‘Dreaming Of What Might Have Been’

‘Dreaming Of What Might Have Been’

Several hundred New York City Jewish community leaders and elected officials gathered last Thursday night to commemorate the third anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. The two-hour memorial for the Israeli leader who risked his life for peace was unfolding even as the drums of war rumbled once again in the Middle East as the late Rabin’s good friend, President Bill Clinton, was deciding on military action against Iraq.

But in the hall at UJA-Federation headquarters on 59th Street thoughts were focused on Rabin, the Israeli war hero turned peacemaker who was murdered on the steps of Tel Aviv’s City Hall by a religious student extremist named Yigal Amir on Nov. 4, 1995.

“We will forever mourn his passing and dream what might have been under his continued leadership,” said James Tisch, UJA-Federation president and newly named chief executive of the family business, the Loews Corp.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was forced to cancel his speech due to his mother’s illness. (She died Sunday at 97.)

But the tribute, a joint effort of the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Israeli Consulate and UJA-Federation, drew more than 300 mostly mainstream Jewish officials — despite the fact that many Jewish leaders were on their way to Israel for the annual General Assembly convention of the nation’s Jewish federations. “It shows that people still care,” said JCRC executive director Michael Miller.

Noticeably absent however, were representatives from New York’s chasidic and ultra-Orthodox communities from Borough Park, Crown Heights, Flatbush and Williamsburg, some of whom criticized Rabin’s land-for-peace initiatives.

Uriel Savir, a former ambassador and Israel’s chief negotiator in the Oslo Accord, spoke movingly of his old friend at the tribute, which featured musical interludes and prayers.

“Three years without Rabin, leaving such a deep void, leaving us alone and in disbelief,” Savir said.

Savir said as a peace negotiator Rabin knew “not to be stubborn over issues that have fake value,” an apparent shot at Rabin’s political foe, current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Savir recalled that the last time he saw Rabin smile was at the Nov. 4 1995 peace rally in Tel Aviv which, to the prime minister’s surprise, drew 250,000 supporters. At the time Rabin was the target of withering criticism from Oslo critics, including right-wing fundamentalists who labeled the man who helped liberate Jerusalem in 1967 a traitor.

“It was the first time I saw him smile in two years,” Savir said.

Several hours later Rabin was dead.Israel’s New York Consul General Shmuel Sisso addressed the issue of deadly rhetoric. “We are still astonished and appalled how a small, militant, marginal community held this man as a traitor, how their voices drowned out the majority,” Sisso said.

One lesson of the horror of the Rabin assassination, he said, is to combat such violent speech.

“The memorial of Yitzchak Rabin shows us that the most important peace process is the one we build among ourselves.”

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