Voices of concern and hope at President's Residence Rabin memorial service

Rabin's grandson calls on President Reuven Rivlin to use his clout to limit tenure of prime minister.

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October 21, 2018 17:21
4 minute read.
Voices of concern and hope at President's Residence Rabin memorial service

President Reuven Rivlin speaking at the Rabin memorial service . (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

It's not customary to applaud at memorial events, especially at the annual candle lighting state ceremony commemorating the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. But the people who had come to the President's Residence on Sunday to honor Rabin's memory could not restrain themselves after Rabin's grandson Yonatan Ben Artzi called on President Reuven Rivlin to use his influence to bring about legislation that will limit the period of time that a prime minister of Israel can serve.

Ben Artzi, in speaking on behalf of the family at the 23rd anniversary of Rabin's death, reviewed the history of his grandfather with that of the state to illustrate how they were intertwined. Recalling his grandfather as a valiant soldier who triumphed in war but who sought peace, Ben Artzi quoted from Rabin's address on the occasion of Israel's 40th anniversary, in which he said that the Zionist dream of the return to the homeland had been realized, and there was a desire by people who came from countries such as Russia and Yemen who had never known democracy, much less dreamt of it, to create a Jewish and democratic state. Much time had been spent in battle, much blood had been shed, and Rabin had decided that it was time to start a new innovative chapter in the nation's history. 

Ben Artzi repeated several times that democracy is inherent in Jewish tradition, and implied that under the present administration democracy is at risk

Rivlin in his address quoted a woman who as a new immigrant to Haifa from Argentina had written a letter a week after the assassination, in which she wrote that in the beginning she felt pain, anger, impotence and the inability to comprehend. Everything was black, and the feeling didn't pass. "I can no longer cry, speak or listen…fear has won the day," she wrote.

From the perspective of time, Rivlin said that he had begun to grasp the fear that had engulfed the letter writer. "What was that great residue of fear that overtook not only the new immigrant but lingered in the hearts of all Israelis?" Rivlin pondered, and reached the conclusion that it was the fear of ourselves. "It was the first time that we understood how easy it was to destroy all that we, our fathers and brothers had built."

Since the assassination, said Rivlin, Israel has been through difficult times, wars and controversial political issues, and yet despite extreme polarization of views, nothing of this horrific magnitude had recurred.

While conscious that his own generation, which had fought alongside and under the command of Rabin and had witnessed the native son of Jerusalem become the first sabra prime minister of Israel, would never forget or forgive the heinous crime, Rivlin was more concerned about future generations which have not yet been challenged by incitement, hatred and bloodshed, "when we cannot agree on what we want to remember."

He queried how much of Rabin's legacy could be relayed via the torch of memory.

For people who annually attend the Ner Yitzhak (Candle for Yitzhak) ceremony at the President's Residence, this was a question that becomes more worrying from year to year. There were so many empty seats that the Master of Ceremonies asked the people sitting in the rear to come forward and fill the vacancies in the front rows. Hardly anyone from Rabin's government was present, and of the Labor Party members past and present the one that stood out most was Amir Peretz, who embraced each member of the Rabin family including Rabin's 94 year old sister Rachel who came from her home on Kibbutz Manara in the north of the country, as she does each year.

The saving grace for the future was demonstrated by elementary school children from the bilingual school in Beersheba, who brought a large plaster of a peace dove, sang and spoke in Hebrew and Arabic, and shook hands with each other after explaining that because they study and play together and are growing up with each other, they are proving that coexistence is possible and that they may be harbingers of peace.

The expressions on the faces of the adults were more eloquent than words could describe and most took out their cell phones to capture the moment for posterity, especially when Hebrew and Arab voices were raised in 'Let's Sing a Song of Peace', the song that Rabin joined in chorus only minutes before his life was snuffed out by a Jewish assassin who disagreed with his policy.

Other than the applause for Ben Artzi, it was the first time that the ceremony at the President's Residence had taken place in the early afternoon. In the past, in keeping with traditional Jewish lunar calendar observance, the ceremony had taken place just before twilight.


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