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PERSPECTIVES ON THE RABIN ASSASSINATION : Israel, the Morning After : Extremism: Israel came of age on Saturday, losing its innocence and joining the nations of the world in their nightmares.

November 06, 1995|SHLOMO RISKIN | Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi for the city of Efrat and dean of the Ohr Torah Institutions, was recently arrested for anti-government activities as the army removed settlers from Dagan Hill

The famed Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav, sage of the 19th Century, declared: "Who is a whole person? The one who has a broken heart." Still numb from the shock of the assassination of my prime minister, I can only feel the heart within me breaking; breaking for the loss of a most unique human being who was one of the heroes of contemporary Israel, breaking for the loss of innocence of a newly formed "Alt-neu" nation which has been tragically divested of its wide-eyed, forward-looking enthusiastic optimism, breaking for the loss of a dream-myth-mirage that Jews are different, Jews don't murder Jews.

It is no secret that I strongly disagreed with many of the current political policies of Prime Minister Rabin. Nevertheless, I had enormous respect for him as a former chief of staff and military strategist, and as a courageous leader who succeeded in forging a dramatic breakthrough in Israel's place among the nations of the world. Moreover, he was a husband, a father and a grandfather whose life was cruelly torn away from him by the bullet of a mad assassin. For him, as well as for those whom he led and loved and was forced to leave so traumatically, does my heart break.

The nation of Israel has been wrenched to the quick, has been transformed overnight from over-eager youth to disheartened "maturity." We have crossed the Rubicon, transgressed a red line. Almost from the very rebirth of our state, our leadership has spoken of "normalization," the desire for Israel to be like other nations, and especially like America. Of course, their ideal had much more to do with economic stability and domestic security and much less to do with cultural expression and political climate; nevertheless, I clearly remember the fateful Friday of John Kennedy's assassination (followed fairly rapidly by the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King), and the trenchant comment of Don McClaine, whose music gave expression to American's travail in the '60s: "We think now that we will never laugh again; we will laugh again, but we shall never be young again." My nation has now become only too normalized.

Perhaps we were searching for a false ideal. After all, our Bible commands us to be a holy nation and not necessarily a "normal" one. For my beloved nation in this moment of traumatic change does my heart break.

First there were words, fiery commands engraved with the brown-red desert sand not only on tablets of stone but also in the hearts and minds of the Hebrew desert nomads: "I am the Lord thy God. . . Thou shalt not murder." Only after the vision of these words seared the consciousness of the wandering Israelites were they allowed to settle in the Promised Land as a nation-state. Our right to the land was always predicated on our commitment to the words, to the dream of the just and compassionate society they resolved to make into reality. We thought the morality of those words had already become an inextricable part of the nation they formed so many thousands of years ago. We didn't understand that the morality must be taught and stressed and expressed in deed after deed, generation after generation. For the loss of my naive belief in the innate goodness of the Jewish people does my heart break.

I have often noted that Israel hardly has a twilight; light turns to darkness almost with imperceptible speed every day in Israel. And such is the nature of so many of our Israelis: Day or night, black or white. Extreme is pitted against extreme, subtle nuances of language and positions are disregarded, and the verbal decibels are intensely shrill. "Begin the murderer, IDF Judeo-Nazis" shouted extremists of the left during the Lebanon War; "Rabin the traitor"; "Rabin the S.S. Guard" screamed some of the signs during recent demonstrations of the right. Certainly these are the positions of an extremist minority in either of the camps; but to what extent have the majority of us made these declarations unacceptable by excising the offenders from our midst? And undoubtedly violence, even if only of language, sets a certain climate which can spawn violence of deed.

In its less than five decades of existence, Israel's survival has exacted an enormous price: Our cemeteries are filled with monuments marking the deaths of youths in their teens, our reservists must leave jobs, pregnant wives, newborn babies for 30 to 60 days a year.

During high periods of tension within a family, in many instances the members are drawn closer together but in others they are pushed farther apart. Thus far in our brief history, our traumas seem to have induced a greater polarization, seem to have exacerbated the differences and encouraged the extremes.

But herein may very well lie the repair, the possibility of uniting our nation and making our heart whole. "From the depths I call upon the Lord," said the Psalmist; often one must first plumb the depths of despair before he can rise to the rapture of spiritual discovery. "The seed must rot in the ground before it can begin to take root and sprout forth plant life" taught the holy Master of the Name, founder of Hassidism. If the unspeakable trauma of assassination will make us realize the necessity of unity, if at last we will gain the insight that we can only hope to overcome our enemies.

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