Where I was the night Rabin was assassinated
They call them flashbulb memories, moments that come upon us suddenly and with the painful, intensity of a flashing light. The moment is then etched upon our consciousness, whether individual or collective, a picture never to be forgotten.
Most Israelis my age have a flashbulb memory of the moment when they heard that Yitzchak Rabin had been shot. I was at home with my husband, enjoying a Saturday evening Melave Malka dinner with Janet and Lenny (names have been changed). We had lots in common. They were recent immigrants to Israel from Canada, we had come some years before from the States; we were all building religious, Zionist families in this new land. Our politics differed, however. They were firmly in what would be called the “peace camp,” while we attended right wing rallies, turning them into family picnics with our kids.
Suddenly, a loud, raucous ring of the doorbell. Before we could call “come in” my neighbor Karen ran in and shouted, “Rabin’s been shot!”
That’s when the flashbulb went off. Through the dazzling light came the picture of Lenny’s face, darkened with anger and hatred, and the sound of his voice shouting hoarsely, “Look what you people have done!” At that intense moment, I saw friendship turn to hatred, I saw a man who spoke of peace with his enemies turn ferociously on his friends, I saw a political liberal who abhorred any racial or religious stereotyping turn me into an ally of a murderer simply because my political beliefs differed from his. Lenny and Janet left quickly. My husband and I turned to our Sefer Tehillim, our Book of Psalms, to pray for our fallen Prime Minister.
Lenny called the next day to apologize for his reaction. He was, after all a polite Canadian. But the illumination of that flashbulb memory has remained with me.
Some years later, I lived through another flashbulb moment. This one also began with the jarring ringing of a bell, as a phone call in the middle of the night woke me from a deep sleep. The morning before, I had driven my close friend Yehudit into Jerusalem. She was planning to stay overnight in the Holy City, and she carried a dress bag containing the outfit she would wear to dance in at her niece’s wedding the next evening.
Yehudit’s niece was Naava Applebaum, A”H, and the phone call was from her husband, Moshe, to tell us that his brother-in-law, Dr. David Applebaum, had been murdered in a suicide blast at Café Hillel, victim of the peace process begun by Yitzchak Rabin. The flashbulb exploded with terrific force as I ran across the street to try to comfort their young daughter. The kalla, Naava, the kalla, they think the kalla is still alive, her cousin Racheli insisted; but hours later they would confirm that Naava had died along with her father, and those who had thought they would dance at her wedding would follow her coffin instead.
I do not pretend to be a political analyst or a historian or a journalist. I know that Yitzchak Rabin gave much to this country, and I believe that he is receiving his reward for all the good that he did. But for me Rabin’s legacy remains the hatred that it engendered within the country and the victims whose lives were stolen from them for a peace process that brought no peace.
The light of a flashbulb can be blinding, but it can also illuminate; may we learn from the past mistakes and with G-d’s help may we share a brighter future.