Shay Nave

A tragic wake-up call: The Rabin assassination as a catalyst for social change

The prime minister's murder spurred me to leave my comfort zone and work to spark dialogue among people who disagree, because not getting along is not an option
Portrait of then-Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. September 16, 1992. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)
Portrait of then-Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. September 16, 1992. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

At the time that Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated, I was living in a Jewish community in the heart of the Shomron region. The community was one of those settlements whose inhabitants, people like my parents who had chosen to live there, had been referred to by Rabin as a burden, and we absorbed those views and perspectives with no small degree of pain .

We had grown up with a sense of mission instilled in our hearts — believing ourselves to be the avant garde, racing forward on behalf of our nation, a sort of Zionist elite unit.

When we traveled into central Israel, transported by distinct buses that made it very clear where we were coming from, we would hold our heads up high — entirely oblivious to any sense of resentment or anger from our fellow Israeli brothers and sisters.

And then, the bubble burst. After Rabin was assassinated, it suddenly hit us that we were completely off the mark. The gap between our perceived and experienced selves as settlers and our image on the streets of Tel Aviv, or the way we were presented in the media, was unbridgeable.

I remember the feelings of helplessness, pain, and embarrassment, wondering what could be done about it. I do not believe now, nor did I believe back then, that anyone on either side was right or wrong. That wasn’t the issue.

We have no need to explore the question of who is right, the “prophets of peace” or those who believe that every last centimeter of the land must be settled.

The far more important and troubling issue is that this immense gap exists: vast differences in perception defined by an almost complete absence of unmediated communication between the various sectors — individuals and groups — within Israeli society. For me and many others, this gap became a catalyst to try to discover the common bond that unites us and demands that we strengthen ties within a fractured society.

Tragic though it was, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin served as a perpetual source of energy for creating encounters and dialogue. Because it reminded us that we had no other choice; we have no other nation.

On a deeper level, I know that this dialogue is not just in hindsight, or the result of some concession or compromise in the absence of other alternatives. It is a strong belief that only a bond between the different parts of our people can create the Judaism that will return us to the glory of past regimes. It is knowing that, just as marrying one’s family member is a genetic risk, so too living in a society that is entirely homogeneous means sacrificing our individual and national curiosity, as well as the chance for communal creativity and collaboration — indeed the very essence of our Jewishness.

With this recognition in mind, two years ago, I made a personal as well as professional decision that was directly rooted to that moment of initial recognition 26 years ago in the wake of a Rabin’s assassination.

I was devastated to discover I did not have a single friend living in Tel Aviv, that I was a Jerusalemite through and through, and all my close friends were religious to some degree.

I literally scoured the list of contacts on my phone, trying to find a single one who was secular. I could not. After almost 20 wonderful and successful years in education within the welcoming incubator of religious Zionism, I decided I wanted out. I left my job, and joined Yachad, an organization that focuses on cultivating an Israeli, non-sectarian, community-based Judaism. I joined because of a fire within me that urged me to move the Israeli icebergs that were moving further away from one another, with the hope that if I even brought them just one millimeter closer, my work would have meaning.

I am inspired by the recognition that it was social rifts that brought about the destruction of the Temples. I fear that history may repeat itself if we don’t actively work to broaden the common ground.

The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin was a wake-up call, prompting us both then and no less now, to do something to change that painful gap. For me personally, that moment of recognition came as I looked into my contacts and was shocked by its homogeneity. But the broader recognition demands that we expand society’s contacts — that we each make the effort to look beyond our initial circles and forge bonds with those who think, look, and act differently. Because if we don’t, then then we will be confronted with the reality that we have learned nothing from one of the loudest wake-up calls of modern Jewish history.

About the Author
Rabbi Shay Nave is the director of the Ohr Torah Stone network's Yachad Program for Jewish Identity.
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