Wearing My Kippah for Rabin

While wearing a kippah at the rally commemorating the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, I was questioned intensely and searched more fully. I wanted to scream, 'I’m not one of them, don’t worry!'

Every year, since the first year I moved to Israel, I have spent the eve of the 12th day of Heshvan at the same place: Rabin Square. Rabin had been my childhood Kennedy. I remember exactly where I was when I heard he was murdered, I felt the loss of his leadership - even as a twelve-year old American - and I have often wondered how life would have been different had he remained alive.

And so, six years ago, during my first year living in Israel, it was no surprise that I made my way to Tel Aviv on a Saturday night for the tenth anniversary of Rabin’s assassination. Like those around me, I sang along with Miri Aloni to “A Song of Peace,” cheered when Tzipi Livni said that people across the political spectrum were hurt by Rabin’s murder, and was moved by the words of Bill Clinton to take up Rabin’s work.

Rabin 15 - Moti Kimche - Oct. 30, 2010
Moti Kimche

What surprised me was what happened when I entered the rally. In the years since Rabin’s murder, I had become more religiously observant, and a few years earlier, I had started wearing a kippah regularly. By wearing a kippah at the rally, I was questioned intensely and searched more fully. I wanted to scream, “I’m not one of them, don’t worry!” But my having a kippah placed me in the religious camp, and therefore suggested I may have been a threat.

In the aftermath of that rally, I considered taking off my kippah. While I had my religious convictions, I was not ready for the assumptions that people made about me as a religious person. I did not want people to assume things about my politics and my ideology. But I did want to continue to acknowledge God’s presence in my life, and so my kippah remained a part of my daily dress.

In wearing my kippah, I cannot hide from the associations people have with religious Jews in this country. Beyond that, I cannot pretend that it was not a kippah-wearing, supposedly “religious” Jew that assassinated Rabin. And that is precisely why it is so important for me to continue wearing my kippah as I commemorate the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

I do not disown the minority of religious Jews who encouraged the assassination, nor the one who did the deed. I do not say, “They are not me. They are not my people.” Instead, I say that it is the responsibility of all religious people to take ownership of the horrible action, to say that we have a responsibility to make sure that disagreements are solved in a non-violent matter, and that no religious Jew decides to take his own corrupt view of justice into his own hands.

At the same time, I would like to reclaim the label of “religious,” so that in Israel, religiousness is associated not only with the strict observance of the Sabbath and Kashrut, but with good deeds, charity, and a desire to make the world a better place.

In the Talmud tractate of Yoma, we are taught about two priests who race to be the first to offer a sacrifice in the Temple. As one priest approaches the altar, the other stabs him, leaving him bleeding on the ground. The dying priest’s father approaches, removes the knife, and announces that because the priest is not yet dead, the knife has not been made impure, and the sacrifices may continue. It is taught that God sees that in the Temple purity of a knife is more important than the life of a human being, and the Temple lost its holiness.

So too with the murder of Rabin, a religious Jew decided that the holiness of the land was more important than the life of the prime minister. It is my job, as an outwardly religious Jew, to publicly live a life that values human life above else. It is my job to encourage all other religious Jews to do the same. Whether one agreed with Rabin’s path or not, all religious Jews - and all people - should agree that the way to disagree is not through violence.

And so, as in years past, I will continue to commemorate the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, whether together with rest of Israeli society or in small groups. And I will continue to do so not despite my being a religious Jew, but because I am a religious Jew.

Arie Hasit is an educator at Ramah Programs in Israel and is beginning the Israeli bet midrash program at the Schechter institute. The views expressed in this article are the author's alone.