Every year on the 12th of the Hebrew month of Heshvan, which this year falls on Friday, millions of Israelis officially mark the anniversary of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. For many post-high school foreign students studying in Israel, however, the topic is distant and foreign.
Although most of this year's student population was in preschool when Rabin was murdered 14 years ago, many modern Orthodox educational institutions in Israel are trying to bring the topic closer to home in a religious context.
The Jerusalem Post talked to 10 post high-school seminaries and yeshivas about what they do to mark the day for their overseas students. Many of the schools are holding lectures concerning what happened in late 1995 in general, as well as discussing concepts like the nature of disagreement within a religious framework.
Rabbi David Milston, head of the overseas program at Midreshet HaRova in the capital's Jewish Quarter, said that he gives a class on the Rabin anniversary every year. In his lesson he emphasizes two points: how to tolerate other opinions without coming to violence and the importance of giving respect to a man who dedicated his life to Israel.
"Achdut [unity] is tested when you disagree. There's a difference between unity and uniformity," Milston told the Post on Wednesday. "We see [Rabin's murder] as a very serious day and a low point in our country's history."
While Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim in the Givat Shaul neighborhood doesn't do anything specific on 12 Heshvan, officials said, it discusses Rabin's assassination at other points throughout the year, including on the Fast of Gedalia, which commemorates the assassination of an ancient Jewish leader by a Jew.
Many schools said they feel it is their duty as religious educational institutions to convey a message to their students concerning Rabin's death. "We're a modern Orthodox Zionist institution," Rabbi Todd Berman, director of admissions at Yeshivat Eretz Hatzvi in the capital's Katamonim neighborhood, said on Wednesday. "It's important to convey the complexity of the issue and why we believe in the importance of the state and democracy, as well as the dangers of fanaticism."
At Eretz Hatzvi, one of the yeshiva heads conducts a dialogue about the events of late 1995. Berman noted that the subject is new for many of the overseas students.
Another school that asked not to be identified gives its foreign students an introductory lesson about Rabin's assassination, the issues surrounding it, and the tensions of that time.
Only after they have this background do the overseas students join their Israeli peers for a morning of in-depth study about Jewish issues pertaining to Rabin's death. Students then attend a public ceremony or take part in wider regional programming.
The degree to which a school familiarizes its students with Israeli society in general is usually a factor of the school's emphasis on Zionism and attitude toward the state.
There are only a few schools in which foreign students mix with Israelis on a daily basis. Despite that, in modern Orthodox yeshivas there is a general push for students to familiarize themselves with and take part in Israeli society.
"We strongly encourage aliya. We discuss current events and Israeli aspects of Israeli society and bring students to different communities around the country for Shabbat," Rabbi Alan Haber of Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim told the Post on Thursday.
One rabbi who teaches at a Zionist seminary said that Israel is a thriving society that will become increasingly important in its students' lives. Thus, he argued the importance of understanding the intellectual context for political debate in the country by reading renowned Israeli authors and poets like Amos Oz and Yehuda Amitai.
He runs a book club for a group of American students, in which they read and discuss Shmuel Yosef Agnon's classic Only Yesterday.
Other institutions, however, don't see a place for cultural exploration in a year that is supposed to be dedicated to religious growth and Torah learning. One school contacted wasn't planning on marking Rabin's assassination, not because it isn't viewed as a tragic or important day, but rather because the school said it sees no place for it in the context of the yeshiva experience.
Some Israeli religious Zionist educational institutions eschew the issue of Rabin's assassination and choose to emphasize the coinciding yahrzeit of the matriarch Rachel instead. Some of their Anglo modern Orthodox counterparts seem a lot more willing to tackle the issue head on.
This difference is probably a result of a combination of distance from the tensions surrounding the sensitive issue and the different approaches of American modern Orthodoxy and Israeli religious Zionism.
Many Israelis spend 12 Heshvan remembering who Rabin was as a person. Most Anglo yeshivot choose to put the day in a religious context and emphasize broader issues surrounding his assassination.
If commemoration of Rabin's murder can be used to gauge the value Anglo yeshivas attach to involvement with Israeli society at large, one can certainly conclude that at many such schools, an effort is being made to familiarize their overseas students with the larger society they live in for the year.
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