Last night, thousands came together in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa in the name of democracy.
The Asefa Yisraelit, or Israel Assembly in English, was a pivot in the way Israeli society chose to remember the legacy of Yitzhak Rabin. Yitzhak Rabin, a two-time Prime Minister in Israel, was assassinated in November, 1995. Often times, institutionalized memories of assassinated leaders simply consist of a memorial marking the anniversary of the murder. In this case, however, we choose to memorialize Rabin in a more constructive way.
Here is a brief review of Yitzhak Rabin’s murder. To skip to Asefa Yisraelit, click here.
Yigal Amir, a religious Jew, assassinated Rabin; Amir pulled the trigger and is serving a life sentence plus 14 years. However, this was not a rogue individual situation. Rabin campaigned and won the 1992 elections on a platform of peace. Rabin signed a peace agreement with Jordan in 1994 and much of the country was optimistic a peace agreement could come to fruition with the Palestinians.
Some Israelis, however, were not pleased. Violent protesters depicted Rabin as Hitler and the devil, and chanted racist epithets. Some labeled Rabin a “traitor” to Israel. Incitement, and a string of terrorist attacks, led Israelis to fill with fear. During an immense peace rally on November 4, 1995, Rabin was shot and killed while walking to his car. In his pocket: the lyrics to Shir LaShalom (Song for Peace) splattered in his blood. You can find lyrics here.
When we remember Rabin and what he stood for, we don’t want to simply depict the events as “tragic”; rather, we want to remember the context for his murder. We want to remember an atmosphere that created an opportunity for a fellow Jew to murder the leader of Israel. The majority of Israel had hope for a peaceful and safe future, but with hate and incitement Israel has fallen back into a spiral of perpetual violence within its society.
Every year since the murder, there has been a massive throng of people that descends on Kikar Rabin (the square where he was murdered) for the annual Rabin rally. This year, the 21st anniversary, the coalition decided to change course. The coalition is a group of many youth movements and organizations that have formed a partnership. This coalition includes Tzofim (Israeli scouts), Bnei Akiva (a religious youth movement), and many others; it is led by Hanoar HaOved VeHaLomed (our movement).
This was the first year of the Asefa Yisraelit. The goal was to sit in circles and democratically decide what values we want Israel to hold as most important. I went to Haifa with Sam, Lily, and Ziv; Emma was in Tel Aviv with her Workshoppers (kids on the gap year). We estimate more than 1,000 people came to Haifa and more than 10,000 in Tel Aviv. As a Hebrew learner, I was not ready to understand so I stuck with some people in the movement who translated for me.
Our group formed in a ring of chairs. There were around 20 of us, some from movements and some came individually. We began by reading a list of rules and expectations for the evening followed by a round of names and why we came. This part was very interesting because people came for many different reasons. One man in his 60s mentioned how great it was to see youth standing up for what they believe in. A woman in the middle of her compulsory army service said she wanted to stop the hate in the country. I explained to the group that I wanted to connect to my new country and fellow citizens in a new way.
We then watched a short film about racism today in society. Our group leader, a man from the movement, opened up discussion about democracy and a few people gave their opinions. One person said democracy isn’t black and white and we need to choose democracy. Another person in the group said we can’t take democracy for granted because that is how a society gets more oppressive. Some people talked about fear and others talked about denigrating “the other”.
We split into four smaller groups of five. In these groups, our goal was to each individually pick a value from a list of 20 that we think is the most important value for Israeli society to be based on. The list included religion, peace, tolerance, moderation (like anti-extremism), and many more. Our small group then had to take the five individual values and find one value that we could all agree on. We ended up choosing shivyon erech haadam, or equality of human life. The group came back together and our next goal was to find a value our entire group of 20 could agree on. Again, we chose shivyon erech haadam.
We then concluded the evening with a tekes, or ceremony in English; it was very powerful and meaningful for me. We heard personal accounts from citizens in 1995, had some musical performances of somber songs, and a few videos (including Rabin’s daughter speaking to us).
Overall, I am leaving the event feeling optimistic and reenergized. I feel like as long as we value every human life in Israel, we can create a better society. Could this event have happened in America? Who knows, but it is certain that Israel is at a crossroads for peace and we need to take it.