On Rabin and Gedalya

Just as I fast on Tzom Gedalya each year, I also fast on the 12th of Heshvan, the anniversary of Rabin’s assassination.

Rabin assassination memorial_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Rabin assassination memorial_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Last month we marked the Fast of Gedalya: not to get over the big meals we ate over the three-day mega-festival of Rosh Hashana, but rather to internalize an important message.
Following the destruction of the Holy Temple at the hands of the Babylonians, some Jews still remained in the Land of Israel. Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, even allowed for a modicum of local autonomy, installing Gedalya ben Ahikam as the Judean governor. Gedalya enjoyed majority support of the Jewish community.
Yishmael ben Netanya, who was from the Davidic line, was a firm opponent Gedalya’s rule; not only as might be expected because he was not a descendant of King David, but also because he had, to Yishmael’s thinking, collaborated with the imperial power of Babylon. Even though Gedalya received intelligence reports that a political assassination was being planned and his life was in danger, nothing could convince Gedalya that a Jew would raise his arm against a fellow Jew. His assassination ultimately led to the total loss of even limited Jewish political control in the Land of Israel.
This month we will mark the 16th anniversary of the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. I remember the fateful night of his assassination. I was participating in a year-abroad program in Israel and decided not to attend the rally; instead, I went out with friends in downtown Jerusalem. Hearing rumors of the shooting I went into a shop and asked the owner to turn on the radio to check whether there was any news confirming the rumors.
I am still deeply shocked that he responded by asking me if indeed the rumors were true whether I would be pleased or not. I of course replied that I would be horrified. In response, he kicked me out of his store.
Returning to my seat, I saw American yeshiva students raising their glasses in a celebratory “l’chaim” to the death of Rabin. Distraught, I left for the bus stop to make my way home – to sanity.
Waiting for the bus to arrive, I saw Tzomet party youth members asking passersby whether they supported or were opposed to the murder. I approached them and berated them for having the audacity to do such a thing. Although they responded by stating that they were simply performing a public service by polling the public, these same teenagers let out a loud cheer when the news-broadcaster announced that Rabin had been shot and killed.
Fellow passengers shouted at them, reminding them that apart from being prime minister and defense minister, he was a father, a grandfather and a husband. The next day I saw people almost coming to blows on Ben-Yehuda Street when buying newspapers, arguing over the perceived morality of the assassination.
JUST AS I fast on Tzom Gedalya each year, I also fast on the 12th of Heshvan, the anniversary of Rabin’s assassination. To me, the similarities between the fates of Gedalya and Rabin are simply too stark to ignore.
Two Jewish leaders supported by the majority of the people, yet considered collaborators with external powers by their opponents. The complete disbelief that a Jew could harm another Jew led both to dismiss warnings that an assassination was being planned.
Although the message of the two days is similar, there is a significant difference between them – at least for the moment. To signify this difference, instead of fasting until nightfall as we do on Tzom Gedalya, I only fast until halachic mid-day on the anniversary of Rabin’s assassination.
Perhaps in the future, if we do not learn to heal the fissures in Israeli society – religious/secular, liberal/conservative, rich/poor, Ashkenazi/Sephardi , immigrant/sabra – our society will implode, and we too will lose Jewish political control in the Land of Israel.
Then this fast will also extend until nightfall.
But, if we can use the tragedy of 12 Heshvan as a wake-up call to ourselves to work towards ahavat chinam (baseless love) among and between all sectors of Israeli society, then maybe we can bring about a tikkun, a repair, which will lead to the canceling of this fast altogether.
Therefore, we should mark this day not by attempting to promote the legacy of “warrior turned peacemaker” or “soldier turned statesman,” for it is irrelevant that it was a right-wing religious Jew who assassinated a left-wing secular Jew.
The fundamental message of the day should not be to laud the legacy of Rabin – which in any case means many different things to many different people – but rather to destroy the legacy of his murderer Yigal Amir, to absolutely reject the notion that a government can be changed with bullets, as opposed to through ballots, and to absolutely reject the use of violence within our society.
In this way, the day can promote a unifying message to Israeli society and the Jewish people as a whole, and avoid turning what should be a national tragedy for all into a politically partisan day, which would further cement the fractures in our society.
THE REAL message of the day struck me during the shloshim (30-day memorial) for Rabin. I was staffing a memorial table in Ashkelon at which passersby could light a memorial candle in his memory.
I saw a haredi man approach me, wagging his finger, filled with what appeared to be rage. I assumed that he would criticize me, as somebody wearing tzitzit and a kippa, for staffing a table memorializing a secular left-winger.
But then I realized something.
This man was filled not with anger, but rather with anguish. He came closer, trying to speak, but with barely a sound coming out of mouth. Finally, when he was close to me, he embraced me and wept bitterly on my shoulder. In between the sobs, I could hear him saying, “He was a father, he was like a father to the nation and we, we killed him.”
It took me a while to understand that he was not referring to religious Jews, but to Israeli society as a whole. And when I realized my initial mistake in assuming that he was coming toward me in order to rebuke me, I understood that I too was part of the problem, and that therefore I needed to try and be part of the solution.
I wish those – of all religious and political persuasions – who care to join me in fasting until 11:23 a.m. (Israel time) on Wednesday, November 9, a tzom mo’il (a meaningful fast).
The writer is the director of Teaching Israel. www.teachingisrael.com www.facebook.com/teachingisrael.