By Shoshana and Micah Streiffer
Orna was standing on a hill overlooking the border between the West Bank and Israel. She explained that before the Six Day War, the area that we were looking at was Jordan, and sniper fire frequently came across the border into her settlement. Orna then mentioned a rally that she would be attending that evening in Tel Aviv to support Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his attempt to make peace. She encouraged us to come, and several wanted to, but there wasn’t room on the kibbutz bus.
On November 4, 1995, our small group of 20 American students had been in Israel for half of our four months. For that week, we would be living and working at Kibbutz Nachshon. After Orna’s tour, the group settled in for a relaxing evening and a possible early bedtime.
These aspirations never materialized. Later that night, the news came: Prime Minister Rabin had been shot at the rally. Still not quite comprehending, the group began to assemble in the common room. That night was spent glued to the television waiting for updates. We remained optimistic, discussing the support that the peace process would gain if Rabin survived, but our hopes were shattered by the news that the Prime Minister was dead. The next day, the newspaper Ma’ariv reported the headline “Rabin Nirtzach – Rabin Murdered.”
Fifteen years later, the image that sticks most in our minds is not of the rally, not of the hospital or the Knesset in mourning. It is the image of young people – not much older than we were – crying in the streets. Tiny memorials and shrines that had been set up everywhere, and small makeshift vigils held by youth groups and schools. In that moment, the Rabin assassination felt like a young people’s tragedy, because it wounded the vision of peace that belonged to the next generation.
For us as American students in Israel, November 4, 1995, was the first time we felt – as a group and as individuals – that Israel truly belonged to us. No longer tourists; no longer foreign students; as we stood in line to pay our respects at the Knesset the next day, we were part of a family that had lost something very dear. We had lost a leader; we had lost a vision; we had lost a sense of Jewish unity. Just as our parents can tell where they were when JFK was assassinated, we – and an entire generation of Israeli young people – will never forget that defining moment.
Two months later, hours before stepping on a plane for New York, 20 American students stood over the grave of slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. We wept – for the man and his vision; for the State of Israel, which we would soon leave behind; for the Jewish people, who had lost their innocence at the hands of one of their own. We wept, and still weep, for the peace that eludes Israel even 15 years later. Rabin is now a part of history; may his vision of peace someday be made reality.
This essay was cross-posted at the NFTY-EIE Alumni Page.