President Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin Tess Scheflan
President Shimon Peres at a memorial ceremony for former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Wednesday 20, 2010. Photo by Tess Scheflan
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Alon Ron
Israel Scouts holding a candle-lighting ceremony in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Oct. 19, 2010. Photo by Alon Ron

Events surrounding the 15th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination began yesterday with a series of rallies and ceremonies nationwide. According to the Hebrew calendar, today marks 15 years since the prime minister's murder.

A candle-lighting ceremony was held at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, where President Shimon Peres stressed the importance of not forgetting Rabin's legacy. "We hold memorial services in order not to forget. Forgetting is the enemy of humankind, and of democracy," Peres said.

This year's central demonstration, to be held next Saturday evening in Tel Aviv, is expected to be the last held in the city's Rabin Square. The event's organizing committee has decided that starting next year, the rally will be moved to an alternative location, possibly the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Ramat Aviv.

Among the speakers at yesterday's rally was Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau. "The three bullets fired at his back killed not only a leader, commander, prime minister and defense minister, but also threatened to destroy the bridge that connects Israeli society," he said.

Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog told demonstrators, "This was a terrible tragedy, one whose enormity can scarcely be grasped. It pains me that there are voices out there trying to blur or distort Rabin's memory."

Gilad Felberg, a 16-year-old Israel Scouts leader from Ra'anana, was a year old when Rabin was assassinated on November 4, 1995. "All I know is what I heard from stories my parents told, and what was talked about at school and in articles. I didn't really experience the murder," Felberg said at the Tel Aviv rally, attended by thousands of his fellow scouts.

"Last week we did all kinds of activities on the topic. Aside from talking about the murder itself, about Rabin and his legacy, and that's what I really believe in," he said.

Meanwhile, however, members of the scouts leadership in Jerusalem recently published a web article calling for a reexamination of the movement's traditionally strong showing at Rabin memorial rallies. "Recent demonstrations have focused on Rabin's legacy, on his political stances and worldview, and in making various pronouncements - even if not explicitly - for a peace agreement and end to the occupation. We cannot take part in such a demonstration," wrote the authors, Yiftah Samuel and Bat Raveh, both of Ma'aleh Adumim.

"The scouts' demonstration must focus on education, not political issues like stopping violence, advancing democracy and pluralism and fighting incitement within the public. We don't agree with Rabin's path and his political perspective, and we don't identify with the speakers at the rally as it has been run in recent years," they wrote. "And not just us. There are a considerable number of other Israeli citizens and scout members who don't agree with Rabin's views."

Most of the comments posted on the site expressed support for the authors' sentiments. "Someone needs to wake up and understand that this rally long ago turned into something ugly, into a social meeting between youth movement members. Someone should organize it properly, or cancel this demonstration which has already been labeled 'FestiRabin,'" wrote one reader. "Too many Knesset members and others with nothing to do with [Rabin] are brought up there to deliver speeches, and it's all leftist. Focus on what's important: murder because of opposing views."

Members of the Dror Israel movement, comprising graduates of the Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed youth movement, will set up tents in over a dozen cities nationwide offering vignettes on Rabin's life. Organizers say the exhibits will also highlight the incitement that led to the prime minister's murder, incitement they say has continued in Israel to this day.

Tents will be set up in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Holon, Rishon Letzion, Hod Hasharon, Gezer, Be'er Sheva, Mitzpeh Ramon, Ashkelon, Sderot, Acre, Carmiel, Afula and the Jezreel and Jordan Valleys.

Meet me at Ohel Yitzhak

There are roads and schools and a medical center named after Yitzhak Rabin, but apparently only one synagogue. Rehovot's Ohel Yitzhak was erected two years after Rabin's murder by a community of religious Zionist residents, and today its congregation numbers about 100.

Yesterday worshipers held their 13th annual memorial ceremony for Rabin, attended by Science and Technology Minister and Habayit Hayehudi chairman Daniel Hershkowitz, Tel Aviv University philosopher and linguist Asa Kasher (author of the Israel Defense Forces Code of Conduct ) and representatives of religious and secular youth movements.

Memorials for Rabin have drawn ever smaller crowds in recent years, a trend that has affected religious communities as well. Still, 15 years after his death, Rabin continues to be memorialized in a number of synagogues and religious centers across the country, including Jerusalem's Modern Orthodox Kehillat Yedidya synagogue and Gesher, an educational center that aims to find common ground between secular and observant Jews.

Gadi Gvaryahu, a founder of Ohel Yitzhak, said yesterday, "The ceremonies in our synagogue become more interesting every year. Most of our congregants don't identify with Labor but with Habayit Hayehudi, and that's why this is such an amazing thing. Most religious Zionist synagogues don't commemorate the day of the assassination as a religious event, but we believe it's essential. The person who murdered Rabin did so with a skullcap on his head, in the name of God, and tried to change government policy in God's name. That's why the best response was to build a synagogue in Yitzhak Rabin's name."