MEMORIAL TRIBUTE TO YITZHAK RABIN
BY: HANK LEVY
Outside it was bitter, but inside it was warm. The long delays to enter were due to the immense security and metal detectors all must pass through. How ironic that Madison Square Garden was packed on Sunday December 10, 1995 in a memorial tribute to Yitzhak Rabin because of a breakdown of security.
New Yorkers came to pay tribute to the soldier who was killed while pursuing peace. They were joined by people from over a dozen states, government representatives from over 30 foreign countries, nearly 40 Congressmen, leaders and members of over 40 sponsoring organizations, not to mention those from a great many other participating groups.
It was over a month since that fateful November 4th day. Most American Jews had long since shed their tears, viewed the TV during those tragic days, read the news reports and possibly attended some sort of memorial service. Apparently, one final event was needed for us to say "Shalom Chaver". To assist in this endeavor Mrs. Leah Rabin , some members of her family, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and several of his Ministers, representatives from the Likud party, Israeli Chief Rabbi Yisrael Lau, Vice President Al Gore, Governor George Pataki, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, presidents of major Jewish organizations and talented musicians enabled us to add our voices and support for the memory of Israel's slain leader.
Prior to the event there were panic attacks within those groups who disagreed politically with Rabin's policies. Thinking that this forum would be used as a bully pulpit to plant blame for the assassination and discredit the validity of their organizations, the faxes were flying fast and furious as to how to react to the memorial tribute. In the final analysis, their concerns were unfounded. Conspicuous in their absence from the list of program sponsors was the Zionist Organization of America, the National Council of Young Israel, the Jewish Action Alliance and the right wing organizations such as Americans for a Safe Israel. Fear for how this rally would play out politically was probably a major factor in causing these groups opposed to Rabin's policies from joining the rest of New York's Jewish community in what proved to be a wonderful opportunity for the healing process to begin. Indeed, the theme of unity and civility and mutual respect for those who disagree was stressed time and time again. There were reports that these groups were not encouraged to attend and speakers representing their viewpoints were not allowed to address those attending.
The entire tribute was masterfully put together. It bestowed dignity on Rabin's memory, applauded his vision for peace for his country and the region and upheld the democratic ideals of Israel for opposing points of view to be espoused and heard. Above all, it heralded unity.
Actress Kathleen Turner performed a moving rendition of "Oh Captain, My Captain" by Walt Whitman. It was fitting for Abraham Lincoln to share this lament for his passing with Yitzhak Rabin.
Mr. Steven Flatow, father of Alissa, who was murdered in Israel and donated her organs so that Israelis in need could survive, read Psalm 121 which instructs Jewish people where to look for help in difficult times. It is hard to imagine a more fitting person or a more fitting passage to entone this ageless message.
Rabbi Lau remarked that we didn't come just to cry at the loss of Prime Minister Rabin, we came to emphasize the real meaning of the Jewish concept of love, mercy, friendship, solidarity and the real spirit of Jewish heritage. He mentioned the prohibition against killing including the passage in Leviticus invoking man not to stand by while his brothers' and friends' blood is spilt. And that after the loss of six million Jews in the Holocaust and 18,000 on the battlegrounds, we all know what it means to appreciate one man's life. The implication was that orthodox Jews would never condone such an act. In fact, he said, "The bullets that killed Yitzhak Rabin killed our understanding that a Jew can do such a thing" and he added that we must think about our failure.
Singer Dudu Fisher was magnificent. His rendition of the Memorial Prayer brought a hint of tears to his glistening eyes. He was not alone in the impact of his song. Just as touching was his singing Noa's Song (For The Children), inspired by Rabin's granddaughter's speech at the funeral. The music was created by Marvin Hamlisch (who played it) with the words by Alan and Marilyn Bergman.
As Leah Rabin was introduced, she received a standing ovation and the emotion was at a high level. She was a primary reason for many of the people being there, for just as the crowd was meant to help ease her pain, she was in the unique position of doing the same for them. She said, "I've always been proud of the Jewish people in America and our big brother America who never let us down." She continued that, "Now we need Jewish solidarity and unity. We have to stick together. We don't want to forget this murder...who killed and who was killed. We need to change the climate that led to it." She decried the fact that while the nasty slogans and pictures of her husband were displayed, the voice of the silent majority was never heard until the night of the peace rally. Then it seemed the "first time singing and hope and support for peace - Yitzhak and Shimon Peres were happy that night. Now, 30 days later," she continued, "we don't see posters. Now it's Shalom Chaver and singing sad songs in his memory and we will be silent no more."
Mrs. Rabin talked of how since the age of 16 -- for 57 years Yitzhak "never spared his strength for the desire for peace. Jewish people all over the world was his priority and he dedicated himself to the Jewish State." She expressed anger that "the abominable assassin did not hesitate for one second before he pulled the trigger -- he had no mercy." Mrs. Rabin then thanked all those attending on behalf of her family, the Israel defense Forces, the millions of Israelis and the children of Israel for helping in their sorrow.
Shimon Peres, remarking on the large and influential delegation sent by the U.S. to Rabin's funeral said, "America has shown love for Israel and for Yitzhak Rabin. Yitzhak Rabin loved deeply the United States of America." Then, addressing himself to the audience he said, "Fellow Jews, Yitzhak Rabin never tried to please you -- he tried to lead you -- that was his obligation." He continued, "In the 50 years I know Rabin I never saw him happier than at the last moments of his life. He always said "I'm not a singer and not a dancer but for the first time in his life he stood up and sang The Song of Peace."
Peres spoke of how both he and Rabin were raised by Ben- Gurion. How a leader must have courage to take a risk in going to war or making a peace and that Yitzhak did both. He told of how a leader must plan, prepare and teach and be ready for the moment when the fate of your whole people is in your hands. This happened two times for Rabin. Once when he defended Jerusalem, "the heart and most delicate, sensitive part of our existence." Then again when he became a leader of peace. "It's easier to be a commander of the army," he said. "It's extremely difficult to be a leader of your people achieving peace. They may disagree with you. For the last 3 1/2 years Rabin went through streets of hatred, avenue of scars and accusations -- was called a murderer and a traitor. He loved his people, yet he did not change his mind. He knew he had to show a way. He did not want to divide his people. When you have two views you don't have to become two peoples."
Peres spoke eloquently as a leader desirous of all Israelis to be able to live together. He said, "May I suggest unity provided we shall be united against murder. Let's agree not to hate. We recognize the right of the opposition to oppose us -- to change the government -- but we expect them with us to make our nation free and democratic having many views, while remaining together." Peres was pleased with the peace with Hussein of Jordan. Now he was hopeful of concluding agreements with Syria and Lebanon which, if successful, would mark the end of war in the Middle East. This was possible because "when we won the war we didn't keep the spoils for ourselves," said Peres. He also indicated that in his eyes the first expression that the Arabs were concerned for peace was when grief and sorrow over Rabin's murder were shown in many Arab quarters.
Vice President Al Gore, speaking on behalf of our country, thanked Peres for his words of healing and unity and steady leadership. He told Leah Rabin and her family that "millions of people hold you in their hearts and prayers and say to you we respect you and love you."
Speaking of the upcoming Hanukah holiday, Gore said that when the candles are lit, they should be a symbol of light over darkness and he likened the human spirit to the candle of God. He noted that the road to peace is not an easy one in the Middle East, the hills of Bosnia or the streets of our cities. And "the enemies of peace will not deter us from our cause -- we will not be daunted -- we will not be afraid. We have to banish the darkness now and forever." As a final note, Gore indicated that while we continue to mourn Rabin, one day soon we will reap the harvest of his life's work.
Among the conveners of this remarkable tribute were Leon Levy, chairman of Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organization, Edgar Bronfman, President of World Jewish Congress, Martin Begun, President of Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, Louise Greilsheimer, President of UJA-Federation of Greater New York and Nathan Sharony, President of State of Israel Bonds. Israeli singer David Broza performed two of his songs -- Together and Things Will be Better. The entire audience was invited to join in the Song for Peace. Louise Greilsheimer, UJA President said that the Song of Peace tells us that while an assassin's bullet can pierce our heart, it cannot deter us from peace. The Star Spangled Banner and Hatikva was performed with all the honored guests on the stage and the entire throng of over 15,000 participants singing in unity and in solidarity.
"Shalom Chaver" was indeed a most fitting tribute to the memory and ideals of Yitzhak Rabin.
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