The day Rabin died

Israel is a country that wears its heart on its sleeves.  The joy that people feel.  The fear in their minds.  The passion in their souls.  The happiness in their spirit.  It’s all there – on show for the world to see.

And on the evening of Saturday, November 4th, 1995 I saw that.  And I felt it.  I experienced it all.

While spending the weekend at home, away from my army base where I was volunteering in a Sar-El program, I had gone to a movie called “Assassins” with my cousin when people started talking.  Now, being in Israel watching a movie with people talking is hardly a surprise… but there was something different about this chatter.  Something… ominous.  There were rumours of a shooting.

As we left the theatre and turned on the radio, the news was filtering through… Prime Minister Rabin had been shot.  No, that surely can’t be right.   And as more details came through, we were shocked to hear that it has been carried out be a fellow Jew.

And as we got home, I searched the news channels on cable tv to watch as the terrible events of the evening unfolded.  We were shocked.

Prime Minister Rabin was dead.

The following morning, I boarded my Eged bus to make my way back up north to my army base.  There was a numbness in the air.  And a sadness in the eyes of everyone.  Not anger.   Or fear.  Just sadness.  The radio on the bus was playing soft, melancholy music echoing the expressions on the faces of people around me.  People were quiet, something I hadn’t experience before on a bus trip in Israel.  They were looking out the windows, as the passing traffic drifted by.  They were staring into faraway places that only the mind could see.  They were reflecting, thinking, wondering – each in their own little universe, trying to make sense of something that … well… just couldn’t be made sense of.

And as I returned to my base, things were the same and yet different.  I still had duties I had to do.  I still had work that needed to be done.  But around me, the scent of sadness hung heavily.  There was a pain in peoples’ eyes.  A pain that I felt too.  But as strong as that pain was, it could not stop the world from turning, or the sun from rising, or the wind from blowing, or the birds from singing.  I guess you could say that life continued, because it had to.  Ein breira.  There is no choice.  And even though you wanted the world to stop… the world doesn’t just stop – no matter what happens.

In a time like that – of national trauma – it’s easy to let the world fall apart around you.  It’s easy to turn on each other and let hate be your guiding light.  It’s easy to follow a path of darkness that will take you down a road from where there is no return.

But easy has never been part of the Jewish story.

And a week later, I stood there, in the newly named Kikar Rabin, honouring and remembering a true son of Israel and a warrior of the Jewish people.  I stood alongside hundreds of thousands of my fellow Jews and Israelis to pay tribute to the man – not the politician.  I stood there to pay tribute to a soldier who fought for the country he loved with all his heart.

Seeing the unity of a country and its people unite against such a vile act, made the heaviness in my heart just a little bit lighter.  It was a special moment – a moment of light that shone through after a moment of such darkness.

Israelis live in the moment – whether that moment is happy or sad or painful or joyous or fearful.  But when it’s all said and done – moments pass.  They always do.

And life will continue, as it always done.  Because ultimately, there is no choice.

About the Author
Justin Amler is a South African born, Melbourne based writer who has lived in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.
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