Due to the co-existence of Hebrew and secular calendars, Israelis can celebrate events twice. The vast majority operate according to the secular calendar, but events close to a religious holiday tend to be remembered as such. Varda was born on hay b''Tishri, (five days after Rosh Hashana), so she gets something then as well as on her secular birthday. We remember our marriage on the day after Yom Kippur. When I must indicate the secular date, I must go to the documents.
This is the Hebrew anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin''s assassination (12th of Cheshvan), and the media is reporting ceremonies and political commentary. The primary school next door had a solemn outdoor assembly. There will be more of this on November 4th, which is the secular anniversary.
It has been 15 years. Family members and other organizers are starting to worry that emotions are running dry. They are considering downsizing the public events in order to avoid a lackluster attendance.
Themes of the day are the general notion that the assassination of a political figure is a threat to democracy, and must be remembered as a lesson in tolerance and other rules of political discourse. Partisans have added their notions of Rabin''s heritage, which describe him pretty much as family members, supporters, or those seeking legitimacy for a current posture want to remember him.
It is not surprising that he comes across in the speeches as a more positive character than skeptics remember. The sight of President Shimon Peres honoring Rabin at his grave site and lighting a candle in his memory brought back the image of Rabin savaging Peres, his arch rival in Labor Party politics, at their joint appearance marking victory in the election of 1992.
It is common for left of center Israeli politicians to remember Rabin as a supporter of the Oslo Accords. Indeed, his concessions to the Palestinians were the principal reason for his murder by the right wing, religious nationalist Yigal Amir. Prior to the assassination, there were several public demonstrations that depicted the prime minister as a turncoat.
The argument is not entirely in the past. A remnant is urging the commutation of Amir''s sentence, or at least moderating his conditions of imprisonment. He has appeared in court to protest his strict solitary confinement under continuous monitoring. The woman who married him several years after the assassination and bore his child has urged more liberal visiting opportunities.
There is little chance of lessening Amir''s life sentence, but there was a more serious effort as this year''s anniversary approached to revisit the conviction of Margalit Har-Shefi. She was a young woman at the time, and perhaps Amir''s girl friend, who was accused, found guilty, and imprisoned for nine months on account of knowing Amir''s intentions and not reporting her information to the police. Several Members of Knesset and rabbis petitioned the Attorney General to re-open her conviction with an eye toward a retroactive acquittal. The Attorney General refused, citing investigations that uncovered convincing evidence of her knowledge about Amir''s intentions.
The right-of-center Minister of Education spoke at a school ceremony honoring Rabin. He took the occasion to compare the present prospects for peace to those that prevailed at the time of Oslo. The minister spoke about the public''s lack of confidence in the Palestinian leadership.
Some local monuments to Rabin have been defaced. One of them carried a graffiti saying, "Kahane was right." An internet news site queried its audience on the anniversary. 58 percent responded, "Enough of a festival;" 37 percent chose "Not to forget or forgive;" 5 percent chose, "Who''s Rabin."
Those who identify as Rabin''s admirers focus on his support of the Oslo Accords. They put him firmly in the peace camp that they want to keep alive. What they overlook is Rabin''s pragmatism. The former Chief of Staff of the IDF came only reluctantly to support negotiations with the PLO, and ultimately the Oslo Accords. Signs are that he distrusted Yassir Arafat and was drawn only tentatively toward an agreement by Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin. They were ahead of Rabin on what they hoped would be a road to peace. Pictures from the signing ceremony on the White House Lawn show an awkward Yitzhak Rabin managing to shake Arafat''s hand, but with something less than an enthusiastic smile.
A lot has happened in 15 years. Hauling Rabin into the current disputes with the Palestinians and Americans is a crude manipulation of his record. But it is no surprise, politicians and activists being who they are.
I remember John F. Kennedy standing before a map and justifying a crucial increase of American military efforts in Vietnam. I thought of that moment on several occasions years later, whenever those claiming to be close to him asserted that he would have withdrawn before the war reached the levels it did under his rivals, i.e., Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.
Israelis who assert that we need a Yitzhak Rabin to make peace with Mahmoud Abbas may have their American equivalents who assert that John Kennedy would know what to do in Afghanistan.
Guess what? There is at least one.
We can think what we want about peace with the Palestinians or the best course for Americans in Afghanistan. Whatever we want, neither Yitzhak Rabin nor John F. Kennedy knows any better.