Seldom do I cry, but on June 10, I wept. I shed tears at Yitzhak Rabin’s grave. I cried not only for the death of a politician I’ve read about and admire, but also for the slow and sad death of a nation I love and care about deeply.
I recently returned from Birthright, a free 10-day trip to Israel for Jewish young adults. This was my second foray to the Promised Land. When I was 16, I traveled to Israel on a four-week trip for local high school students.
It was a moving experience. We sang and danced jubilantly with Israeli soldiers at the Western Wall, listened eagerly to lectures about Israel’s security situation, and sang “Hatikva
” triumphantly after participating in a staged military training. It was an amazing trip, which made me feel a sense of connection to an underdog nation that has succeeded against all odds. As the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, this trip carried meaning for me.
My grandfather Sol passed away when I was in the fifth grade. He will forever be one of my greatest sources of inspiration. Sol survived the horrors of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen and was able to succeed and raise a family in Brooklyn. In spite of the atrocities he faced, my grandfather made it work.
I will always admire my grandfather’s resilience and outlook on life. For example, there was the time he hosted several of my mother’s new German friends for weeks in his Brooklyn apartment. He did not hold them responsible for the sins of their parents and grandparents.
I believe everyone can learn something from the teachings of my grandfather.
I was never old enough to discuss Israel with my grandfather but through his writings, the books on his shelves and conversations with his children I am able to try to understand what Israel meant to him. When I traveled to Israel at 16, I saw what my grandfather saw in this tiny nation. I felt as though I was honoring him through my visit. Today, I struggle to see the same Israel I saw as a 16-year-old.
While my first trip was a spiritual and emotional journey, my second was one of anger and skepticism. I feel more turned off to Judaism than ever before. At the Wall, I no longer sing and dance with soldiers; I sit quietly and observe. My note in the Wall was a desperate plea for peace. I am truly conflicted. What would my grandfather think about today’s Israel? I feel this way until we visit Mount Herzl. At the grave of Yitzhak Rabin, I was hit with an unexpected wave of emotion.
From Rabin, I believe we can learn that it is possible for humans to change and evolve over time. I believe we can learn the importance of empathy and compromise.
Rabin made an incredible evolution over the course of his life. His battle history in 1948 in Lydda and Ramallah is ugly; his tenure as defense minister should also be subject to much scrutiny. In spite of his transgressions, he was able to move to the Left, and came closer than any other Israeli leader to establishing peace.
On November 4, 1995, Rabin addressed a crowd of thousands of Israelis in Tel Aviv’s Kings of Israel Square.
Rabin led the crowd in a song of peace. It was chilling and beautiful. In the months leading up this fateful night, a different leader addressed a crowd in Zion Square in Jerusalem. Benjamin Netanyahu stood on a balcony addressing a crowd of right-wing protesters.
The protesters held up signs of Rabin dressed in an SS uniform and sporting a Hitler mustache. The protesters chanted, “Rabin to the gallows!” Netanyahu did little to nothing to stop their murderous chants or stand in opposition to their rhetoric.
To this day, many in Israel debate whether Netanyahu had a role in inciting Rabin’s death. Former prime minister Ehud Barak labels Netanyahu the “lead inciter” in Rabin’s death. I believe a case can be made that Netanyahu had some role in incitement.
The difference between Rabin and Netanyahu’s visions for Israel could not be starker.
In 1996, Netanyahu edged out Shimon Peres in the election for prime minister. The hope for peace under Rabin dwindled and the peace process stopped. Netanyahu’s first stint as prime minister was short-lived and he was ousted in 1999, only to be re-elected in 2009. He has served as prime minister the past eight years.
The prospects of any sort of peace under Netanyahu are bleak. He has greatly expanded settlement construction, led multiple bloody campaigns in Gaza, and inflamed tensions with racist rhetoric. In his most recent campaign, Netanyahu warned against Arab voters heading to the polling places “in droves” and promised that there would be “no Palestinian state” under his watch.Haaretz
’s Yossi Klein summarized the legacy of Rabin’s assassination by saying that Rabin’s assassin “Yigal Amir’s vision for Israel – no Arabs, no peace, a state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River – is now policy.
Yitzhak Rabin’s true legacy, meanwhile, are the weekly protests outside the attorney general’s home.”
In the 22 years since Rabin’s death, there have been feeble attempts at a peace deal, but nothing significant.
When Rabin died, so did the dream of Israeli peace.
I don’t know if my grandfather and I would see eye to eye on Israel today. Maybe we would sit on the couch of his Brighton Beach apartment, eating his famous cucumbers, and disagree for hours. Or maybe he would share the same major qualms I have about the current state of Israel.
I don’t see myself returning to Israel any time soon.
Who knows if I will ever return. I place a small slip of paper in the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism.
I pray for several things. I pray for the well-being and health of my family and my friends. I also pray for Israel.
I pray to some day return to Israel and once again see what my grandfather saw.The author is a recent graduate of Goucher College who currently resides in Washington.