A Sacred Place for Peace: For the 20th Yartzeit of Yitzchak Rabin

Twenty years ago, as he exited a rally for peace in the square that now bears his name, Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin was shot and killed by Yigal Amir, a Jew violently opposed to relinquishing control of any of the Holy Land of Israel. I have found myself thinking often of that night these days that have been filled with violent attacks by Palestinians seeking to kill and maim Jews, often in the name of defending what is sacred to Muslims. The associations are not so straightforward and run deeper than any perceived lumping together of different acts of religious extremism. Instead, I think about how the life and murder of Rabin transformed the story of the region and created a new symbol for the hopes and longing for peace that still stirs within many Israelis today.

It is impossible to know what would have come about had Yitzchak Rabin not been gunned down. I do not believe that a continuation of his pragmatic yet profound appeal for reconciliation would have led to a Middle East without any of the malicious cruelty now being so starkly displayed. Part of the message being sent in these very dark days is that a great number of Palestinians grant no legitimacy to the existence of a Jewish state anywhere in what they call Palestine. And despite a majority of Israelis who are willing to see a Palestinian State, Yigal Amir was certainly not alone in his implacable commitment to Jewish sovereignty over the entire Land of Israel. The idea that even Rabin, with his commanding credentials and willingness to lead, was not and may not have been enough to bring true peace is deeply disheartening, And yet, I also deeply believe that his continued leadership and courage would have made a difference. That his full legacy could have been to inspire a nation to reach for its best self, even as Israel faced the real dangers of enemies fueled by both religious hatred and nationalistic intransigence. The path to a Peace of the Brave, rather than the stagnation of fear and hopelessness.

As for today, the political world does not seem to have produced a new guide for this path. But among the people there are many who try. Groups like Tag Meir, the Mark of Illumination, tirelessly show up to sites of violence to show Israelis and Palestinians alike how deep and inspirational is the desire to mend the tears and vanquish the darkness. Israeli Arabs and Jews gather together to march in the squares of Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv. People like Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger and Ali Abu Awwad continue to spread their powerful stories of coexistence in communities like ours and in places near their homes and hearts.

They too are not immune from the violence. A member of Tag Meir was one of the victims of a stabbing attack by a Palestinian. And a prominent Rabbi who works for Human Rights , Arik Ascherman, was attacked by a fellow Jew wielding a knife while he worked alongside Palestinians protecting their olive trees. And yet their bravery with or without peace is even more needed these days. Now, twenty years after the square in Tel Aviv where the Prime Minister led the singing of a Song for Peace became the site of tragedy and transformed into Rabin Square, a new sacred space to inspire those for whom peace is the holiest task.

About the Author
Rabbi Michael Bernstein is the spiritual leader of Congregation Gesher L’Torah in Alpharetta, Georgia.
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