Parting shot: Past and present tense

The horrific days of the mass casualties in bus bombings of twenty years ago have not returned in full, but the apprehension has. And so has the heartbreak.

A MAN holds up a flag during a peace rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square  (photo credit: REUTERS)
A MAN holds up a flag during a peace rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square
(photo credit: REUTERS)
One of my favorite movie scenes is James Earl Jones’s moving monologue in Field of Dreams, when he passionately encourages farm owner Kevin Costner to keep his magic baseball field because “people will come.”
“The memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces,” he majestically intones.
I’ve felt a similar heavy mist over the last couple weeks with ghosts, recollections and events of the past swirling around like a troubling daydream.
It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed since the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. As night editor of The Jerusalem Post that night, I vividly remember walking out to the copy desk on that black Saturday evening and confirming to the already frantic staff that Rabin was dead – and then walking back to my office and somehow finding the focus to coordinate coverage of the most dramatic evening of news in the country’s history.
Twenty years later, with Rabin assassin’s brother threatening the president and thuggish Beitar Jerusalem fans chanting “Yigal Amir” at a soccer match, there are too many people who have not learned any lessons from that hideous night and the ugly climate that paved the way for such an unthinkable act to occur.
That goes for the ugly Palestinian climate as well. While it appears to be reverting back to a still-unacceptable low burner level focusing on attacks at checkpoints, the mini-intifada that has engulfed the country for the last month also brought back a long-suppressed atmosphere of suspicion, distrust and fear for personal safety.
Those horrific days of mass casualties in bus bombings have not returned in full, but the apprehension has. And so has the heartbreak. Among the casualties of the No. 78 bus Armon Hanatziv attack was an acquaintance from that murky early-aliya past.
A younger Richard Lakin and his wife, Karen, brought a little New England-style vibe to south Jerusalem in the late 1980s when they opened an English learning center. My wife worked for them for a year and at a handful of social gatherings, we were impressed by the Lakins’ easygoing, hopeful attitude toward their adopted home and life in general.
We lost touch in the ensuing years, but the photo of Richard accompanying the reports of his stabbing and bullet wounds in the attack immediately erased the cloudiness of time. According to his son’s poignant social media posts, Richard continued to invoke his earlier optimism by devoting time to various coexistence efforts. As Rabbi David Wolpe, who attended Lakin’s funeral Wednesday, wrote, “His Facebook page reads at the top ‘coexist’ with a peace sign. His every impulse was kindness and his every path was peace.”
Those lofty goals tied into another bit of the past mingling with the present. Back near the end of the second intifada, I wrote about the surreal scene of eating lunch in my back yard with Palestinian workers during a two-week bathroom remodeling project. Back then, amid their good-natured complaints about my tepidly-prepared Turkish coffee, they expressed frustration at the dire situation and voiced the desire to work, provide for their families and wash themselves of politics and leaders – both Israeli and their own.
Last month, just before the rash of stabbings, we hired the same Palestinian contractor from Azariya (Bethany) to rip up a leaky porch and put in new flooring. Aside from a few days when a closure prevented them for arriving, three Palestinian laborers have been at our house every day over the last two weeks, amid the latest stabbings and shootings.
The same conversations are taking place, accompanied by the same weak coffee. These Palestinians dislike Abbas as much as they disdain Bibi. They want to live in a Palestinian state, but what they care about is having a home and a future for their families.
The only thing that’s changed is... nothing. From Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination to the second intifada to another senseless victim of terrorism like Richard Lakin, we continue to remember where we came from, but turning Santayana’s pithy saying inside out, we seem condemned to repeat the worst of it nonetheless.
In our particular Middle East desert of dreams, the cobwebs of the past seem to be just too thick to brush away.