Why must we curse and kill in name of religion

Israel buried Yitzhak Rabin this week. Now, it's as if we're emerging from a terrible dream. The day after the funeral, Jerusalem is bathed in bright sunlight and unusually warm weather. It seems like a cruel joke.

The last several days have been tumultuous. Israel is in a sense of shock, yet life is going on. The country is running: Schools are open, shops are open, the buses are running. Israel is not reacting as the United States did when John F. Kennedy was killed.

I came to Israel a week ago as part of a California delegation of state senators and assemblypeople. We arrived full of hope and optimism about Israel's future and the peace process. An assassin's mad act turned that hope into despair.

In an almost biblical staging of events, the warm sunny weather of the last week was interrupted only briefly: As the funeral began, clouds started to gather over Jerusalem. As the funeral progressed, the sky grew darker. Later, after sundown, the skies cleared and a nearly full moon shined, reflecting ghostly white off the walls of the Old City. I am no mystic, but it does give one pause.

It also gives pause to anyone who loves this country and the Jewish people to see with one's own eyes the sinat hinam expressed by a loud but small faction of Israelis. This phrase refers to the talmudic warning that it was "gratuitous hatred" between Jews that destroyed Jerusalem and the Second Temple 2,000 ago. That while Jerusalem was under Roman siege, the Jews inside were engaged in a civil war. The Romans waited until the Jews exhausted themselves and could fight no more. A simple matter of divide and conquer.

Appropriately, at a demonstration at Bar-Ilan University, where confessed assassin Yigal Amir studied law, students were seen holding signs calling for Israelis to practice ahavat hinam or gratuitous love.

It is distressing to read in the Nov. 16 Jerusalem Report a somewhat tongue-in-cheek article about how a rabbi associated with the extremist Kach movement incited the heavens against Yitzhak Rabin with a kabbalistic curse. This issue is outdated, having hit the streets a few days before the assassination. But this article, which looks like a space filler, is now the most relevant one in the entire issue.

The curse went like this: "And on him, Yitzhak son of Rosa, known as Rabin, we have permission…to demand from the angels of destruction that they take a sword to this wicked man…to kill him…for handing over the Land of Israel to our enemies, the sons of Ishmael."

The curse was hurled on erev Yom Kippur in a noisy demonstration in front of the Prime Minister's residence. Shofars were blown to open up the heavens so the curse would be heard by the "angels of destruction." The curse was scheduled to take effect sometime in early November.

The rabbi who uttered the curse didn't want his name published. He should be found and tried for sedition. In all probability, Amir was at this rally and could have been incited to carry out his heinous act.

Indeed, many Israelis are now saying there has been too much tolerance for this kind of extremist rhetoric. Yet Israel must follow the same tightrope that our own country has walked since the ink was still wet on the First Amendment. Where lies the boundary between freedom of speech and incitement to violence?

I would bring this issue closer to home. The Jewish Bulletin has often published letters to the editor calling Rabin a traitor. What is the motivation among us Jews to hurl such terrible invective against each other? Can't we let Louis Farrakhan take care of that department while we see to the important mitzvah of ahavat Yisrael, love of one Jew for the other? We forget that commandment at our collective peril.

In Jerusalem on the day of Rabin's funeral, in every shop and kiosk, radios and TVs are tuned to one thing. Rabin's photo is plastered on bus stops, in store windows. This is a nation in deep mourning and trauma.

The shops here are starting to close and the area is emptying as people go home to watch on TV.

The funeral begins. I am watching it with my hosts. Tears come easily. Why are we crying? For Rabin, whom we didn't know personally? For his family? Or do we cry for ourselves and for our people? Maybe all of these things.

And there, on the TV screen, hardened soldiers can scarcely hold their own tears. Rabin's granddaughter, Noa Ben Artzi, speaks. Her sorrow is the country's sorrow. And what of Israel's future? My crystal ball is fogged over. Today, fear and uncertainty dominate.

Perhaps Yehudah Levy, president and publisher of the Jerusalem Post, best sums up the situation:

"I mourn an era of common sense, of unity and common objectives, of statesmen and leaders. I cry for the loss of our values, inherited by others, abandoned by us; for confusing democratic and humanitarian principles with violence and anarchy, replacing civilized debates with hatred and contempt.

"I am ashamed on behalf of the those who gave their lives and those who dedicated a lifetime to make the State of Israel a true light unto all other nations. I cry for thee, O Israel."

Now comes the hard part, as if all this hasn't been difficult enough. Israel must find its inner strength and overcome this disaster. The ancient taboo against Jewish internecine violence has been broken by those claiming to be the "true" heirs of Judaism and Zionism. A pox on their house!

Next week I return to California. I will leave my beloved Israel with a heavy heart. A personal pledge: Upon my arrival, every fiber of my being will go into supporting the peace process begun by that greatest of the great, Yitzhak Rabin. Then perhaps my despair will return to hope.