November 16, 2000
Sharing Hope for Peace
American and Israeli teens commemorate Yitzhak Rabin.
On Nov. 9, five years after the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Milken Community High School students reached across 7,563 miles and 10 time zones to their sister school, Tichon Chadash, in Tel Aviv.
The 500 American students connected ostensibly via the modern - and, that day, slightly temperamental - miracle of transcontinental video technology. But, in truth, the connection goes back 3,500 years to Abraham, who, as Rabbi Eli Herscher of Stephen S. Wise Temple pointed out, was promised a land by God. "Go forth from your native land and from your father's house to the land that I will show you" (Genesis 12:1).
The connection was intensified three years ago, with an exchange program between the two schools that has deepened the American teenagers' attachment to the land and, even more important, to the people. The program, sponsored by the Los Angeles-Tel Aviv Partnership of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, pairs groups of 10th graders who spend three months in Los Angeles in the fall and three months in Israel in the spring, experiencing each other's lives.
But on this day - the 11th of Cheshvan, Rabin's yahrtzeit - the students, along with their teachers and many parents, gathered in the Margolis Theatre at Milken and the library at Tichon Chadash to honor Yitzhak Rabin. They gathered almost at the exact hour of Rabin's death, dressed in white shirts, as Dr. Rennie Wrubel, Milken's head of school, remarked, "to remember together, feel together and exchange ideas together."
They traced Rabin's legacy from decorated war hero to dedicated peacemaker, offering prayers, songs, testimonials and readings. They listened as Rabbi Herscher said, "Rabin knew Abraham's vision. He understood the dangers of standing still, and he understood the risks of moving forward. Also, he understood that there was no alternative but to move forward."
Rabin had reiterated this vision in his last speech, at the peace rally where he was murdered. "Peace entails difficulties. For Israel there is no path devoid of pain," he said. "But the path of peace is preferable to the path of war... for the sake of our children and our grandchildren."
The memorial served as an opportunity for the teens to voice their fears about this painful path, about the violence that has erupted between the Israelis and Palestinians and about the peace process that lies in shambles.
Roni Milo, Israeli minister of health, former mayor of Tel Aviv and a graduate of Tichon Chadash, speaking from Tel Aviv, tried to allay those fears. "We in Israel are trying very hard to achieve peace. We have plenty of strength to handle all these problems. We are going to have peace."
But the American students didn't seem mollified by his words. Penny Marmer asked, "If the violence in the Middle East continues, what are you going to do?"
"We shall overcome the difficulties, and we shall live in peace," Milo answered.
There was talk about how American Jews can help. Israeli teenager Tal Goldenberg, who came to Los Angeles as an exchange student in 1998, asked, "How do American Jews feel about the situation in Israel, and what do you think you could and should do?"
Milken student Joshua Richmond answered the first part. "We all feel strongly that we don't like the violence," he said.
Yoav Ben-Horin, Milken teacher and director of the exchange program, responded to the second part. "What American Jews can do, and what American Jews do best, is not only direct support of Israel but, just as important, intense activity within this great nation that leads to wider interest in and support of Israel."
But nowhere was there wider support of Israel than that demonstrated by the Milken students themselves, who visibly transmitted their love and concern to their Israeli friends. They clearly understood that they, in solidarity with their Israeli brothers and sisters, were continuing the difficult journey which Abraham began 3,500 years ago and for which Yitzhak Rabin, five years ago, sacrificed his life.