ARIEL, Israel -- Some called him the John Wayne of Israel or a modern-day Joshua. Ron Nachman, the founder and mayor of the city of Ariel, died last week at the age of 70.
Many of Israel's leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, came to comfort Nachman's widow and pay tribute to the man who helped establish modern Israel.
Nachman began the city of Ariel in 1978 with just two tents. More than three decades later, it's a thriving city of more than 20,000 residents. He turned a dream into a reality.
"From the outset, he would run around the hills here and say 'that's going to be a school, that's going to be a center for performing arts, that's going to be a university,'" Avi Zimmerman, executive director of Friends of Ariel, recalled.
"And people would mock him and say, 'Well that's going to be your insane asylum because it was delusional to think anything would happen here … And with two hands tied behind his back at all times by the international community and at times by the Israeli governments themselves, Ron managed to build a city," he said.
Opponents called Ariel an obstacle to peace since it's built in the center of the disputed West Bank. Others saw Nachman's life work as a fulfillment of what the Hebrew prophets wrote thousands of years ago -- that Jews would one day return and settle Samaria, the biblical heartland of Israel, again.
"To think of Ron Nachman to me in a personal way is to think of Joshua Ben Nun, a modern Joshua who's buried blocks away," Heather Johnson, spiritual director of the summer staff at J.H. Ranch Israel, said.
Johnson spoke at Nachman's gravesite. She worked with Nachman for years to help establish Israel's National Training Center, based in Ariel.
"He's a modern Joshua Ben Nun in so many ways," Johnson said. "Starting and pioneering some of the settlement movement here in Samaria, leading Israel to cross into the Promised Land."
Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz remembered Nachman's enthusiasm.
"He was so compelling. He was so enthusiastic, you know, like a little boy," Steinitz said. "After he was in this city for almost 30 years, he was still like a little boy who is building something … He did build a wonderful city out of nothing. There was nothing here, only an empty barren mountain. And look behind us, and a very nice beautiful city."
In an earlier interview with CBN News, Nachman talked about the National Training Center and discussed the task of imparting vision and values from the Jewish scriptures to the next generation.
"The concept, the concept is the key, the essence of everything," Nachman said. "It's not just climbing the high ropes or something, no, no. Beyond it there is a whole theory of a concept of how to enrich the child, boy or girl, how to enrich a leader, how to enrich a community, how to enrich a country."
Many believe Nachman's legacy will enrich Israel's children, its communities and the country.