Sunday, October 13, 2013

Yitzhak Rabin - A Soldier of Peace

Robert Venezia, a 5-month Jaffa track participant from New Jersey, shares his thoughts surrounding the anniversary of the murder of Yitzhak Rabin.

On the night of November 4, 1995 in the center of Tel Aviv, a peace rally was held in Kings of Israel Square and over 100,000 Israelis attended, including the Prime Minister of Israel at the time, Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin even sung the popular Israeli song of peace Shir LaShalom. For many of the previous weeks Rabin was called a traitor and a Nazi, because he had agreed in principle to make peace with the Palestinians. He also made peace with the country of Jordan the year before. To many settlers and their supporters, Rabin was selling them out and was turning over the holy land of Israel to their enemy. Many Israeli politicians did nothing to stop the incitement against Rabin and the country of Israel became deeply divided. As he was leaving the rally a right-wing extremist named Yigal Amir fired three bullets at Rabin, two of which hit him. Rabin was rushed to the hospital, but died less than an hour later. The assassination scared Israel, because it was a Jew who had killed one of their political leaders. The incitement against Rabin was not tamped down, and many politicians who did not agree with Rabin’s goals did nothing to stop the comparison of him to a Nazi. In America being called a Nazi is insulting, now just imagine a Jewish leader being called a Nazi, it’s so much worse.

However, in killing Rabin, Amir did in a sense accomplish his goal - the peace process died with Rabin.  Peace has been close, but no Israeli politician has had the military credentials that Rabin had and been trusted to make peace. It has been 18 years since Amir killed Rabin and there is still not peace in the Middle East. Since 1995, Israeli settlements have grown, Palestinians have fired rockets and launched suicide attacks inside of Israel, and people on both sides are still crying for their dead. Rabin's friend King Hussein of Jordan said at his funeral, “You lived as a soldier; you died as a soldier for peace.” Rabin was indeed a soldier of peace and it cost him his life. 

Now I enjoyed attending a rally to honor a personal hero of mine, 18 years after his life was ended. His life was ended before he was able to accomplish the goal that he ended up giving up his life for - Peace. Now, the question remains what is Rabin’s legacy and how will it be achieved? Is Rabin’s legacy going to be of what might have been if he had not been killed? Will we remember decades later, what would have happened had Rabin not been assassinated? Or will Rabin live on in those in this generation who strive to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians? Rabin, when he won the Nobel Peace Prize, said, “"And so we are determined to do the job well -- despite the toll of murderous terrorism, despite the fanatic and cruel enemies of peace. We will pursue the course of peace with determination and fortitude. We will not let up. We will not give in. Peace will triumph over all its enemies, because the alternative is grimmer for us all. And we will prevail." So we as the next generation must strive to make Rabin’s legacy complete, by achieving peace and an end to discrimination and racism in Israel.

The poster at the Rabin Rally
Remembering the murder. Pursuing democracy. 

The rally on October 12, 2013 in Rabin Square, which was renamed after the assassination to honor Rabin, was incredible and according to police drew over 30,000 people. The vast majority of those in attendance were young people who were very young or not alive when Rabin was killed. This is a great sign, because it shows that the next generation desires peace just as Rabin did. The rally started with Israeli singer Shiri Maimon singing Shir LaShalom the Song for Peace, which Rabin himself sung the night he was killed. In fact, at the Rabin Museum there is a bloodstained copy of Shir LaShalom which Rabin was singing from, the night he was assassinated.  Every one of the speakers made their speech in Hebrew, but luckily we found our Ulpan teacher Elliot who translated the speeches for the Americans in attendance. Yair Tzaban, who served as Minister of Immigrant Absorption during Rabin's premiership, blasted those politicians who did nothing to speak out against the incitement that was occurring by Rabin’s opponents. Hadassah Froman, the wife of the late Rabbi Menachem Froman who strived to make co-existence with Israelis and Palestinians, said, "striving for peace is the lifeblood of this country and will that Israel will continue to seek peace despite those killing and conspiring against it." This land, she added, does not absolve "those who shed the blood of the innocent."  I found the most compelling and moving speaker to be Rabin’s grandson Yonatan Ben Artzi, who asked the current Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu to honor his late grandfather by making peace with the Palestinians.  He said, "My grandfather was murdered over peace and you owe this peace to us, to all of us.” I was grateful to be in attendance with 30,000 Israelis rallying for peace and honoring one of my political heroes. 

Some of the Tikkun Olam participants at the rally


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Tikkun Olam 2013-14 Begins!

Elana White, a 5-month Internship Track participant from the Bay Area, talks about her highlights of the beginning of the program. 


I have now settled into my apartment in Yafo (Jaffa), Tel Aviv. I live with 3 other people in my apartment and then other people in my program live across the hall and upstairs. There are 13 of us here in Yafo which is about half of the total participants. (The other half live in South Tel Aviv.) After we started our program we were instantly whisked away for the first couple days to a kibbutz near Eilat and the Jordan border called Kibbutz Ketura. We got to know each other really well and went on a beautiful walk in the desert where we did some reflection. Then almost as soon as we got back to Yafo it was Yom Kippur (the day of atonement).
Location of Kibbutz Ketura

View at sunset facing the Arava Valley

Yom Kippur was really an incredible experience. A bunch of us went to Kol Nidre (services on the evening of Yom Kippur) on top of a roof in Tel Aviv. It was a bit of an alternative service, but so beautiful at sunset. Afterwards there was a discussion in English about forgiveness and Yom Kippur. We read a section from the Talmud and then debated it, which was extremely interesting. Overall I learned that forgiveness is for both the one who wants to be forgiven and the forgiver. It is a process that is not mentally easy to go through. Judaism places a huge emphasis on the NOW rather than what will happen in the future, which I find very interesting. I’m glad that I was able to do something that felt meaningful for Yom Kippur.

On the actual day of Yom Kippur, my friend Rachel and I went to morning services at an egalitarian minyan nearby. It was nice to see a female rabbi and a community that seemed accepting, especially in Israel, which can be hard to find. Afterwards we walked through the old city of Yafo and up to Tel Aviv by way of the promenade by the beach. Now the cool thing about Yom Kippur in Israel is that everything is closed and there are absolutely no cars on the streets. You can walk in the middle of any major road and not be worried for your life and stuff. In fact people use the opportunity to ride their bikes or even play cricket (as we saw today) in the middle of the street. That was definitely an experience.

Right now we are on Sukkot break. Before it started on Wednesday evening, we were in intensive Hebrew study for 4 hours every day. It was a lot, but I think my Hebrew is improving a little bit. Words are starting to come easier. That being said, I still have a LONG way to go until I can speak Hebrew as well as I want to. This time, before our internships and volunteering begin, has been really nice for getting to know the other people in my program. I’ve already made some close friends, and the people in my program seem extremely genuine.

I’m discovering that I live in a very central area. I’m right next to one of the main streets in Yafo, a 15 minute walk from the beach, and a short bus ride into the center of Tel Aviv (or less than an hour’s walk). My neighborhood is diverse and safe. When I was in the grocery store, I noticed all kinds of people: Ethiopians, Arabs, Muslims, religious Jews, secular Jews…Really anyone you can imagine (in Israel) is near my neighborhood. Additionally, there is a Mosque extremely close to my house, so 5 times a day (if we’re in the apartment) we can hear the call to prayer, which is a cool and almost majestic experience for me.

Today I went for a bike ride from Yafo to the beach in Tel Aviv, which was about 30 minutes. Now, I just learned how to ride a bike in July, so I’m still pretty bad at it. A couple of my friends from my apartment building took me out though, and were supportive and helpful the whole way, which was great. Though I fell a couple times, it was still an incredible experience for me. The bruises were worth the freedom that I felt while riding. As long as it’s a big path and no one makes sudden movements, I’m fine.

And this was our view on the way back. How can I complain?

Overall, I am LOVING living here. I feel so blessed and privileged to have this experience and appreciate being given the opportunity, not to mention the support from my family and friends. Yes this is my Oscar speech.