In first person… First-time trip coincides with Rabin assassination

In October 1995, I visited Israel for the first time on a Jewish National Fund mission. I was prepared for a very emotional experience. While the first of several days of the trip were very interesting, I did not feel any deep emotional attachment that so many had suggested I would. That would suddenly change. While entering a cab in the Old City, we heard on the radio that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had been shot after speaking at a peace rally. We held vigil in our hotel lobby until the dreaded news came.

Every Israeli I talked to was moved by this terrible event. Our Israeli bus tour guide could hardly contain his emotions. All of the hotel staff with whom I spoke were also quite visibly shaken. When the local touring company leader reminded us to turn in our hotel keys, she could hardly speak without crying.

To the Israelis, this was something that just didn't happen in their land. Here was a country worried about making peace with Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Liberation Organization in part, because their leaders might be assassinated. Yet now Israelis confronted the reality of this happening to them. It was as if someone had put a knife into the chest of the whole nation.

Here was a man of peace violently losing his life precisely because of his vision of peace. I thought about the analogies to President Kennedy. On a tragic level, I felt the close bonding of our two countries.