First stop for Israel exhibit on Yitzhak Rabin: East Bay

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

For those old enough to remember, the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 was an indelibly tragic moment. For those too young to remember, here comes an Israeli exhibit making its debut in the United States.

The Jewish Federation of the East Bay has teamed up with Dror Israel to bring “About-Face: Yitzhak Rabin, His Life and Legacy” to three local synagogues and Berkeley Hillel.

Yitzhak Rabin

Each location — Hillel, Congregation Beth El in Berkeley, Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland and Congregation B’nai Shalom in Walnut Creek — will display the exhibit for one day from Wednesday, Dec. 4 through Dec. 10, with docent talks set for specific times. Admission is free.

The assemblage includes photographs, media accounts and statements by Israeli academics, journalists and political leaders about Rabin, who was assassinated Nov. 4, 1995, in a public square in Tel Aviv.

From here, the exhibit will move on to New York and Boston, and though it’s making its North American debut, it is not new.

For years, around the anniversary of Rabin’s death, Dror Israel has created dozens of similar exhibits across Israel, along with Zachor tents (Hebrew for “remember”) to promote dialogue. The commemorations culminated in a rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, which was known as Kings of Israel Square when Rabin was gunned down there.

Primarily an educational organization, Dror Israel operates numerous programs in Israel, including respite camps for children during times of war, co-existence workshops and youth leadership development. It also operates 15 education-oriented kibbutzes in Israel.

Yitzhak Rabin exhibit in Israel

For the last four years, the East Bay federation has supported Dror, including its kibbutz in Akko, its work with at-risk kids and a Jewish-Arab co-existence campaign in the Galilee.

James Brandt, CEO of the East Bay federation, says his staff worked with Dror to prepare the exhibit, translating the Hebrew text and adapting the theme.

“It’s a pretty sophisticated topic,” Brandt says. “It’s not just about the legacy of Rabin, but it also looks at Israeli society, trying to understand the forces that led to a circumstance we all thought impossible: a Jew murdering the prime minister of Israel and using a religious pretext for the assassination.”

Zohar Avigdori and Yoni Carmel of Dror Israel will be serving as docents and facilitating dialogue. As much as he wants young people to learn from the past, Avigdori hopes the exhibit spark conversation about the future.

“There’s a tendency in the educational system to turn [the Rabin assassination] into a historical event,” Avigdori said. “They teach it in the context of Israeli history. We bring it into Israeli reality. We ask: What are the challenges we face as a society, and how are we to live in such a diverse society without such rifts happening?”

For Avigdori, Rabin’s death is personal. A young teen at the time, he was among the thousands in the square that night at a rally in support of the Oslo accords, celebrating a moment of hope that peace between Israel and the Palestinians had finally come.

He then witnessed Rabin’s final public moments.

Zohar Avigdori leads a tour of the exhibit in Israel.

“I went to support the peace process,” he recalls. “Later when we went to the parking lot we heard about a gunshot. Rumors spread very quickly.”

Rabin was shot by Yigal Amir, a right-wing radical outraged by Rabin signing the Oslo accords. Rabin was rushed to the hospital and died 40 minutes later.

“The assassination was the lowest point possible for Israeli society,” Avigdori said. “How far have we progressed from then, and what can we do to push things higher?”

Avigdori says he has seen many Israelis strive for connection in the Zohar tents, where the aim is to bridge the kind of gulfs in Israeli society that drove Amir to murder Rabin.

“Whether it’s haredi [ultra-religious] and secular, Jews and Arabs, right and left,” he says, “we bring together different segments of Israeli society into a hub of discourse about democratic values.”

Brandt hopes the exhibit will spark equally fruitful conversations in the East Bay.

“Rabin has become an icon both because of his message and his tragic death,” Brandt says. “In today’s environment, where there is so much criticism of Israel’s positions around peace, it’s important to know the chapter of Yitzhak Rabin and a time when Israel was calling for peacemaking in a significant way.”

Avigdori says the exhibit and the conversations do something more.

“Through them we create what we call a living monument to Rabin. Not just put on our sad face, but make something out of the memory of this great man.”

“About-Face: Yitzhak Rabin, His Life and Legacy,” Dec. 4 at Berkeley Hillel, 2736 Bancroft Way, Berkeley (docent talks at noon and 7 p.m.); Dec. 7 at Beth El, 1301 Oxford St., Berkeley (4 p.m.); Dec. 9 at Beth Abraham, 327 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland (7 p.m.); Dec. 10 at B’nai Shalom, 74 Eckley Lane, Walnut Creek (noon and 7 p.m.). (510) 809-4953 or www.jfed.org/rabin

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.