For me, in my apartment on the Upper West Side, it was still Shabbat when the phone rang. Hearts skipped beats, and we all jumped a little bit. In an apartment wherein everyone was observing Shabbat, the ringing of a phone was jarring, to say the least. It meant that somewhere, something was wrong.
In those days (“back in the mid-90s,” intoned the cantankerous Jewess), voice mail was not as ubiquitous–we had answering machines, tape recorders that broadcast the messages out loud as they came in. So, we waited for the beep, and heard the voice–ten years later, I don’t even remember whose it was–tell us that the Prime Minister of Israel had been shot. The details of his death, the assassin, the pre-mortem peace rally, “Shir Lashalom,” etc., would come later. But in that moment, Shabbat’s peace shattered as we absorbed the loss and tried to imagine the impact on the country that we all considered our home away from home. Someone turned on a radio or a TV or picked up a phone and called someone, or something, because, it seemed, this was knowledge that couldn’t wait.
A few hours previous and a few thousand miles away, IDF soldier Liel Liebovitz was in Tel Aviv, and he was hungry. He had been to a peace rally that night, and had left with a friend to grab some hummus, when a woman ran by and shouted that Rabin had been shot.
In 2005, ten years later, Liel, now a staff writer for the Jewish Week, reflects on his experience that night:
My friend and I, burly Israeli men barely in the autumn of our adolescence, soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces, took pride in being levelheaded and controlled. The woman, we thought, was clearly hysterical; after all, the scenario of Rabin being shot was as likely to us as an alien invasion. The prime minister, everybody knew, was well protected, surrounded by the secret service’s finest. So how could a gun-wielding assassin make it past all the security?
We started eating again, but an unease began to settle in our stomachs. On the off chance that the woman was right, we both thought without speaking, we needed to get going. We paid the bill and left.
Our next destination was a natural choice. We both had witnessed enough suicide bombings before our 20th birthday to be thoroughly acquainted with Tel Aviv’s hospital system, to know just where an injured person would be taken in an emergency. We walked, briskly and silently, to Ichilov, a nearby hospital on a broad, leafy boulevard. We were not surprised to discover dozens of people, many familiar faces from the rally, standing there, dazed and confused.
It was already past 11 p.m., yet no one gathered in front of the hospital wanted to leave. There was comfort in being there, the mute comfort of crowds, promising little but a shoulder to rub against or a ready ear. Some people talked, exchanging madcap theories in frantic voices. Others stood by quietly. No one had any clue what had happened.
One glance at Eytan Haber’s face, however, was more than anyone needed.
Rabin’s spokesman and assistant stepped out of the hospital with a look on his face that I will never forget, a look I have never since seen on anyone’s face. It was an odd concoction of fear, pain and detachment, as if Haber the government official was trying to remain collected while Haber the man, Rabin’s longtime friend, was imploding.
â€œThe government of Israel,â€ he read aloud from a piece of paper, â€œannounces with astonishment and deep sorrow the death of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, who was murdered by an assassin tonight in Tel Aviv.â€
For the rest of the article, click here. And may our future songs all be songs of peace.