Every year, as the yahrzeit of Yitzhak Rabin rolls around, subconsciously I feel some level of discomfort and tension. Like every other Israeli, remember that terrible day in 1995 all too well.
It was still Shabbat in New York when Rabin was assassinated. Due to being “unplugged” on Shabbat, I am sheltered from news. This Shabbat, though, I happened to have been staying with a child at a hospital on Shabbat, and the news spread fast. Between the nursing staff and the doorman in the building where I had a meal, everyone was talking about it.
After reconnecting with the news after Shabbat, I was shocked by some of the fringe right-wing’s reaction: halachic detachment, defining Rabin as a rodef, a “pursuer,” a legal term that can be misconstrued as justifying his murder. But that was a sideshow; everyone else — left and right, including people who had built their lives in Judea and Samaria, everyone was grieving and traumatized.
Long-simmering tensions lead up to this fateful and hateful moment of bloodshed. Israeli blood was flowing in the streets of the land; Palestinian violence was taking over the streets. The Oslo Accords of 1993 had been a terrible, bitter mistake, many felt. For an entire generation, the innocence of youth was punctured by painful terrorism, loss and fear.
Alongside these fears and thoughts of people who felt that Oslo was a historic mistake, there was a large part of the country that was single-mindedly in favor, come what may. The country might as well have had a partition in place, it was so divided.
Then, just like that, just as the temperature was heating up too rapidly, with people fearing for their and their children’s lives — boom! With one shot, the atmosphere, the Oslo Accords, the nation, was permanently pierced.
The anniversary of this horrendous tragic murder has become a very complex and somewhat alienating day. For the religious community, Rabin’s assassination coincides with the death of Rachel our matriarch. Without intentionally ignoring the day of Rabin’s murder, the community’s focus is on the tradition to pray at Rachel’s Tomb outside Bethlehem, to honor a day that has been dedicated to her before Rabin was even born.
Meanwhile, much has changed since that dark night in 1995. Clearly, a critical mass in the nation has moved past the Oslo Accords. People have been burnt too much; the risks are too terrifying and too great to keep repeating attempts for a dead-end, blood-yielding “peace.” Between the wars with Hezbollah, Hamas, the disengagement from Gaza, the knifings, the car rammings, the drive-by murders … so much has transpired since the original Oslo accords that sadly confirms the right-wing bias. Oslo was a mistake. Perhaps there is sense of bitter vindication, one that inhibits a sense of stocktaking and reverent remembrance.
Contrast that with the left, which has over the years taken ownership of Rabin’s memorial with a one-dimensional kind of remembrance. Instead of memorializing Rabin and emphasizing his legacy, on some level it has turned it into a day of expressing, at best, hostility toward the right; at worst outright hate.
“We’ll fight terror like there’s no peace, and make peace like there’s no terror,” Rabin famously said. So much of Yitzhak Rabin the man is a compression of the modern State of Israel. The two are inseparable. Like all great leaders, Rabin had his share of successes and his share of failures.
Yet even after all these years, Rabin’s legacy has been narrowed to the end of his life and the cause of his death, using it as an opportunity to alienate a whole segment of the nation.
Although many felt Rabin was as wrong about Oslo as he was about the Altalena (the ship bearing arms for the desperate Israeli army in the War of Independence, which Rabin sunk in 1948), for the most part he had been a deeply respected political leader and war hero.
Meanwhile, because of his understated, humble naivete and quiet strength, alongside his remarkable military feats, many on the right carried a special affection for him.
There will always be a strongly outspoken community of people who feel that in the end Rabin sold Israel to the devil. But politics aside, they would never condone violence, let alone murder. It’s simple: murder is murder! What does it matter what Rabin felt or did?
Even though many felt Rabin was personally responsible for the lost innocent lives that were increasing day by day due to his political choices, murder is never the path to resolution.
Somehow the entirety of the right wing community is painted as though it does not care about Rabin’s murder. Because of the intensity of feelings and opinion — and the high stakes involved — after the tragedy was perpetrated by a member of the right wing community it was easy to point fingers simplistically at the whole community, almost stripping it of the right to mourn Rabin.
Each community went to its own corner to cope with this unspeakable legacy of one Jew shedding the blood of another Jew. Twenty-two years later, however, we must move past that. We are all brothers; yet sadly, Rabin’s yahrzeit is becoming a day whose essence is one that reinforces the distance between us.
It’s been 22 years. A new generation has grown. We must find a way to honor and remember Yitzhak Rabin, prime minister of Israel, in a more inclusive way. We must find a more nuanced dialogue in raising the next generation. That would be an effort worth remembering Rabin by.
Today, the fissures seem to be getting deeper. As someone who often stands in the lonely middle, I worry. The right uses the word “left” as if it is an insult (what can you do, he became a leftist), and the left uses the word “right” as though it is a synonym for insanity (what do you expect from them, they are on the right). Enough!
The right must be more reflective and the left must stop blaming an entire community.
Physically, one man murdered Rabin. Spiritually, it is all of us who are erasing Rabin’s true, more comprehensive legacy for the Jewish people.
Copyright Intermountain Jewish News