I don’t have much to say about Yitzhak Rabin that hasn’t been said,19 years after the Saturday night that changed everything.
Instead I will share a personal anecdote that for me best represents Rabin’s legacy.
The song “To Cry for You” became the anthem of Rabin’s death. Aviv Geffen first sang it at the infamous peace rally on November 4 1995, right before Rabin was killed. He sang it again at the seven-day memorial for the murdered prime minister. His performance in the newly renamed “Rabin Square” was sincere and powerful – especially given how ominous the song had been a week earlier. Geffen didn’t write the song for Rabin, but its simple lyrics and moving melody perfectly captured the national mood of mourning and despair. (See the video of that performance below).
A few years after the murder I was living in Bolivia on a volunteer delegation. One night, I listened to a tape of Israeli music with my two French-Canadian roommates.
When “To Cry for You” came on, my roommate told me that it sounded familiar.
“You must be mixing it up with something else. You can’t know this song.” She didn’t speak Hebrew and had never been to Israel, How could she possibly know this song?
“No, no, I do,” she insisted. “What is it about?”
I explained to her that it’s about mourning a friend but that it symbolized the collective mourning for Rabin — and peace — in Israel.
“Oh, yes, of course I know that song,” she said. “I remember hearing it on the news after he was killed. The story of his murder really touched me. That he fought for peace in that country and was then killed. I read about it. I admire him.”
For me, that’s Rabin’s legacy: that someone at the other end of the world was inspired by his actions. My roommate, like most Canadians, probably heard more about violence in Israel than anything else, but she remembered Rabin and his brave struggle for peace.
The situation here in 1995 was more complex than it appeared from the outside. Yet, it’s hard not to be moved by a story so dramatic the best screenwriter couldn’t have made it up: the war-hardened general who sought peace was shot immediately after singing “Song for Peace” in front of thousands of supporters, his fresh blood staining the lyric sheet.
Nineteen years later, I still get chills when I think of the murder and “To Cry for You” starts playing in my head.
On this Rabin Remembrance Day, I listen to Aviv Geffen and read the latest news. We are so far from Rabin’s vision. I can only hope that future generations learn from our mistakes and fulfill Rabin’s legacy.