lives with his wife, Einat Ramon, the first Israeli-born woman to be ordained as a rabbi, and their two children.
Beginning in 1995, Arik Ascherman became co-director of Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR); becoming executive director in 1998. RHR is the only organization in Israel made up of rabbis and rabbinical students from all denominations of Judaism. It promotes justice and human rights for Israelis, Palestinians, and foreign workers. In May 2006, RHR received the prestigious Niwano Peace Prize.
Over the next few years, his commitment to human rights led him to nonviolent resistance to block bulldozers from destroying Palestinian homes. As a result of his actions, Ascherman was charged with "interfering with police performance of duties on two different occasions in 2003, and the intention to commit acts to prevent police from performing their duties." During his trial Ascherman explained his actions,
"I arrived at the homes for which I am on trial today carrying in my heart all the families in whose name I stand before you – the families that suffered and continue to suffer because of the home demolition policy. I held in my heart the looks of the children in Shufafat who had gone off to school in the morning and returned to discover their home demolished, with a toy or book peaking through the rubble ... I held in my heart the frightened looks of families sitting on packed suitcases waiting for the bulldozers to arrive, the grown men crying and the tens, if not hundreds of families whom I have spent time with before, during and after home demolitions."
In March 2005, a magistrate court found Ascherman guilty but said that he wouldn't have a criminal record. Upon his conviction, Ascherman said that he was disappointed the court did not address the injustice of home demolitions in its verdict.
"For us, this trial really was about the people who have no voice here, the victims of home demolition," Ascherman said. "And that's why we're going immediately from the courthouse...to begin the rebuilding of one of these homes."
Recent protests by Ascherman and Rabbis for Human Rights have focused on the separation wall. In 2006, RHR achieved a major victory when it won a lawsuit to prevent the wall construction from dividing the village Sheikh Sa'ad.
For more information on Rabbis for Human Rights, see http://www.rhr.israel.net/.