Last week, the Consulate of Israel to New England hosted an event to remember Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, assassinated 20 years ago last week. Among the speakers, Congressman Joe Kennedy III and two young Israelis – CJP's first Shinshinim "Young Ambassadors" from Haifa, who were not yet born when the man they honored was murdered but nonetheless feel his profound impact on Israeli society and their own lives.
Rep. Joseph Kennedy III
Thank you, Consul General [Yehuda Yaakov], for that kind introduction. New England is incredibly lucky to have a leader of your caliber connecting us with Israel, and I am lucky to call you a friend.
Barry [Shrage], thank you for your fearless leadership of the Boston Jewish community and, on a personal note, your constant outreach, insight and advice. I’m deeply grateful.
To everyone here this morning, it is an honor to join you at Hebrew College to help pay tribute to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
In the context of current events, this anniversary has rightfully stirred a series of haunting questions in all of us– the endless what if’s and why’s that litter the very long road from a handshake on the front lawn of the White House in 1993 to the conflict and suffering the Middle East endures today.
These are questions that deserve answers and attention. But for me, in this moment, the legacy of Yitzhak Rabin is more personal than political. It’s a story shaped by the shared values and experiences that have connected my family to Israel for generations.
As a young reporter for the Boston Post in 1948, my grandfather, Robert Kennedy, traveled to the Middle East for the first time at just 22 years old. One month prior to Israel’s declaration of independence, his experience in the region inspired a lifelong commitment to the “immensely proud and determined” Jewish people.
“It is already a truly great modern example of the birth of a nation with the primary ingredients of dignity and self-respect,” he wrote in a dispatch back to the States.
There is a familiar photo from that time – of him, posing in front of the King David Hotel as David himself, with an imaginary slingshot in hand.
I like to think that picture shows what so touched my Grandfather about Israel: The plight of the relentless underdog. The uncanny goodness, pride and generosity of those who could easily let hate and prejudice define them.
Above all, the steely resolve of a people firmly anchored by family, community and faith.
He found some familiarity in their story; as a young catholic whose ancestors risked their lives to cross an ocean and climb a set of golden stairs – only to be met with signs that said No Irish Need Apply.
His mother, my grand-grandmother Rose, even in the midst of her success, kept a pile of anti- Irish Help Wanted ads carefully tucked away. She would take them out from time to time to remind her children and grandchildren of their forefathers’ path.
The message was always clear: Any of us can be the victim of prejudice. All of us are worthy of more.
That belief – in the sanctity and dignity of every human being – was the touchstone my grandfather found in a foreign land. It’s the commitment at the center of Catholic gospel and the core of Jewish teachings.
And for the man we are gathered to honor today – Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin – it would become an ultimate, if improbable, compass.
His own touchstone, as he grew from a decorated general preaching “force, power and blows” to a Noble Peace Prize winner declaring that “There is only one radical means of sanctifying human lives. Not armored plating, or tanks, or planes, or concrete fortifications. The one radical solution is peace.”
Rabin never set out to be a military man. Attending an agricultural school as a young child, he dreamed of being an engineer. But in a country fighting for its survival, he was called on to defend her.
He became a commander in the Haganah before he was even out of his teens, planting in him a firm belief that Israel’s existence depended on her military might. From the Black Shabbat to the Six Day War, he fought and served and sacrificed for that cause.
During the first intifada, however, something shifted. Cloaked in years of bloodshed, conflict and the enduring suffering of his people, his instincts now pointed in a new direction: peace. It would be his hardest and riskiest mission.
Many would call him an unlikely man for the moment; a surprising icon for peace. Never a zealot, he was famously prone to gruffness over niceties, pragmatism over passion, and strategy over sentiment. He undoubtedly would have shunned the displays of emotion and reverence that we bestow on him today.
But perhaps, it was those very qualities that allowed him to see what so many others could not – the fact that peace, with all the commitment and conviction and compromise it requires, is often harder-fought, and more bravely won, than war.
A few years later Yitzhak Rabin would stand in Washington, shake hands with a sworn adversary, and do one of the most courageous things a leader can. Lay down his sword.
“We are destined to live together on the same soil in the same land,” he said that day. “We, the soldiers who have returned from battles stained with blood; we who have seen our relatives and friends killed before our eyes… we say to you today in a loud and clear voice: Enough of blood and tears. Enough!”
Nearly five decades after my grandfather’s first trip to Israel, his youngest brother, Senator Ted Kennedy, arrived in Jerusalem for Prime Minister Rabin’s funeral.
After the private ceremony at Mount Herzl had concluded and the crowds had thinned, my Uncle Teddy knelt by the fallen Prime Minister’s grave and opened a small package. He gently spread two handfuls of soil on the ground, carried from the final resting place of his brothers in Arlington Cemetery.
A lasting connection between four men who knew hatred’s cost and the humanity we sacrifice when we etch the word “enemy” in stone. And the shared wisdom that the quest for peace would long outlast any act of violence or destruction.
Twenty years after the death of Yitzhak Rabin, may that be the lesson and the legacy we summon in his honor today.
Yael Mark, Shinshinim Young Ambassador
Hello, my name is Yael Mark and I was born and raised in Israel. I just graduated from high school in Haifa, and I am postponing my army service to dedicate myself this year to Israel advocacy by participating in a Shant Sherut, or “shinshin” for short. This service year program is funded by CJP’s Boston-Haifa connection, and the Jewish agency for Israel.
I am 18 years old. If you do the math you realize that I was born a few years after Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. As a teenager in Israel I grew up in a society that was traumatized by this incident. A society that is constantly trying to prevent history repeating itself.
The problem, in my opinion, is that a majority is irrelevant when it comes to radical actions. The clear majority of Israel wanted Rabin’s actions to be fulfilled. The rest of the population thought that the harassment towards Rabin was just words. They didn’t think that one person will take it one step further. But it took only one person to create this tragedy.
So what is the actual purpose of democracy? In Latin, democracy means the government of the people. This is where the problem began. Throughout the years democracy started to be the government of the majority and not the government of the whole the nation. Frankly there is no way to avoid this, however we can indeed prevent the minority from feeling depressed, unrepresented or even discriminated. Democracy shall not reflect just the majority’s intentions and stop there. Democracy should consistently teach about the enormous importance of giving the minority a chance to speak. Democracy should know its boundaries. We need to prevent freedom of speech from leading to tragedies that are caused by uncontrollable spreading of radical opinions; especially in these days when one word can spread like wild fire.
Tragically, Rabin was assassinated a few minutes after he said in his last speech that violence is undermining the foundation of the Israeli democracy and it must be condemned. And indeed, violence, either verbal or physical can destroy democracy worldwide.
Unfortunately, Israel has many war heroes, but not enough peace heroes as Rabin was. In times like this, people tend to lose hope and stop believing in the pursuit after peace.
In Israel every teenager at the age of 17 gets a number. It is not a telephone number or a credit card number. We get our army number. I recently got mine and I can say proudly that I, 3486359, Yael Mark , will be a soldier in the IDF, but now I am and always be, as Yitzhak Rabin, a soldier in the army of peace.
Sapir Reznik, Shinshinim Young Ambassador
Hello, my name is Sapir Reznik, and I am 18 years old. I grew up in Israel on “Rechov Yitzhak Rabin.” When I was younger the only thing I knew about him was that our street was named after him.
As I got older I started hearing about Rabin more and more. I learned about his personality, his actions, his beliefs, and about his assassination. My mom, Lena, who made "Aliyah" from Ukraine to Israel, told me that every Israeli that was alive on the day of his assassination will always remember where he was when he found out about this shameful act.
Today I want to talk to you about one of the lessons I personally take away from Rabin's murder. It has become clear to me how Rabin’s legacy of inclusion has influenced the educational system in Israel in a beautiful way.
Every student in an Israeli high school is required to participate in community service. The fact that Israeli teens volunteer more than 60 hours a year is phenomenal. When I was young, I was part of the Israeli scouts in my neighborhood.
I truly believe that to be part of a youth movement and to be involved in your own community is one of the most empowering things for kids and teens. In my last year of high school, I helped establish a branch of “Krembo Wings,” an inclusive youth movement for kids with and without special needs, in my community. We represented Jews, Arabs, religious, secular, those who love sushi and those who don't. I was responsible for kids with special needs, and also had the opportunity to make a diverse group of friends. I believe that Israeli youth movements are an important part of Israeli unity that represent Yitzhak Rabin's legacy of inclusion. This youth movement symbolizes to me the brotherhood and the future that I want for the Israeli community.
Rabin’s vision of acceptance is what will ensure a peaceful future. In light of recent events in my homeland, I believe now more than ever that we have to be united as a community. My background as a daughter of immigrants and as an emissary of peace reflects my commitment to Rabin's vision. I am committed to this process.