April 5, 2007
Wife of Rabin’s Assassin Discusses Relationship, Life
An Orthodox woman, wearing a dark outfit and a hat too big for her, rushes into Café Hillel at a very busy Jerusalem mall. Larissa Trimbobler-Amir smiles apologetically and with a strong Russian accent explains how bad traffic was on her way to Jerusalem. |
"It took me 90 minutes to drive from Ramle Prison to the heart of this busy city," she says.
Her smile and soft voice are immediately appealing. Offered some coffee and cake, she accepts with a gentle gratefulness. She has come to talk about her marriage to Yigal Amir, who is serving a life sentence for the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
The conversation took place before the recent announcement that she is pregnant with her husband's child.
Asked how she became interested in Amir, she smiles with genuine warmth and begins to talk:
"I was following the case of the assassination of Rabin and was very taken by how this man, Yigal, came across. He accepted all responsibility and did not, in any way, try to unload any of it on someone else.
"His integrity shined out as a force irreducible to circumstances in question and a value he would not compromise," she says. "I saw someone who acted on his judgment, knowing that it will cost him his life or his liberty."
This Orthodox mother of four is an immigrant from the former Soviet Union who holds a doctorate of philosophy. A few years ago, before she made the commitment to be the wife of Yigal Amir, she was employed by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and conducting scientific research. Asked what created the closeness between her and her husband, she hesitates and then smiles again, as though expecting some sort of cynicism to be building up.
"I want to say that first and foremost it is our philosophy and ideals that created the closeness," she says. "I have written my doctorate on the philosophy of the Rambam. I have sent Yigal philosophical books, from Kafka to the Rambam, and we enjoy talking about ideas.
"Yigal did all of this reading to hopefully, one day, help me in my future intellectual endeavors. We talk as much about Rilke and Tolstoy as we do on my children and their homework.
"Whenever my son needs help in reading and understanding a certain chapter in the Bible, he waits for Yigal to call, and they do the work together," she continues. "My daughters, who are 15 and 17, also have a close relationship with him. They all have met with him in prison and have grown to respect and like him very much."
Asked if the relationship with Amir does not hurts them socially, she responds, "No. Not at all. In the Orthodox community, we find a lot of warmth and support. People might not agree with the killing of Rabin, but they do understand where Yigal was coming from.
"People always ask me how he is doing and if there is something he needs that they could help with," she says. "As for the non-Orthodox people around, other than the media, I never encountered any hate or verbal disapproval regarding my relationship with him. The only words of hatred came from the media."
Trimbobler-Amir expresses no bitterness or negativity, even when she talks about how hard it is for her financially, now that she is no longer employed by the Hebrew University.
After receiving a phone call from her daughter, with whom she speaks in Russian, Trimbobler-Amir excuses herself but invites her interviewer to visit her at her home in Jerusalem.
On this second visit, all her children are home. Trimbobler-Amir's mother, who lives with them to help with the children, lives in a small room at the back of the house. The smell of home cooking and wood burning fills the small living room.
"It took me years to get to see Yigal" Trimbobler-Amir says. "I don't know if you know that it was not easy at all. After our correspondence was going on for two years and I was already very close with his family, I was granted permission to visit him. His mother, Geula, is a very loving and caring woman. From the beginning, she was so grateful to have me there for Yigal. So happy and supportive."
When asked about their first meeting and how he proposed, she again gives a gentle laugh of discomfort.
"Well, it was not as though we were strangers in any way," she explains. "Our first meeting was after hours of talking on the phone and hundreds of letters written. He was everything I hoped he will be. Very calm and thoughtful and totally not self-centered.
"He talked about the hardships I might be facing and helped in giving me the strength to not be threatened by it," Trimbobler-Amir reveals. "He asked about my children and how they are doing with school work and kids their own age. Also, he told me that he was going to study Russian on his own and wanted me to send him the right books.
"By now, he is fluent in the language and has already translated a book I have written in Russian to Hebrew. Now we have to get the court to grant me permission to get it out of prison. I need to find someone who can read the translation and declare that no hidden words of propaganda were implanted into it.
"The court, however, first has to agree that the man is acceptable by the justice system," she says. "More and more and forever more complications."
The phone rings. It is Yigal Amir. He agrees to speak to this reporter. I introduce myself, and he says jokingly that I must know who he is, but in case I don't, his name is Yigal. After a very short pause, I ask him to explain why he felt that killing Rabin was justified and if he, in any way, regrets it.
"No, I can not regret it," Yigal Amir says. "It was not a wish of mine or a momentary feeling of no conclusive reasoning behind it. It was my conviction, and I still think it was right. If not for my act, to cut a long story short, you would have had to negotiate peace when the Palestinians were already in your backyard. "Rabin invited them into your house to discuss whether or not they will agree to live only in a certain room or rooms," he continues. "How can you throw them out if, once in your house, they disagree with the rooms you assign them? The Oslo accord was a betrayal of the Jewish people. Giving to the Palestinians up to 50 percent of the West Bank is insane. It is to murder, very soon after, your own people."
I ask him to tell me about his days behind bars. His voice sounds upbeat.
"What can I say," he replies. "It is not easy to have cameras staring at you all the time and to be locked in one small room with the lights constantly on. I know it is a punishment that is meant to break me by making life not worthy of this high price of suffering. But I am far from seeing life this way.
"My beliefs and my daily reading and my relationship with Larissa and [the] children are much too important for me to give up," Amir emphasizes. "However difficult my physical life may be, my will to live and be a better person is as strong as ever. I have done something that I fully believe in, and I never attempted to ask for any special circumstance as responsible for my choice."
I ask about his relationship with his wife. With his tone of voice even softer than before, he answers immediately:
"She's everything a woman needs to be. So wise and so peaceful and so devoted to what she believes in. I told her many times that maybe being involved with me is the wrong relationship for her, but she kept insisting that this is what she wants and it makes her happy. When she convinced me that she considers our relationship necessary for her happiness and completeness, I asked her to marry me."
I thank him for talking to me and hand the phone to Trimbobler-Amir. For Yigal Amir to talk to someone on the phone, he has to get the approval of the prison system. This, in turn, usually entails a court appearance, in which the parties involved have to convince the services that they are not in any way agents of right-wing propaganda.
It takes Trimbobler-Amir 10 minutes to get off the phone, and then she answers a question about how the marriage took place.
"After we agreed to marry, and the prison system rejected our request to conduct the ceremony in the visiting room, we asked the rabbi if there was a way around it," she explains. "We were given the whole procedural format for the ceremony to be conducted in the name of Yigal, for Yigal, by his father. If done correctly, the rabbi said, it is as binding as any wedding ceremony.
"But the court had us go around and around, saying the same thing and arguing the same point, just to make it drop the suspicion that we have done it all for some ulterior motive of hidden, yet gravely dangerous, propaganda."
When we meet again, two months later, the court had denied conjugal visits. Articles were written in every paper ridiculing the idea of Yigal Amir being allowed to produce an offspring. The court denied the request based on the Israel Security Agency's contention that it was against the safety and security of the country.
Trimbobler-Amir's new job is writing textbooks for elementary schools taught in Russian.
"I am driving to see Yigal every Tuesday, and so many times the guards are trying to shame me," she says. "They almost stand on my feet to make sure that no dangerous note can be handed to me."
Another year passes until our next meeting. Once the security agency withdrew its contention that Yigal Amir was not a threat to the security of the country, conjugal visits were granted. Trimbobler-Amir hesitates to say whether intimacy changed anything in their relationship.
"Well, it is too personal," she explains. "Much too personal. It is hard enough feeling that our moments together are a matter of public knowledge, to now talk about it ... not for me."
I ask her if she is afraid for the future of their child in a country so resentful.
"No, I am not afraid," Trimbobler-Amir stresses. "Around my children and I were always caring people who supported my struggle and who have no resentment whatsoever toward Yigal. Other than the media, I never encountered any hatred in the streets."