Yitzhak Rabin

Voices from the field

U'fros Aleynu: Remembering Rabin

By Lesley Litman

It is hard to believe that 15 years have passed since the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. I remember the day so clearly. We were living in Jerusalem at the time. We had gone from shul to the house of friends for Shabbat lunch. Most of the people at lunch were getting ready for the trip to Tel Aviv to attend what promised to be a large and inspiring peace rally that evening. The excitement was palpable; I was the only one staying home, in the midst of a high-risk pregnancy.

The call came from my husband as they were beginning the climb into the Judean hills on their way home. Terrible news: Rabin had been shot, but the initial reports were that he wasn’t seriously wounded. The rest is history. The country came to a halt. The next morning, as we made our way to Hadassah Hospital in Ein Karem for a test related to my pregnancy, the streets were empty. We were a country in limbo – the quiet period before we would bury our loved one.

The day before the funeral I found myself back at Hadassah, admitted to the hospital due to complications from my test. In an ironic twist of fate, I shared a room with three women: one, a religious woman, who was a follower of the rabbi in New York who had put a fatwa out on Rabin, the second, a secular woman who supported Rabin, and the third a young ultra-Orthodox woman carrying septuplets who had never even heard of Rabin. During the two days the four of us spent together in that hospital room, watching Rabin’s funeral and trying to care for each other, we had no choice but to build bridges, to find a way to move beyond our political differences, tending to each others’ far more basic needs.

Fast forward to early October, 1996 in my role as newly appointed family educator and Jewish studies coordinator at The Rashi School in Boston. Rabin’s first yarzheit was approaching and, while driving in my car, listening to Shalom Chaver (the CD made from the concert given in the Prime Minister’s memory immediately following shiva), I was searching for a powerful and meaningful way to honor him. I remembered my three hospital roommates and our struggle and success in finding a common language in a time of divisiveness, and having just celebrated the holiday of Sukkot, I wondered if it would be possible to “to spread over ourselves a shelter of peace” (“lifros aleynu sukkat shalom”). Could we build a sukkah in the school, a place to which students could go to both find peace and make peace? We could furnish it with a cozy rug, comfortable chairs and an ambient light. A graffiti wall reminiscent of the one that sprang up at the site of the assassination might be created where students could write their dreams and hopes for peace and for Israel. We could train teachers and students in the skills and art of negotiation. It was a dream, could it really happen?

Jennifer Miller z”l, then the head of school, not only agreed to the idea, she became a partner in the sukkah’s development and building. Together we designed the sukkah, found building materials and volunteer builders, sought furniture from school families and, just in time for Rabin’s first yahrzheit, the Sukkat Shalom of The Rashi School became a reality. Located in the school cafeteria, it became a place to go for quiet or private conversation. Once, two second grade students in the midst of an argument went in, stood still and exited a little flustered, saying, “We went in fighting, stood there and nothing happened.” And so, we embarked upon initial training of teachers and students in negotiation and peer negotiation skills with the help of the Young Negotiators’ project of Harvard University. Many months later, Leah Rabin, z”l visited the school and dedicated the Sukkat Shalom. “We could use sukkot shalom all along our borders in Israel,” she noted. She complimented the students of The Rashi School for their dedication to bringing peace to the world.

The Rashi School moved in the summer of 1997 and then again in the summer of 1999. The sukkat shalom did not find a home in the two subsequent buildings. But, this past Sunday, just before the fifteenth yarzheit of Yitzchak Rabin, with tears in my eyes, I had the honor of entering the newest incarnation of the sukkat shalom, located in the main hallway of The Rashi School’s brand new permanent home and dedicated to the memory of Jennifer Miller, who died exactly one year ago of ALS. It is a testimony to the vision of the leaders of The Rashi School and to the enduring power of Yitzhak Rabin’s dream of peace.