Last month we marked the Fast of Gedalya: not to get over the big meals we ate
over the three-day mega-festival of Rosh Hashana, but rather to internalize an
Following the destruction of the Holy Temple at the
hands of the Babylonians, some Jews still remained in the Land of Israel.
Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, even allowed for a modicum of local
autonomy, installing Gedalya ben Ahikam as the Judean governor. Gedalya
enjoyed majority support of the Jewish community.
Yishmael ben Netanya,
who was from the Davidic line, was a firm opponent Gedalya’s rule; not only as
might be expected because he was not a descendant of King David, but also
because he had, to Yishmael’s thinking, collaborated with the imperial power of
Babylon. Even though Gedalya received intelligence reports that a
political assassination was being planned and his life was in danger, nothing
could convince Gedalya that a Jew would raise his arm against a fellow Jew. His
assassination ultimately led to the total loss of even limited Jewish political
control in the Land of Israel.
This month we will mark the 16th
anniversary of the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. I
remember the fateful night of his assassination. I was participating in a
year-abroad program in Israel and decided not to attend the rally; instead, I
went out with friends in downtown Jerusalem. Hearing rumors of the
shooting I went into a shop and asked the owner to turn on the radio to check
whether there was any news confirming the rumors.
I am still deeply
shocked that he responded by asking me if indeed the rumors were true whether I
would be pleased or not. I of course replied that I would be horrified. In
response, he kicked me out of his store.
Returning to my seat, I saw
American yeshiva students raising their glasses in a celebratory “l’chaim” to
the death of Rabin. Distraught, I left for the bus stop to make my way home – to
Waiting for the bus to arrive, I saw Tzomet party youth members
asking passersby whether they supported or were opposed to the murder. I
approached them and berated them for having the audacity to do such a thing.
Although they responded by stating that they were simply performing a public
service by polling the public, these same teenagers let out a loud cheer when
the news-broadcaster announced that Rabin had been shot and
Fellow passengers shouted at them, reminding them that apart from
being prime minister and defense minister, he was a father, a grandfather and a
husband. The next day I saw people almost coming to blows on Ben-Yehuda Street
when buying newspapers, arguing over the perceived morality of the
JUST AS I fast on Tzom Gedalya each year, I also fast on
the 12th of Heshvan, the anniversary of Rabin’s assassination. To me, the
similarities between the fates of Gedalya and Rabin are simply too stark to
Two Jewish leaders supported by the majority of the people, yet
considered collaborators with external powers by their opponents. The complete
disbelief that a Jew could harm another Jew led both to dismiss warnings that an
assassination was being planned.
Although the message of the two days is
similar, there is a significant difference between them – at least for the
moment. To signify this difference, instead of fasting until nightfall as we do
on Tzom Gedalya, I only fast until halachic mid-day on the anniversary of
Perhaps in the future, if we do not learn to heal
the fissures in Israeli society – religious/secular, liberal/conservative,
rich/poor, Ashkenazi/Sephardi , immigrant/sabra – our society
will implode, and we too will lose Jewish political control in the Land of
Then this fast will also extend until nightfall.
we can use the tragedy of 12 Heshvan as a wake-up call to ourselves to work
towards ahavat chinam
(baseless love) among and between all sectors of Israeli
society, then maybe we can bring about a tikkun
, a repair, which will lead to
the canceling of this fast altogether.
Therefore, we should mark this day
not by attempting to promote the legacy of “warrior turned peacemaker” or
“soldier turned statesman,” for it is irrelevant that it was a right-wing
religious Jew who assassinated a left-wing secular Jew.
message of the day should not be to laud the legacy of Rabin – which in any case
means many different things to many different people – but rather to destroy the
legacy of his murderer Yigal Amir, to absolutely reject the notion that a
government can be changed with bullets, as opposed to through ballots, and to
absolutely reject the use of violence within our society.
In this way,
the day can promote a unifying message to Israeli society and the Jewish people
as a whole, and avoid turning what should be a national tragedy for all into a
politically partisan day, which would further cement the fractures in our
THE REAL message of the day struck me during the shloshim
(30-day memorial) for Rabin. I was staffing a memorial table in Ashkelon at
which passersby could light a memorial candle in his memory.
I saw a
haredi man approach me, wagging his finger, filled with what appeared to be
rage. I assumed that he would criticize me, as somebody wearing tzitzit
, for staffing a table memorializing a secular left-winger.
I realized something.
This man was filled not with anger, but rather with
anguish. He came closer, trying to speak, but with barely a sound coming out of
mouth. Finally, when he was close to me, he embraced me and wept bitterly on my
shoulder. In between the sobs, I could hear him saying, “He was a father, he was
like a father to the nation and we, we killed him.”
It took me a while to
understand that he was not referring to religious Jews, but to Israeli society
as a whole. And when I realized my initial mistake in assuming that he was
coming toward me in order to rebuke me, I understood that I too was part of the
problem, and that therefore I needed to try and be part of the
I wish those – of all religious and political persuasions – who
care to join me in fasting until 11:23 a.m. (Israel time) on Wednesday,
November 9, a tzom mo’il (a meaningful fast).
The writer is the director
of Teaching Israel. www.teachingisrael.com www.facebook.com/teachingisrael.
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