We are approaching an important date, a watershed that’s been anticipated for three decades. On Oct. 21, if you happen to be in Hill Valley, Calif., down by the Texaco station and the clock tower, you might just see Marty McFly whiz by on his hoverboard.
That’s right. Oct. 21, 2015 was the date McFly and Doc Brown set their sights on in “Back to the Future 2.” They needed to come to that future date from the present, that is, Oct. 21, 1985, which is now precisely 30 years ago, in order to correct something that was about to go terribly wrong to McFly’s family. This came immediately after “Back to the Future,” when Marty and the Doc corrected another fatal flaw after going back 30 years earlier, to Oct. 21, 1955, the date of the high school dance where Marty’s parents fell in love.
Just a few days after Oct. 21, on Oct. 25, the 12th of Cheshvan on the Hebrew calendar, we’ll be treated to another journey down memory lane, this one laced with tragedy, as we recall the 20th anniversary of the murder of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin.
If only we could go back in time with Doc Brown, pull up our DeLorean alongside Kings of Israel Square on that fateful night and somehow make sure that Rabin would miss his rendezvous with destiny.
If Rabin had lived, would Oslo have succeeded? Would the fragile but growing trust between mortal enemies have been nurtured rather than quashed? Would Yasir Arafat have ceased being Yasir Arafat just long enough to allow the more peaceful facts on the ground to be implanted in the minds of those Israelis and Palestinians yearning for normalcy? Would the youth of Israel, so galvanized in their grief following the murder, have been able to channel that same idealism into genuine progress, building relationships with their Arab neighbors one person at a time and forging a grassroots coexistence?
These are questions that endlessly dog us as we watch Israelis and Palestinians fall into yet another hopeless cycle of hopeless terror and needless death.
If only we could turn back the clock…
Earlier this year, an old ethical dilemma became a prime topic in social and mass media: Suppose you could go back in time and you see Hitler as a 2-year-old playing in a sandbox. You have two minutes to decide what to do. You could go up to him and kill him by any means. If you do kill him, all of history will be changed. There will be no World War II, no Holocaust, 50 million people and six million Jews will have been saved.
Imagine a world with no Shoah, a world where “Naptime for Hitler” had taken place. How different would it be? A third of our people would have survived to write great novels, make fantastic scientific discoveries and bring Judaism to new heights.
In a recent New York Times column, David Brooks referred to that dilemma and asserted that the world we have could never have come to be without World War II. The Hitler question is really about changing all of the past. To erase mistakes from the past is to obliterate your world now, he wrote.
It’s a real good point. If we were to change any event in history, especially a massive event such as the Holocaust, everything occurring after that event would now be different; which means, if you want to get technical about it, that anyone born after the Holocaust would most likely not have been born.
Would you choose to have the world exactly as it is right now, with a Holocaust; or one without a Holocaust, but without you … a completely different world with a completely different set of people? Who knows, possibly no Israel. On the bright side, no Kardashians — but if you are under the age of 70, no you.
That question about changing the past teaches us that it is pointless to dwell on the could-have-been’s, and points us toward the might-yet-be’s. That’s the real question at hand.
Which brings us back to Rabin.
What made him such a visionary leader is that he was able to let go of the past without losing his historical perspective. There are lessons to be learned from any experience, and he had learned plenty over the course of his epic career. But he never let old resentments cloud the fact that every new day presented a gleaming blank slate of possibilities.
Though not a religious man, he embodied the spirit of the prayer Jews recite each morning, praising God “who renews in goodness each day the work of Creation.” Every day God presses the “reset” button. Rabin was able to do this as well, like Mandela and Gandhi, Lincoln, Sadat, Martin Luther King Jr. and other visionary leaders (many of whom also met violent ends) — and unlike all the Israeli and Palestinian leaders who have followed him.
When he received his Nobel Prize, Rabin said, “…of all the memories I have stored up in my 72 years, I now recall the hopes. Our peoples have chosen us to give them life. Tonight, their eyes are upon us and their hearts are asking: how is the authority vested in these men and women being used? What will they decide? What kind of morning will we rise to tomorrow? A day of peace? Of war? Of laughter or of tears?”
Rabin could have fallen back on his litany of tragic memories, of countless comrades buried, of opportunities wasted, of incessant terror and reprisal, of hatred endlessly regurgitated. He chose instead to “recall hopes,” a seeming oxymoron, to retrieve — from his past — a future-focused buoyancy that is at the very core of Zionism, a hope that is its anthem’s very name, and to use it to forge a vision of astonishing promise and endless possibility. He chose to go back to the future.
And so must we.