A decade later, Rabins death motivates his supporters

On the 10th anniversary of his assassination, former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was memorialized as an archetypal “sabra,” a proud warrior whose rough exterior belied a sensitive soul.

“I can’t describe how much I cried when Rabin was shot,” said 24-year-old Israeli Tal Grunspan, standing at the bimah of San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El on Saturday night, Nov. 5.

“Rabin was a real father for me … and for the country of Israel as well.”

But according to Grunspan, the tragedy galvanized a generation of activists.

“Rabin’s death was the trauma that changed my life,” Grunspan said. He and his generation “took on the responsibility of keeping the memory of Rabin alive … not just the person, but the hope he gave to our nation.”

Grunspan, who belongs to the “Candle Generation” named after the young mourners who huddled in candlelight vigils across the country after Rabin’s murder, travels extensively while educating people on what he believes is Rabin’s legacy.

“I think that if Rabin had lived, [Israel] would be in a much better place right now,” Grunspan said after the event. “If I was a Palestinian looking at Israeli society, I would lose trust when a leader who was trying to make peace was killed by his own people.

“Rabin’s murder really created a crisis between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”

The 10th yahrzeit of Yitzhak Rabin was presented by the Israel Center of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, Congregation Emanu-El, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Anti-Defamation League.

After choral performances by San Francisco’s Brandeis Hillel Day School, Rabbi Sydney Mintz led the auditorium in prayers to pay tribute to the man “who had such an extraordinary impact on the state of Israel and the Middle East.”

Avshalom “Abu” Vilan, a Knesset member and co-founder of the Israeli peace movement Peace Now, followed Mintz to the bimah.

Vilan, the evening’s keynote speaker, had a long history with Rabin and memorialized him as man of many nuances.

“We lost a decade of hope and progress because of the death of this man,” Vilan said. “Before his death, all of [Israelis] thought of our country as one big kibbutz. None of us thought that anything like [Rabin’s murder] could happen to us, but it did.”

Vilan, who was in New York at the time of Rabin’s death, said the prime minister’s murder extinguished the life of a man who was courageous enough to recognize the winds of change.

“I know a different Rabin than many people do,” he said.

Noting the long military and political career of the former prime minister, which stretched from service in the Palmach during the Israeli War of Independence through his two-decade tenure as a leader in the Israeli Defense Forces and two different stints as prime minister, Vilan recalled a man who was often shy and awkward.

Recalling a 1978 meeting during the nascent days of Peace Now, Vilan requested an audience with Rabin. He said the meeting was initially awkward because Rabin was trying to be a gracious host and unsure of how to proceed.

“At first he asked me if I’d like something to eat or drink. Then, there was an awkward pause, where we kind of looked at each other,” Vilan said. “Finally, Rabin broke the silence and said ‘Well, who should start, me or you?'”

Vilan echoed Grunspan in saying that when a lasting Middle East peace is finally achieved, Rabin will be remembered as its chief architect.

Perhaps the most succinct comments came from 12-year-old pianist Ido Akov, who accompanied the Brandeis Hillel choral group.

When asked what he knew about the former prime minister, Akov, who was 2 at the time of Rabin’s murder, paused and adjusted his yarmulke.

“Um, the only thing I know about him was that everyone thought he was a really, really good guy.”