Standing under the shadow of the starry evening sky and enveloped in a thick silence that I hardly want to break, I poise myself to speak. Thoughts race through my head: “Will I do this iconic speech justice?” What an honor to stand in Rabin Square and recite the speech that Prime Minister of Defense Yitzhak Rabin delivered in 1995 before the people of Israel in which he unabashedly proclaimed his commitment to peace with Palestine—a commitment that would cost him his life that very night. I try to put myself in that moment, but begin to realize the present moment is special in its own right. I am in Israel with student leaders from colleges all over the U.S. and we are uncovering Israel in such a personal way in a time when it has become so politicized. Our trip leaders brought us here to learn about this event and person that uniquely capture the past and present of Israel. They gave me his speech to recite as a tribute and an avenue for us to all have an encounter with history.
Just moments earlier, we were at the nearby Rabin memorial—the exact location of his assassination, and where we looked into the hearts of some of the Israeli people. Our tour guide spoke with sadness on his countenance but optimism in his voice about how he still believes peace is possible, even though the enduring conflict has made prospects seem grim. As we stepped away from the roped off rocks erected from a cavity in the ground, an older man, large in build but humble in demeanor, solemnly approached the space and knelt. I wondered what he prayed and to whom—I could only guess his deepest desire was peace and his sorrow sprung from the current discord. I looked away out of respect for the sacred moment between him and his God. What I found in the other direction was a wall with the official statement explaining what happened in this space to Rabin, but something else caught my eye. Among newspaper clippings and writings on the wall, there was one large Hebrew word sprayed in graffiti over the others: “Sorry,” our tour guide explained. He could not tell us who wrote this apology or for what, but it was guarded with a glass barrier—an apology that cannot be taken back. My Jewish friend explained to me that this place and event represents to her “the destruction of hope.” It eerily reminded me of the death of Jesus in that one man represented something larger than himself and his death the defeat of a nation. The space was heavily laden with sadness, but only for those who wanted to engage it in that manner. Just on the periphery, people scurried by quickly, giving tense glances in the direction of the memorial but overall pushing their children along. They did not want to slow down and wallow in the tragedy; they wanted life to go on, and it does, right?
I think so. Before we came to the memorial, we were witnessing the most gorgeous sunset at a nearby beach on the Mediterranean Sea, and enjoying Krembo, a classic Israeli cream-filled desert. All the signs of time ticking by surround us; the tide approaches and retreats, and the sun sets as it prepares to give way to the next sunrise, another opportunity to live to the fullest. I saw people seizing the day at the Tel Aviv market. They humored themselves by engaging with my friends and me when we asked them silly questions for a scavenger hunt. They playfully danced along with the street performers in the public square. Even in the simplest acts of shopping in the market, I could see true joy in their eyes and proof of their vibrant lives. A man sold me pomegranate seeds that were bittersweet, like my trip, as I too tried to make the most of every moment. As I stood there in Rabin Square, the silence was deafening because I was listening to the absence of the voice of a revolutionary—one who was taken before his life’s mission was accomplished, just like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In the undercurrent of the silence, I heard the stirring of a generation being awakened to the call to carry on that dream. In Israel, you can taste the pain of tension and conflict, but there’s a sweetness in the way the land remains sacred and the people there work creatively and boldly to pursue future reconciliation from both sides, all the while fighting for the beauty and simplicity of the present.
~Briana Payton '17
© 2014 Princeton Traveler