Today marks twenty years since the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin. Do you remember where you were when you heard the news? I was a rabbinical student, leading a youth group retreat. Explaining the inexplicable to one hundred teenagers, I struggled to reassure them that Israel was safe and strong and that the Jewish People were Am Echad, one people. I struggled to reassure myself of these things, which Rabin personified. His final speech gave reason to be courageous and hopeful.
Twenty years later the Israeli hip hop band, HaDag Nachash, has written a ballad, a lament in Rabin’s memory. It’s called: “What would have been if?” Unlike Shir LaShalom, the 1969 peace anthem sung by Rabin and the thousands who gathered on that night of November 4, 1995, “What would have been if?” is a song of loss and longing. Shir LaShalom is confident and bold; the lyrics assert that if we are willing to sacrifice and if we commit fully, then peace will come; it leads to a rousing chorus. By contrast, the protest song of today’s generation is slow and battered. Its chorus refers to “my exhausted People” and the final verse is instructive.
And our untrustworthy future, what does it have in store?
What more can it bury?
Your Six Days blossomed a hundredfold.
And nowadays, not only we declare victory.
And to think you had the courage to change.
And to think you knew how to plant hopes.
And to think you rose up to fly and went far enough away to see.
And to think that you managed to understand:
What would be if….?
The hip hop generation praises Rabin’s leadership for being courageous enough to change and hopeful enough to climb to a vantage point which allows for real understanding.
Reform Jewish Leadership
I write to you from the Biennial Convention of the Union for Reform Judaism. 5,000 leaders of our movement are here to study and pray, to ask the hard questions about the Jewish future and to exchange models of success. It is always good to see old friends and colleagues, to learn from my favourite teachers, and especially now to connect with the extraordinary leaders of the growing Reform movement in Israel. Holy Blossom Temple is very well represented at this Biennial conference — twenty-five strong. And this year, I have the unique privilege of leading the Kabbalat Shabbat service. (Watch live here.) I am certain this honour was extended because the URJ wants to acknowledge that Holy Blossom Temple has returned to its place of leadership among North American synagogues. Our ambitious Renewal of Space and Spirit is recognized widely and gives our sister congregations encouragement to pursue their own aspirations to prepare for the coming generations.
Looking back at Rabin’s legacy cut short, some may despair. But when I hear his voice again today, my faith is restored that anything is possible when there is leadership. The lyrics of the next generation call for a distinct kind of leadership: enough courage to be willing to change, enough optimism to plant hope, and enough perspective to be able to reach true understanding. Both here and in Israel, this is our challenge; this is our purpose and privilege. Let’s get to work.