If you looked at him during class, every so often you would see him wince. His eyes would squint ever so slightly. A sour crease would envelope his lips. Sometimes he would rub the side of his head with his fingertips. One side of his brow, the right side if I remember correctly, had about a one inch square indentation, as if a chisel had been taken to his skull.
Amnon Haramati was different from all the other Hebrew studies teachers I encountered during my 12 years of parochial school education at Yeshiva Rambam and Yeshivah of Flatbush High School in Brooklyn. Unlike the others, he would not let us address him as Rabbi or Rav Hamarati. It was Mar (mister) Hamarati, though in later years he did acquire the title of rabbi. Unlike the others, his accent was not eastern European. It was Israeli. He was clean shaven. He stood tall. Erect. Defiant in stature and status. He embodied a dignity that commanded respect. No student ever made fun of Amnon Hamarati. You only wanted to secure his recognition for a job well done.
I was pretty good at Judaic studies. But some time during my high school years I began having trouble completing sentences entirely in Hebrew. My mouth could not keep up with my brain. So I would throw in the occasional English word to round out my thoughts. Amnon Haramati was not amused. He would demand I speak slower. In Hebrew. Only in Hebrew.
He was younger in age and temperament than the other Hebrew studies male teachers, just 18 years older than my classmates and me. He had a sense of humor. One of his pet theories was the belief that the Hebrew Bible contained references to everything ever created. We would challenge him to prove it. Show us, we would demand, where the telephone or television were in the Bible. Amused at our simple request, he would cite the revelation at Mount Sinai, God speaking to the people of Israel and appearing before them not in a black and white broadcast but in living color.
His only vulnerability, that occasional wince. There were rumors his skull harbored a metal plate, a souvenir of Israel’s war of independence. I never heard him talk about it not in class at Flatbush nor earlier, during the summers before high school when I saw him at Camp Massad Aleph where he counselored an older age group than mine.
More than 20 years ago, in his short but moving acceptance speech of the 1994 Covenant Award as an outstanding Jewish educator, he related in third person testimony the tale of a soldier so severely wounded in the head during the battle for Jerusalem in 1948 that doctors pronounced him dead, only to be reclassified as barely alive but blind after a nurse heard him moan, only to be told he should not consider pursuing academic studies after another nurse discovered he was not sightless (https://vimeo.com/122476742?ref=em-v-share).
Word came Thursday that Amnon Haramati passed away. He was 86.