Sunday, March 18, 2018

Twenty years ago on a Shabbos afternoon, my home phone started ringing. We did not have caller ID back then, but it was highly unusual that the phone rang with almost annoying regularity. We were living in Southfield, a Detroit suburb, on November, 4, 1995.

I was going to be covering an evening Book Fair at the West Bloomfield Jewish Community Center. I was looking forward to meeting authors and interviewing community members.

But all of that changed.

As soon as Havdalah was completed, I turned on our answering machine to hear caller after caller from friends and colleagues relate the news that would take my breath away. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by Jewish extremist Yigal Amir.

I quickly returned calls, my wife turned on CNN, and we watched in horror at the reports coming in from Israel.

That night at the West Bloomfield JCC, instead of asking about speakers or particular works of Jewish literature, I was interviewing people and getting reactions to Rabin’s assassination. I could not believe that I was talking about Rabin in the past tense.

He was, I felt, Israel’s best hope for peace with the Palestinians. I don’t know if Israel would be in the same position now if he were alive, its citizenry terrorized by knife-wielding terrorists over a year after fighting a war against Hamas.

Today I read that Yigal Amir’s brother Hagai used Facebook to defend his assassin-brother’s actions, and that he labeled Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin a “brown-nosing politician” after the leader said that as long as he is president, Amir would never be pardoned.

Hagai Amir wrote on Facebook:

“He does not determine whether my brother goes free or not, only God does, just as He determined that Rabin would die even though Rivlin and his friends didn’t exactly agree. He determined that Rivlin would be president, and the time will come when he will determine that Rivlin, along with the Zionist state, must depart from this world, just like Sodom did, for its crimes that it has committed against its people within the framework of the law.”

“And that day is not far away,” he added.

I am not using this space to criticize anyone who might have agreed or disagreed with Rabin. But it’s sad to say that we are so far away from any glimmer of hope that Rabin espoused 20 years ago.

Then I read what Hagai Amir writes on Facebook. No, he doesn’t give demonstrations on knife wielding or the best place to stab someone on a person’s body. But after all of these years, his words are no better than the ones coming from those who would kill any Jew, and would gladly use social media to demonstrate how.

I wonder if Israel would be in the same situation it finds itself now if Rabin lived and was able to see his dream of a two-state solution fulfilled. I can’t say I trust the Palestinian “leadership” enough to think that it would have invested sincerely in peace.

We seem to have come apart in terms of peace.

And I know it’s almost a cliche, but Golda Meir’s quote is shaking my very soul.

“We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us,” she said.

Whether you and I agree or disagree about Rabin’s politics and peace efforts, I hope we can find that common ground that he did not deserve to die for his actions.

And I hope that we can all take time on November 4th, the 20th anniversary of his death, to think of him, read about him, Google his name or talk about him.

His dreams of peace seemed awfully close to being real. I haven’t felt the same since.

By Phil Jacobs