A slowly dying flame
The 'children of the candles,' who thought the three bullets changed their lives forever, promised themselves after the murder that they would change the world. A decade later, they are experiencing a painful sobriety.
Two images were seared into our memory in November, 1995: Eitan Haber announcing, in the name of the government, the death of Yitzhak Rabin, and the "children of the candles" in the square, who became an international symbol. The expression "We won't forget and we won't forgive" also became such an integral part of the Israeli consciousness that it is now being used by the settlers evacuated from Gush Katif. Perhaps they have not forgotten and have not forgiven, but everything has dissolved into a confusing reality that has also perplexed the young people who thought the three bullets had changed their lives forever, and made sublime promises to themselves at the time.
One should not judge a person in his time of sorrow, but not much came of these private and collective promises. Who still remembers, for example, the Dor Shalem Doresh Shalom ?(An Entire Generation Demands Peace?) movement, which was engendered by the murder and aimed to change the state, only to sink into oblivion? Two years after the murder, two young women at the annual Rabin memorial gathering still could say to each other, "Look what a beautiful crowd we are." The "youngsters," now 26-28 years old, are still beautiful, but much wearier.
In a new book published in Hebrew about Yitzhak Rabin, "Brothers at War: Rabin's Assassination and the Cultural War in Israel," Prof. Yoram Peri writes: "On a hate-love scale of 1 to 10, this generation actually places Rabin lower on the scale compared to other age groups ... The gathering in the square had no cumulative, long-term effect." The next generation, now 16-18 years old, barely remembers the date of the murder. But they do remember the murderer. Every day some new item appears about the life and loves of Yigal Amir.
The 10 years that have passed since the murder comprise more than one-third of the lives of the generation of the children of the candles. They have experienced a great deal during this decade: They matured and grew up, were inducted into the army, were injured and killed, experienced terror attacks, lost friends, traveled to India, made money, became ultra-Orthodox − all of this molded their lives more than that single moment, then called a "formative experience." Some of the children of the candles vote for Sharon. Some have become cynical and painfully sober.Oren Tabibian, HolonNine years ago, on the first anniversary of the murder, a number of teenagers from Holon came to Rabin Square and wrote on the wall: "ORT Holon, Class 11-1." It was a particularly good class − all of the students did matriculation exams. And they also wanted to be remembered via graffiti. Nine years later, it is difficult to identify which of the 39 students wrote the message on the wall. Perhaps Ephraim Menashe, whose mother said he was once very involved in things related to politics and soccer. Ephraim himself is unavailable for a conversation. He became ultra-Orthodox and is now a yeshiva student.
Oren Tabibian knows he did not write the graffiti, but has no idea which of his friends did. He was busy this week preparing for his new job as a programmer and renovating his parents? home. Like many in his age group, he still is living with his parents. "The Holonians stay at home longer," he comments in a sort of self-directed irony. He recalls the pain from the days after the murder, but says he watched the youth with the candles in the square from afar. He even pitied them a bit when they cried that "they had lost a grandfather." He himself did not feel this way. They looked to him like "Tel Avivians," like others. He also did not think that three bullets changed the country.
"We've cynically put this aside, as this state knows how to do," he says with profound cynicism that also includes acceptance of the country's character. "Nothing really changes here." But he actually changed a bit after the murder. He lost his sense of security, his faith in the securityservices, and also his faith in the state.
"I have no expectations from the state," he continues. "I don't look for it at all. I help myself. This is a state of deal-making; everyone needs to look after himself. I'm not one of the dreamers." He expressed his protest with a surprising choice: In the first elections after the murder, the first time he was of voting age, he chose not to vote. In retrospect, this protest also seems childish to him.
He has no intention of participating in the memorial events marking a decade since the murder. This is not because he is a Likudnik, not at all. He also remembers the Likud for the incitement that preceded the murder, and chuckles about how its leaders became bleeding hearts afterward. He will not go because he feels that they have made everything into a muddle of hypocrisy and he does not want any part in it. "I grew up, and we moved on," he says, in summary.
In Tabibian's case, the thing that sunk in is the feeling that he does not know the whole truth about the murder. He believes with all his heart in the idea of a conspiracy − but does not know which one of the theories to believe.
Roman Kogan, AshdodRoman Kogan was also Tabibian's age on the day of the murder, but he had only been in Israel for four years after immigrating from Estonia. When Rabin was killed, he was sitting at his home in Ashdod, watching the movie "Crocodile Dundee." His parents were watching Russian television in the other room. "If I hadn't run to tell them, they would have only learned about it the next day," he says, recalling their lack of connection during the initial years of absorption.
Kogan remembers himself as a teenager with limited political awareness, who made every effort to become integrated into Israeli society. For this reason, he did not connect with the large "Russian group" at his school, which was completely alienated, hated everything Israeli and made a point of demonstrating defiant indifference toward Rabin's murder. For him, the murder was also a type of culture shock. "I thought I came to live in a normal democratic state and I became really angry," he recalls.
Unlike much of the Russian-speaking population, which regarded the demonstrative mourning as a type of manipulation reminiscent of Stalin worship or the organized mourning for Brezhnev, he looked upon the children of the candles with a sort of envy.
"For some reason, I felt that they were more mature than I was, that they saw something I was not able to see. I didn't feel really connected to them," he says. "Many of them came from youth movements, and I wasn't in a movement. I brought with me a sort of repulsion from Soviet collectivism. Besides, we were the periphery."
But beyond the anger, the assassination provided an accelerated lesson for him about the character of the society he had joined. Until then, the whole of Israeli society had seemed to him to be a uniform, black box whose secrets he was unable to fathom. Suddenly, he saw the society split into two groups.
"From the little I knew then, I understood that the murderer is not Raskolnikov, but is part of a system that nurtured people like him," Kogan explains. "For the first time, I felt like I also belong here to 'a group' − the group that was weeping. That was a formative moment for me from a political perspective, which reinforced my affiliation with one side of the society. The other side closed the door on me forever at age 17."
But, at the time, Kogan did not know what to do with all of this insight. He was new and had no social network. But he translated his reflections into action later on, after completing military service as a basic-training instructor in the Nahal command, studying communications at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and serving as an aide to MK Roman Bronfman from Meretz-Democratic Choice.
Gili Byium, Upper NazarethAt age 16, Gili Byium was a classic "child of the candles." They even filmed her for CNN. But even then, she says, this expression sounded a bit ridiculous to her. She came from Upper Nazareth to the rally in the square on a bus organized by the Meretz movement, in which she was very active. Her parents came on a bus organized by the Labor Party. "I was much more extreme than they were," Byium recalls. She is now studying for a master's degree in political science at Tel Aviv University.
At the rally where Rabin was killed, she stood in the front row with her friends. They went to look for a little provocation with right-wing demonstrators who stood further away and they even thought that to be arrested for a short time would be the "coolest" thing that could happen to them. And then came the gunshots; they only learned about Rabin's death when they were already on the bus back to Upper Nazareth. Byium returned to the square immediately and stayed there. She cried, sang and embraced her friends.
"To be there," to be among those who were at the rally, accorded her a type of supremacy in her age group − a select status of seniority. In those days, Byium made a series of personal decisions: She decided to be more active, to contribute immediately to the peace process − if not to change the world, at least to improve the state. She felt that Rabin had abandoned them without leaving a heir and that they needed to assume the responsibility. And she indeed put this into action: She organized seminars for teenagers, was a group leader, ran around and then enlisted in the army, where she instructed combat officers at a school for leadership. In other places of military service, her friends were injured in Lebanon."I began to feel that the views of Meretz were too leftist for me," she says, recalling a process of profound change. "I was gung-ho about the army and as an instructor I instilled this in others. A friend of mine was seriously wounded in Lebanon. There were the terrible terror attacks that confused everything. Suddenly the overall picture didn't fit together." This reached such an extent that the teenager with the highly developed political awareness did not even go to vote in 1999.
"I felt that they had broken the rules and wasn't going to play," she says. Byium summarizes this period: "I don't have the feeling that I failed, rather that reality crushed that fervor." For several years, she did not even go to the memorial assemblies in Rabin Square. She felt that even they had become devoid of content. But as she began her university studies, the latent bug of public activism reawakened. Byium became a key activist in the Labor Party's student organization and directed her energy to other channels. "The teenager from 10 years ago was a bit naive," Byium says about herself. "I was imbued with ideology then. Today I have an agenda."
George Mahsheen, NazarethWhen the shots were fired in the square, George Mahsheen, 18 years old at the time, sat with his parents in the living room of their home in Nazareth, watching Egyptian te levision, as they did every Saturday evening. The moment Rabin's murder was announced, they switched to an Israeli channel. One can say that the murder of Rabin was the young Arab's only connection to the collective Israeli experience. "He was the only Israeli leader who extended a hand to the Palestinian people and I, as part of this people, saw in him a great hope," Mahsheen says, remembering those days.
"The murder of Rabin was definitely not just something the Jews experienced. It was also a story of the Arabs. I felt more Israeli then. In him, an army man who laid down his weapon, I saw the symbol of a belligerent state that will lay down its arms. Since then, I only see a return to the bad days. What heritage of Rabin are you preserving? He tried to bring the Arabs to center stage, but during the 10 years since the assassination, Jewish society has made an intensified effort to push the Arabs to the periphery."
Now studying for a master's degree in communications at Bar-Ilan University, Mahsheen also works as a journalist for the Kul al-Arab newspaper. He says that after the murder, he decided to enlist in the fight for peace. But he says that he did not find a Jewish partner."The organizations and movements that arose after the murder did not want us," he explains. "Contrary to expectations, they kept us out of all of their activity. Contrary to Rabin's heritage, they ignored us. Since then, I expect only bad things from this state, including transfer."
Udi Gilad, Ra'ananaThe teenager Udi Gilad left the Mahanot Haolim movement in Ra'anana long before Rabin was killed. He was bored. He thought he could play soccer in a framework that required less commitment. Still, he used the movement's transportation services to travel to the rally at Kikar Malchei Yisrael. It was also the first time in his young life that he had participated in any kind of rally. He heard about Rabin's death when he was already on the way back to Ra'anana. "I know that it is already a cliche, but I really did feel like they took my third grandfather away from me," he says. "This personal feeling has stayed with me to this very day."Gilad spent the first days after the murder with the children of the candles in the square. He felt a profound sense of belonging to this collective, and a deep alienation from the opposing collective.
"To this day, I cannot remove the blame from the national religious community," he notes. "This guilt should have accompanied them always, but it dissolved in a terrible way. Our camp is also to blame. Its leaders felt it was important to run after the votes of the community that murdered the leader − to demonstrate concern about a rift in the people. But there was a rift in the people and it remains."
Gilad, 27 years old and a master's-degree student in environmental science at Tel Aviv University, drew immediate conclusions from the murder. He returned to the youth movement because he decided that the future depends on education. He describes the change he underwent: "From a person who was not active, I became a mobilized person. Immediately after the murder, I decided to create a new generation of active leftist youth. This looked promising at first − lots of people enlisted, but also disappeared very quickly. Some of them now vote for Sharon. I moved more to the extreme left, so that today I have no political home."
The dream of generating change via education also shattered upon the rocks of reality. After a year of pre-army national service as a group leader and teacher, which he chose to do as a direct consequence of Rabin's assassination, came the real encounter with the mobilized education system, which so humiliates teachers that Gilad now has no desire to become part of it. What happened to the teenager who decided to change the state?
"He grew up and matured," Gilad smiles. "The confrontation with everyday life extinguishes the fire. If they had told me in November 1995 that this is the way the state would look 10 years later, I could not have imagined it. I really believed that it was possible to generate profound change. Today I no longer believe that it is possible to change, but I refuse to believe that it is not worthwhile to try to do so."
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