The Day the Music Died

When I moved to Israel in 1992, I was a young religious Zionist believing in the Greater Israel. I was disappointed that the Likud’s Yizhak Shamir had lost the elections to a man named Yitzhak Rabin.

Fast forward seven years.

I am in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, awaiting the 1999 election results. The numbers scroll up, live on a giant screen, 47, 48, 49, 50. By mere slivers of points, Ehud Barak beats Benjamin Netanyahu. Tears of relief stream down my face. Thank God, I think. In the end, peace will triumph. We are in the government after all. Peace still will come.

What happened to me in those seven years — to move me from right to left — was Yitzhak Rabin.

I don’t know exactly when I stopped dreaming about the Greater Land of Israel (with Judea, Samaria and Gaza) and started yearning for the Greater Dream of Peace with the Palestinians.

The time I recognized the change?

After Rabin was assassinated, six years ago.

He changed me — and the people of Israel — in ways that were impossible to tell until after he was gone.

He brought us to a place we had never seen, like Moses to the Red Sea, to a place we didn’t know that we wanted to be until we were on the other side. Even for those who didn’t believe in him, like me, and those who never would, he changed the landscape of the Middle East.

Rabin believed in doing the right thing, not in being right. To make peace he believed, sometimes you have to take the first step.

So many awful events have happened in the last year — from the Al-Aqsa Intifada to the Sept. 11 attacks to the murder of Cabinet Minister Rehavam Ze’evi — that it’s hard to remember that first shock of Rabin’s murder, the horror following, the feeling that nothing would ever be the same. Like a photomontage highlighting all the world’s great disasters, today Rabin’s murder feels like just another tremor in a world gone mad.

When so many lives have been lost since he was killed, it feels as if it’s hard to commemorate just one.

But just as one day soon it will be hard to remember an America before Sept. 11 — before we feared terrorists, war and anthrax — there was a day that it was impossible to remember an Israel without Rabin.

Just as Sept. 11, 2001 changed everything for America, Nov. 4, 1995 changed everything for Israel. Six years later, everything is different still.

But if we think back to the past, six years ago today, before Yigal Amir shot Rabin after a Peace Now rally, we can imagine another world, one where there was no second intifada, no bus bombings, or murder of ministers.

Rabin was not a god. He had faults, he had enemies. But he was a soldier, a diplomat and a leader, and he represented something more than all his parts.

He embodied the era of peace, the age of Israel’s innocence, though some would call it naiveté. Whatever it was, Rabin’s death shattered it, and six years later the shards seem pulverized with no hope of becoming whole again.

There are those who say that the collapes of the peace process proves that Rabin was wrong, that he was an Israeli leader who took unjustified risks with his country’s security by pursuing a policy of appeasement.

But I think the lessons of Rabin’s life show the opposite — no matter how bad things look, you can always move forward, some day.

At the state memorial ceremony held Monday at Rabin’s grave site in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said, "The bright horizon that Yitzhak was trying to reach remains vague and distant."

It does. But no matter what that future holds, we must think back to that moment when it all seemed possible, and imagine.

Remember Rabin.