Pro-settler activist David Romanoff dies at 58

Pro-settler activist David Romanoff dies at 58

David Romanoff
David Romanoff

David Romanoff’s death on Monday, July 26, ended an 11-month vigil for his family and friends. The Elizabeth businessman, a passionate supporter of Israel and the settler movement, had been hospitalized in a virtually unresponsive state since suffering cardiac arrest last August.

It was an uncharacteristically quiet ending for a man who was pro-active in so many ways.

Romanoff, 58, a father of eight, was one of the leaders of New Jersey Communities United for Hebron. On June 13 last year, just two months before he fell ill, he helped organize a series of gatherings at local synagogues and private homes in Elizabeth, Hillside, West Orange, Livingston, and Springfield to support the Jewish enclave in Hebron. Among the speakers was Knesset Member Rabbi Yaakov “Ketzeleh” Katz.

Hebron, the home of one of Judaism’s holiest sites — the Cave of Machpela, the traditional burial place of Abraham and other biblical patriarchs and matriarchs — is also the birthplace of the settler movement. A heavily guarded group of around 600 Jews live alongside some 130,000 Arabs, with an additional 6,000 Jews living in the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba.

Romanoff had held the first such event in Elizabeth the previous year. “A simple didactic approach” inspired the event, he said at the time. “I wanted more people to know about Hebron, to develop a groundswell of support for the people there.”

His wife, Syndi, told NJ Jewish News this week that her husband “believed that as important as Yerushalayim is, if we give up Hebron, we give up everything.”

She added, “Everything he did was for the purpose of supporting his family, his community, and Israel.”

The Romanoffs’ children — Gershon Ari, Chai Ilana, Akiva, Elchanan, Gila Dalia, Gedalia, Yehuda, and Chaim — and their seven grandchildren all live in the area. Syndi works in administration at the Jewish Educational Center’s Bruriah High School for Girls. Her husband was a board member of the JEC and a former board member of the YM-YWHA of Union County in Union.

At the Y’s annual meeting in 2008, David was honored for something very different than his usual activities: He won the award for Biggest Loser in the center’s weight-loss program. Inspired by Syndi’s drive to get healthier, he had lost 8.5 percent of his body fat and declared that he was feeling good about the change.

David’s condition linked him ironically with another sidelined fighter, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has been in a persistent vegetative state since suffering a stroke in 2006.

Romanoff, who once revered Sharon, came to bitterly oppose him after Sharon ordered the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. During an appearance by Sharon at Manhattan’s Baruch College in May 2005, three months before the scheduled withdrawal, he and Syndi were evicted for heckling the Israeli leader. The two found ardent support from a crowd protesting outside.

David later told an interviewer from The Forward, “I could not help myself!”

The month before he had traveled to Crawford, Texas, to help lead a joint rally of Jews and evangelical Christians as Sharon met with then-President George W. Bush at his ranch. Romanoff told NJJN that Bush was supporting the Gaza plan to recoup international support lost during the war in Iraq.

He said, “He has asked little Israel to give away parts of its body to appease the countries that are truly seeking to destroy it.”

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