I don’t remember Rabin’s assassination because I didn’t exist until two years later. I don’t remember “hope” in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process because I grew up with a succession of IDF operations in Gaza and the same corrupt prime minister since before my bar mitzvah. I know Russian-Jewish adamant support of Israel and disbelief in peace. I know American-Jewish insistence that diplomacy will solve everything, exasperated at no answers, but with a story to tell of the “hope” felt when the Oslo Accords were fresh off the press. And if I ask most of the Jews my age who Rabin was, the answer I will most likely get is: cool Israeli guy, all about peace, was assassinated. What does he mean? Why is he important today? Who knows.
In Israel, Rabin is a shockwave that continues to impact all corners of political life. In America, as far as I can tell, he has been reduced to the image of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. And if Rabin is dead, then so is the peace process. Nu, so if there is no Rabin and no peace process, why should he matter to Millennial Jews, who clearly see neither? He doesn’t. Should he?
This is a critical example of the failure of American Jewish Israel education. Of course a generation of Jews grow further apart from Israel, when the giants of Israel are little but a Facebook post. Millennial Jews don’t care about Yitzhak Rabin because at best, he just doesn’t mean anything to them, and at worst, he’s an outdated and barely remembered factoid from Jewish school. In a time of tension between American Jewry and Israel, there are various articles every week decrying the lack of understanding between both sides. American Jews can’t understand Israel without first understanding what people like Rabin mean to Israel, and without this, Diaspora and Israeli Jews will continue to drift apart.
Part of the issue for young Jews is that Yitzhak Rabin needs to mean something to them before they understand or care about what he means to Israel. This may sound selfish, but it’s basic human nature. The Israel Education world needs to do some soul searching, and so does the mainstream American Jewish establishment, to bring Yitzhak Rabin from 1995 to 2017. Diaspora Jewry exists in part because you don’t need to be in Egypt 4,000+ years ago to personally connect with the Exodus. Israel education needs to update so that anywhere in the world, Jews can personally connect to Yitzhak Rabin and other figures of Israel.
For me, Yitzhak Rabin is the man who disappeared for a day because of anxiety and stress right before the Six Day War, who came back after 24 hours and led one of the most successful wars in history. Millennials don’t go through any wars, but having doubts about our life and responsibilities while overwhelmed lest we make a wrong decision; these are basic emotions that Rabin went through and that we go through. This is just one example of how Yitzhak Rabin changes from political idea, to personal connection and hero.
Israel needs to be personal and in the present for American Jews and Millennial Jews, without which tensions with Israel will only increase and support will decrease. American Jewry doesn’t live in 1995 anymore, and Millennial Jews never lived in 1995. This year in Israel, Yitzhak Rabin was a symbol of unity across the fractured political spectrum. With a little work and a Rabin level of perseverance and hope, he could also be a symbol of unity across fractured Diaspora-Israel relations.