Growing up in Duluth in the 1950s and ’60s, David Friedman described a city more “drab” than it is today — more industrial compared to its current touristy appeal. But it was no less a home and a place worth returning to.
“Those were really special times,” he said. “The physical beauty of Duluth is really exceptional — how green it is, how beautiful. It’s always in my mind.”
Friedman, 66, is a Duluth East graduate and when he left the state 40 years ago, he began an adventure that continues to unfold in the cradle of Judaism.
He’s lived most of his adult life in Jerusalem with his family, including wife, Margalit, and two grown sons.
He reached out to the News Tribune to talk about trying to lift a new political party off the ground. It’s one of the endeavors the career history lecturer has been afforded, he said, for his choice to move away from the Midwest and into the Middle East.
“I’ve always felt as if I could contribute a lot to Jewish life,” he said. “Israel would be the place that it would best happen. I’ve done things in Israel I’d never have the opportunity to do here.”
A baseball enthusiast and scout, he coached the Israeli national baseball team for four years. Prior to that he was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces, defending Israel’s borders in the 1980s in an artillery unit and later serving in the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit. He and his friends are now trying to raise a political party from scratch, having veered from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party.
“The Likud is so large that it was difficult for issues that were pressing to us to be considered as high-priority,” he said.
Thus was born last December the Bible Bloc, or Gush Hatanachi, which claims itself as the first Jewish-Christian party to run for the Knesset.
“The party seeks to preserve ‘Judeo-Christian values’ that it says are under threat from radical Islam and vows to fight for the under-represented Christian population in Israel, including non-Jewish Russian immigrants from the former Soviet Union,” the Times of Israel said of the party.
The party failed to gain a seat in the Knesset during elections this year, but Friedman has faith in having established a foundation for the party. It’s one that is pro-life, believes in political appointments based on merit and not quid-pro-quo, and supports a strong Israel with borders defined from within and not “dictated by foreign entities,” Friedman said.
“We are very pro-life,” he said, describing what he called 19,000 legal abortions in the country every year. “So many Jews died in the last 100 years through various things, including the Holocaust, that all of us in our party are very jealous of life.”
For Friedman, raising a party amid a political system rife with them means playing a long game.
“I’m not a professional politician and I’m not going to say I have aspirations to reach so and so office,” he said. “I just want to take a stand for things. ... I don’t know how many elections I will participate in.”
He figures it will take a couple more elections to find traction — a common arch among parties in his country, he said. Success for the party could come if the next generation is able to land a seat in the Israeli congress.
“I’ll be very happy,” he said.
Friedman described being dismayed at the political climate in the United States, one he described as less tolerant than even the volatility of the 1960s.
"What I see today saddens me," he said. "The United States, to me, is an amazing nation with a great legacy — a beacon and spark for the world. It needs a strong America."
Friedman visited Duluth for a short time this summer as part of a larger Midwestern swing.
He likes to see the schools he studied at, including a year spent at the University of Minnesota Duluth, and neighborhoods in which he played. He made a point this year of visiting the Adas Israel Congregation synagogue that burned down in September after a warming fire got away from a person who was homeless.
“I wanted to see the ruins of the synagogue,” Friedman said, though his family did not worship there. “It really hurts to have seen that happened. It’s iconic to the Jewish community and very sad.”
Friedman recalled the beauty of a Duluth winter, lighting bonfires along a frozen-over Lake Superior.
“It wasn’t just cold,” he said. “In its own way, it was very beautiful.”