Follow our youth to the square

The vast majority of us who lie between these extremes must be optimistic that it is our youth who are leading the efforts. Perhaps their generation will succeed in a way that ours has not.

Thousands rally at the memorial for slain premier Yitzhak Rabin in Tel Aviv (photo credit: BEN HARTMAN)
Thousands rally at the memorial for slain premier Yitzhak Rabin in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: BEN HARTMAN)
The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin 19 years ago continues to cause controversy. Like myself, many Israeli citizens were driven to activism in the aftermath of the dramatic murder of the prime minister.
Personally I became active in Meimad, and have dedicated myself to healing rifts within Israeli society. Other immediate responses included Meimad’s leader Rabbi Yehuda Amital being asked to join the Peres cabinet; a group of rabbis founding Tzohar; and Gesher creating the Annual Tent of Dialogue. Notwithstanding these and many other initiatives, the Rabin Heritage, as it has become known, and the events leading up to and following the assassination continue to be a source of friction. To this day the rifts threaten our future as a Jewish and democratic country.
This year, for the third time, the Zionist youth movements have taken the lead on this issue, and they must not only be applauded for their initiative, but supported, by us joining them in the square.
In the years following the assassination the main event in memorial of Rabin was a large rally in the re-named Rabin Square, the scene of the crime. During those years the central theme was Rabin’s peace policy, with calls for negotiations with the Palestinians to be concluded with the fulfilment of the two-state solution. The speakers were exclusively left-wing politicians, intellectuals or artists, and the crowds, which were very large in the early years, distinctly from one side of the ideological spectrum. The organizers had essentially hijacked what had been Rabin’s life of service to the State of Israel to focus on one issue – the peace process.
In parallel to this secular custom the religious sector rediscovered Rachel the Matriarch, whose memorial day falls out on the same Hebrew date as that of the assassination. Without wanting to reduce the importance of this matriarch, it did seem convenient for those less interested in taking part in the Rabin “festival” to have an alternative national figure whose heritage was more appropriate to focus on. Rachel has heavily overshadowed Rabin within the religious school system and the religious mindset in general.
For many years this replacement of Yitzhak with Rachel annoyed me intensely, as it was a snub to the large population of Israelis for whom the Rabin assassination remains a key national event. However, with time, it has become clear to me that this change of emphasis was just as convenient for the secular Left as for the religious Right. It allowed them to write off the need for a deeper investigation of the implications of the assassination and the required healing Israeli society lacked throughout those years.
Were it not for this alibi, perhaps they would have had to think about a wider message relating to upholding democracy, and not just the political legacy of the fallen prime minister. Of course, for this to happen, Left and Right, religious and secular would have to talk.
All this until 2012. After a number of years of falling attendances a new organization, headed by former secular Zionist youth movement heads, realized that change was necessary. It was necessary in order to avoid the assassination becoming an irrelevant event in public life, but more substantively because the need to engage with those who never came to the square was still urgent.
In 2012 Dror Yisrael invited Danny Hirschberg, the secretary general of Israeli Bnei Akiva, to join the rally as one of the speakers. He was not alone, with rabbis Benny Lau, Avi Gisser and the wonderful Menachem Froman joining him on the platform. It is hard to underestimate the importance of the invite, and of its acceptance.
During his speech Hirschberg talked about the need to unite around core issues affecting Israeli society, and to engage in dialogue around questions of Israeli and Jewish identity. He recognized the importance of Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state being the responsibility of all sides of the political, ideological and religious debate.
In 2012 the speakers mentioned above were almost completely alone, as a sign of the trepidation that both sides had about this new direction. I was in the crowd that night and was able to count on one hand the handful of Bnei Akiva faithful who joined. Two years have passed and the heads of the youth movements have not stood still.
A brave and open relationship is being built and real conversations and activities are being promoted to start closing gaps that have festered for far too long. They have discovered that unity is created through action, and cannot be sustained on sentiment alone. This year it is hoped that thousands of Bnei Akiva members, young and old, proudly donning their movement shirts, will stand alongside their peers from many other movements and organizations at the upcoming rally on Saturday, November 8th in Tel Aviv.
Do not for a second think that this is an easy process. On both sides there are those for whom the status quo of “no dialogue” is preferred. We have just had the “first” Rabin Memorial Rally of 2014; a political event in the older style. While I have no problem with political rallies, it has been disturbing to read some politicians and journalists condemning next week’s scheduled event.
On the Left people like MK Zehava Gal-On claim that it is simply self-contradictory to entertain the notion that religious and non-religious, Right and Left, can celebrate the importance of supporting democracy through dialogue and cooperation with the other side, while there are still those within the religious Right that cannot attend any event dedicated to the memory of the man who signed the Oslo Accords.
The vast majority of us who lie between these extremes must be optimistic that it is our youth who are leading the efforts.
Perhaps their generation will succeed in a way that ours has not. We need for them to continue to believe in building a better society, and they need for us to give them our full and unconditional support. See you in the square!
The author is the chairman of Gesher and founder of Goldrock Capital.