I was not alive on the day that one of our people’s greatest tragedies struck the State of Israel – the day on which Yitzhak Rabin and the soul of Israel were assassinated side by side. As much as I have yearned for my heart to tear and for my soul to wrench on each anniversary of Rabin’s death, I have struggled tremendously to feel the same emotions of despair and devastation that so many Jews share. I have struggled to connect to the calamity, to unravel my deepest emotions, to allow myself to feel something so powerful, for an event that occurred before my existence.
Five days prior to the 20th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, I had the privilege of listening to Rabbi Avi Weiss speak at my Jewish day school.
Rabbi Weiss touched upon several profound ideas over the course of his speech. He gave me more to think about in 45 minutes than I have gathered in quite a while. And one particular idea that Rabbi Weiss emphasized impacted me more than any other – that of unity.
Rabin was murdered by a radical right-wing Orthodox Jew, one who opposed Rabin’s more leftist approach. Needless to say, these two men clearly did not share a common ground in their opinions. But is that to say that they did not share a common ground at all?
Yitzhak Rabin was a Jew. Rabin’s assassin was a Jew. To me, there is no common ground that is greater than this one. They were brothers and they shared blood. They were equally devoted, with their entire hearts and souls, to the State. They shared the same passion for, and envisioned the same picture of, a flourishing and thriving Israel. In their minds, however, this vision was to be achieved in different ways.
Rabin and his assassin were clearly not uniform in their opinions. On the technical level, Rabin was a strong supporter of the Oslo Peace Process, while his assassin was not. This lack of uniformity led to the deterioration of unity – a brother turned on a brother, in the most unimaginable way possible.
Unity and uniformity are not identical. Uniformity refers to collective and shared opinions – consistency, invariability. Unity is a collective people – harmony, solidarity. Unity is an aspect that is so crucial in the preservation of our religion, and yet, it is so obviously lacking, as Rabin’s assassination so bluntly shows.
Opinions are invaluable. They are the reason behind the beauty of argument and debate, of interpretation and strife and disagreement. To me, these are some of the most precious aspects of Judaism. Our religion is built off of dispute and contention, as the Talmud demonstrates. Opinions are vital to us as individuals and as a community; they keep us searching for answers, a critical feature of Judaism. And so, how is it that opinions have become so dangerous? How is it that opinions have become the reasoning behind so many tragedies, so many deaths?
Opinions are not the issue; as I stated before, opinions are a blessing. Opinions are antithetical to uniformity – this is why uniformity is not an essential aspect of Judaism. The issue, however, lies in finding a balance between unity and a lack of uniformity, something that we as a Jewish people have failed to do. Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination was the result of a severe imbalance of unity and uniformity within our Jewish community, and 20 years later, we are yet to find that balance.
There is no question that the terrorism prevalent in Israel is devastating in countless ways. I fear to turn on my computer every day in anticipation of receiving news of another attack. I try, yet often fail, to remember each victim’s name as I recite my morning prayers. We are so far from peace that it is so difficult for me to even imagine that such an idea can one day be a reality, and yet, I wonder how we can think of sowing the seeds of peace with Palestinians before we have achieved peace within our own community.
Unity must be embedded in the fabrics of our beings before we can begin to think of extending such peace outwards. We must learn to live as a united people, employing our differences in opinions as mechanisms to help us grow and explore. We must learn to respect one another; we must learn to be mindful of every varying opinion that we are presented with; we must learn to take each and every one of these varying opinions and use it as a gift and a blessing towards our personal and communal growth. We must become a community, a family.
Just this summer, Shira Banki was stabbed by a fellow Jew at Jerusalem’s gay pride parade because of a difference in opinion. To me, this murder is no different than the one that shook our people 20 years ago.
Five days from now, I will wake up on November 4th with a greater level of reflection, introspection, and grief than ever before. I will grieve not only for the death of our beloved Prime Minister, but also for our Jewish people. And six days from now, I will continue to grieve. Seven, eight, nine… I will continue to grieve until my brothers and my sisters can find a way to hold onto our beautiful array of numerous opinions while coexisting with love, respect, and compassion for one another.
Thank you, Rabbi Avi Weiss, for finally allowing me to grieve.