The Human Spirit: Debasing Rabin Day

Could any of us have imagined that 11 years after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin the nation's largest newspaper would conduct a poll about whether his killer deserved clemency?

Let's think back to the terrible night of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and the somber days that followed. The hundreds of thousands of Israelis who took part in daytime and nighttime vigils, the weeping and candle lighting, the soulful singing, the earnest discussions will recall an intense expression of national grief and introspection about what had gone so tragically wrong within our society. The period of mourning wasn't free of disputations about who was to blame, finger-pointing and anger, but there were two subjects about which there was national consensus. The first was the horror over the murder. Even those who most virulently disagreed with the prime minister's politics condemned the heinous act of Yigal Amir. The second was a desperate need for dialogue between estranged sectors of Israeli society - notably between religious and non-religious, between those who lived in cities with those who lived in settlements, between Right and Left. Could any of us have imagined that 11 years later, as we approached the anniversary of the brutal murder, our nation's largest newspaper would commission a poll about whether the assassin deserved clemency or the right to procreate? Nor would we have believed that allegedly a third of the population and an even higher percentage among Orthodox Jews would lighten Amir's sentence. It would have seemed inconceivable back then that 11 years after Yitzhak Rabin's murder, one of our most popular TV interviewers would feature the woman who had married the murderer. "Just out of curiosity," Dudu Topaz prefaced his exclusive interview with Larissa Trimbobler. No matter your politics, you have to feel debased by Dudu Topaz sitting chummily on a park bench with Trimbobler (the mother of four who divorced her husband and married Yigal Amir) and asking her if she was the sort of altruistic person who only gives of herself and doesn't think about what she is getting in return. Topaz is also curious if they've already decided about a name for a baby. And then, while driving together to the prison, Larissa's cellphone rings. Amir, of course. Topaz wants a turn at the phone with the assassin, but Amir is prohibited from speaking to journalists. Ah, come on, the star cajoles, such rules don't apply to Dudu Topaz. Besides, what more can they do to Amir - he's already serving a life sentence. Knowing how cellphone picks up background conversations, Topaz shouts a mix of advice and a question, asking Amir if he looks deep, deep inside himself and regrets killing "a person" - that he could make sure such things won't repeat themselves. WHAT ABOUT commitment to broad dialogue? Eleven years after the assassination, the gaps feel larger than ever. And the memorial gathering in Kikar Rabin has become a politicized stage for left-wing views, disenfranchising much of the nation from comfortably taking part in the central commemorative event. Honoring and preserving a national leader's memory is indeed a challenge. Time numbs our feelings and dulls our memories. In 11 years, gap-toothed second graders turn into soldiers. But the deterioration of Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Day should be a wake-up call for us to make changes now. The Reform movement recently proposed a "Fast of Rabin" parallel to the Fast of Gedaliah, which commemorates the political assassination of Governor Gedaliah Ben-Ahikam in 586 BCE. I don't think this is a practical suggestion, considering the low percentage of non-Orthodox Jews who fast any day other than Yom Kippur, but it's a recognition that there's a need for national brainstorming to infuse meaning into Rabin Memorial Day. A few eclectic ideas: * The appealing open-air memorial concert could have been moved from Tel Aviv to Sderot, preceded by a Shabbat of study, discussion and prayer involving 12th graders from all over the country. I'd suggest the eulogy of Rabin by former Yeshiva University president Norman Lamm as a valuable text to study. No speeches at all at the concert. Instead there should be an abundance of 10-second greetings by a spectrum of political, religious and social leaders. Emphasis needs to be shifted from a nostalgic return to the days after the assassination to greater recognition of the humanity on all sides of an argument. * On that same Shabbat, every observant family should commit to inviting non-observant guests to their tables. The invitees should reciprocate on Hanukka. * On the day before Shavuot, university and yeshiva students who live in the tribal areas - say Benjamin and Dan, Judah and Manasseh - could organize joint challenge-hike days in their areas, ending in an evening of study of texts on kindness, justice and overcoming the negative elements of tribalism. * Legislation has to eliminate the legal problems in imposing pardon-free punishments for anyone who assassinates the prime minister of Israel. Even if this can't be done retroactively, it can serve as a deterrent to future Yigal Amirs. * A year of public TV and radio service announcements that relate to expunging hate speech would bring the subject to national consciousness. * There should be a self-imposed ban on deciding what Rabin would or wouldn't have done today, and on hagiography. Rabin received an honorary doctorate from Yeshiva University, and Rabbi Lamm enjoyed a personal relationship with him. In the eulogy that would be a good starting point for discussion (, he urges that "we keep far away from excessive self-confidence that leads to arrogant self-righteousness that, in turn, persuades us that our ideals are greater and better than those of the other fellow; that we are sincere and he is not; that we are unquestionably right and he is indubitably wrong; that we are therefore entitled to force our views on him - by 'eliminating' him if need be - in order to have our 'truth' prevail." Above all, Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Day should be a time of national humility. The writer is the author of Shalom Haver: Goodbye Friend - a children's album published with the cooperation of Rachel Rabin.