One of the most moving parts of my trip to Israel a few months ago wasn’t even a part of my official itinerary. Once my program of Interfaith Partners for Peace ended, I spend a few days on my own which included a visit to Yohanna’s uncle Eli and his family in Ramat Hasharon, outside Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv is a place I haven’t spent much time, so I was glad to be able to spend a “Tel Aviv Shabbat,” which, since it is the capital of secular Israel, does not involve synagogue and prayer but beaches and socializing. Eli said he would take me on a bike ride, and so we got in the car and drove to a park close to the beach. There we rented two public bikes, much like they have in Seattle or New York, and we set off on a trip into the city.
We rode to the beach and along a promenade, dodging the masses of people walking along the boardwalk or sitting in cafes. We rode along hotels, down city streets along the beach and into Yafo. We then turned and rode deeper into the city, through historic neighborhoods, past landmarks like Independence Hall, where the State of Israel was declared by David Ben Gurion, and the Habimah theater.
It was then I realized that we would be passing Rabin Square, and my heart started to swell. Rabin Square is the large open public square where, following a speech given at a peace rally (it was then called Kings of Israel Square, Kikar Malche Yisrael), Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. That was November 4, 1995—20 years ago this coming Wednesday.
Rabin’s murder is one of those events that I remember where I was when I heard the news. Still buoyed by the hope of the Oslo Accords, the handshake on the White House lawn, the promise of mutual recognition and peace, Rabin’s killing was a shattering blow. To know that it was perpetrated by a Jewish extremist who was against the peace process made it even worse.
Since that time, while I had visited Rabin’s grave in Jerusalem, I had never had the chance to travel to Tel Aviv to be at that spot. When Eli and I rode our bikes, we drew closer to the square and approached from the southern end. We then rode the length of the (large) square to the northern end, under the balcony where Rabin spoke to the steps he descended where he was shot and where a memorial stands today.
The place where he died is a memorial of misshapen stones. Small bronze circles mark the position of Rabin and the shooter and others at the time of the events. A bust of Rabin overlooks the site, and a memorial wall is just to the north on an adjacent building. It was very moving.
Rabin’s assassination is all the more tragic because in the 20 years since, we have not seen the realization of peace. We have seen increasing cycles of violence, including a rise in attacks very recently.
Every year around the anniversary, I turn back to Rabin’s words. The former military general turned statesman had the power to inspire not just because of who he was, but also because of what he said. On the lawn of the White House in 1993 the day he and Yasir Arafat signed the Statement of Principles, he said in his gravelly voice:
Let me say to you, the Palestinians: We are destined to live together on the same soil, in the same land. We, the soldiers who have returned from battle stained with blood, we who have seen our relatives and friends killed before our eyes, we who have attended their funerals and cannot look into the eyes of their parents, we who have come from a land where parents bury their children, we who have fought against you, the Palestinians – We say to you today in a loud and a clear voice: Enough of blood and tears. Enough. We have no desire for revenge. We harbor no hatred towards you. We, like you, are people who want to build a home, to plant a tree, to love, to live side by side with you in dignity, in empathy, as human beings, as free men. We are today giving peace a chance, and saying again to you: Enough
It is impossible to tell what would have happened had Rabin lived. Historians and commentators can debate whether or not we would have seen the realization of a lasting peace if he had lived. But we can continue to grasp onto the spirit of his words, a spirit that focused not on the past, but on the future. Not on what was but what could be. Not on hatreds but on hopes.
This week’s Torah portion includes the famous story of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac. Abraham is told by God to sacrifice his son on the top of a mountain as a sign of devotion to God. At the last minute, after the altar has been built, after Isaac has been tied down, after Abraham raises the knife to do the deed, an angel calls out, “Do not raise your hand against the boy, or do anything to him.” (Genesis 22:12) The killing is averted, a ram is sacrificed in Isaac’s stead.
In other words, the angel calls out: “Enough!”
Let us remember, on this the 20th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination, this one word: Enough.
Enough of hatred and violence.
Enough of injustice and dehumanization.
Enough of fear and terror.
Enough of the sacrifice of children.