I had no idea what to expect. The Israel Museum in Jerusalem is often in the spotlight, the Palmach Museum in Ramat Aviv is a must-see, but the Rabin Center never comes up in conversation. Still, one of the many historical museums in this tiny country, it had been on my short list for years. So when my aunt and uncle told me they were spending the afternoon there before coming to our house for dinner last week, I offered to meet them and extend our time together.
From the outside, the building is simple, made of Jerusalem-like stone, with a plaque perched among a few olive trees in a nondescript garden near the entrance. There is no signage anywhere, no banners or any indication of greatness. Unlike most museums here, there are no security guards, no front desk or warm welcome.
Once I learned that my aunt and uncle had already begun the audio tour, I quickly bought my device and hurried up a steep flight of steps, where a young woman took my ticket and pointed toward a closed door. Within seconds, like Star Trek’s Enterprise, it opened and I walked into a large room shaped like a half-moon filled with video screens. The audio system is super sophisticated and button-free, save for one to control volume. Visitors face any given screen and wait; within seconds, a narrator speaks as the newsreels play.
In the darkness of that room, two oversized screens played footage from the peace rally on November 4, 1995, as the narrator revealed the tragic news: Rabin had been shot and they were rushing him to the hospital.
From there, we exited into a hallway that began to circle the building like the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan. The walls were thick with history, covered with boards, dating back to 1922 when Rabin was born, listing important people and events in Israel as well as in the greater world. A handful of rooms to the right led to more pivotal moments in time with videos and boards.
Under our feet were stepping stones, flush with the floor, with pictures and facts that marched forward in time, noting major happenings worldwide, such as the first ATM machine in 1959, the first walk on the moon in 1969, the creation of CNN in 1980, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The timeline below made us smile, providing much-needed relief from the intensity of the information staring us in the face.
As we walked from room to room, the decades passed. During each one, war played a major part: the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the 1956 Suez Crisis, the 1967 Six-Day War, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the 1982 Lebanon War. Rabin either fought as a soldier, led soldiers or helped broker a truce. When the First Intifada erupted in the late ‘80s, he knew, as Prime Minister, he needed to find a better, more viable solution to solve the never-ending cycle of violence.
By the time I arrived in Israel in March of 1989, the country was deeply entangled in the Palestinian uprising. I remember the random terrorist attacks, occasional bus bombs, the stabbings on city streets. And then, the constant outbreaks quieted. Rabin left office in 1992, and soon the words “peace” and “process” were abuzz.
Throughout my pregnancy with Benjamin in the spring and summer of 1993, I read and watched and listened to the news, following each step of what turned into the Oslo Accords.
By the time I gave birth on September 9, I felt hopeful for the first time. Maybe, I thought, I could live in Israel if there were real peace.
As my aunt and uncle and I wound our way downstairs, we glanced at the more serious photos of Rabin with other statesmen on one side of the wall and the more candid photos of him with his family on the other. Inching our way forward, we arrived at the photo of the most pivotal moment of his life, which coincided, perhaps, with my own.
September 13, 1993: former president Bill Clinton, former PLO leader Yasser Arafat and former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin stood in the autumn sunlight on the White House lawn in Washington D.C. and shook hands.
September 13, 1993: Benjamin was released from the hospital at four days old. Minutes after bringing him home, we sat down in front of the television to watch.
Seeing the picture of those three men for the first time in 19 years undid me. I sobbed, remembering my naivety, believing that there would be peace—that my firstborn son might not have to serve in the army. A new mother, I had no idea then that we would eventually leave the country for 16 years only to return again.
I had no idea that Israel would pull at some deep place inside me whether or not I was living in the country or on the other side of the world.
I had no idea that after high school 18 years later my son would choose to enlist in the IDF to serve his homeland.
Wrapping my arms around myself, I took a deep breath. Slowly, I walked away from the picture and sat on a bench in front of a video clip of the ceremony that day. I watched as if for the first time, recalling how divided my attention was back then, between the newborn in my lap and the history ahead of me. I studied the faces of those men and listened intently to their words. When it ended, I watched and listened again, trying to memorize their expressions and words.
By the time I reached one of the last screens, replaying the peace rally on November 4, 1995, when Rabin was shot and killed, I was composed. I already knew the outcome. It, too, was a day I will never forget.
During my afternoon at the Rabin Center, I learned how deeply devoted that man was to cultivating peace between Jews and Arabs, how every move he had made during his years in the IDF and later the government served as stepping stones to the Oslo Accords and beyond.
In the absence of a solution and of peace, I only hope that Yitzhak Rabin’s legacy will never be forgotten.
According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Rabin’s life was a long list of service, bravery and accomplishments:
- Born 1922 in Jerusalem during the British Mandate over Palestine
- Finished school with distinction and then volunteered for the Palmach, the commando unit of the Jewish community. Served in the Palmach and the Israeli Defense Forces for 27 years, culminating as Chief of Staff.
- Appointed Israeli Ambassador to the United States
- Returned to Jerusalem in 1973 and became active in the Israel Labor Party
- Elected to the Knesset in 1973 elections after the Yom Kippur War
- Appointed Minister of Labor in 1974 under Golda Meir; months later the government dissolved and the Knesset appointed him Prime Minister
- Concluded interim agreement with Egypt in 1975 with America’s help; this led to the first Memorandum of Understanding signed between Israel and the US
- Ordered the Entebbe Operation in June 1976
- Served as a Member of Knesset in the opposition in 1977; member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, until the formation of the National Unity Government in September 1984; served as Minister of Defense in the National Unity Government from September 1984 to March 1990
- Served as a Member of Knesset in the opposition from March 1990 to June 1992, when he was elected Prime Minister again
- Signed the Declaration of Principles with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat on September 13, 1993 in Washington, D.C.
- Received the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize together with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat
- Signed the Israel-Jordan peace treaty with King Hussein on October 26, 1994