By Larry Gordon
At this time of year, we pause to remember and to observe the yahrzeits of a few people who, in their own sometimes dramatic and sometimes unassuming ways, made vital contributions to our world and impacted the way we live. Can we call them great personalities? I believe that we can, but I am also certain there are those who will feel comfortable debating that.
The three people we will focus on here today left the world somewhat prematurely. It is an awe-inspiring thought to wonder how our world would have been impacted even further had these men lived more years and continued to focus on their mission and see greater progress.
They are former Israeli prime minister Yitzchak Rabin, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, and Rabbi Meir Kahane, of blessed memory. To have lived and experienced what life was like with these men around is more than just memorable. Almost every day of their lives was, in one way or another, striking, extraordinary, and unforgettable.
From a personal as well as journalistic perspective, while I never met Mr. Rabin, I observed, analyzed, and reported on him throughout his years in government. That is contrasted with Rabbis Carlebach and Kahane, with whom I spent a good deal of time, profiling, interviewing, and curiously quizzing them to understand their motivations and the dynamics of who they were.
Shlomo Carlebach’s yahrzeit was a few days ago, with the yahrzeits of Rabbi Kahane and Mr. Rabin following just a few days later.
In this week’s Torah portion—Chayei Sarah, which means the life of Sarah—the parashah plunges immediately into events that took place in the aftermath of Sarah Imeinu’s life—that is, after her death. The age-old question that many of our commentators address is why this part of the Torah is referred to as the “life of Sarah” when the first subject is the matter of her passing. It is explained that events surrounding her passing triggered and revolved around two events that served as the foundation of the Jewish people from that period forward.
Those two events were the birth of the first Jewish son, Yitzchak Avinu, and the first legal and proper purchase by a Jew, Avraham, of land and property—the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron—in Eretz Yisrael. Both events and the great Jewish future are a direct outgrowth and result of the life and times of Sarah.
The three men we are focused on here are not in any way being compared to Avraham and Sarah. But we can safely say that they are modern-day manifestations of the goals and objectives of our forefathers and mothers.
Rabin, though wholly secular in his lifestyle, believed deeply in the preservation of the Land of Israel. Sure, he stood on the White House lawn in 1993 with Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat in what has now been proven to be the diplomatic charade of the Oslo accords. Historians insist that Rabin was uncomfortable with the ideas and proposals inherent in those so-called peace agreements but was dragged into it by his foreign minister, Shimon Peres.
But Rabin was nevertheless prime minister at the time, and one Saturday night during what he hoped would be the inauguration of an era of real peace, Rabin was murdered. Along with his death came the demise of his dream to lead Israel in a new direction.
Five years earlier, in 1990, on a cold weekday night in Manhattan, Rabbi Meir Kahane was gunned down by El Sayyid Nosair, a man of Egyptian descent who lived in New Jersey. It’s difficult to contrast the life of Rabin with that of Rabbi Kahane. They both wanted to see an Israel living in peace, but their personal navigational systems pulled them in opposite directions as they strove to achieve their objectives.
Interestingly, their philosophies overlapped in that they both believed that if there was ever to be peace in Israel, Arabs and Jews would have to be separated from one another. But that’s where the similarities ended. Rabin and company preferred that Jews withdraw, back up, or recede, that we acknowledge that parts of the G‑d-given Land of Israel really belonged to the Arabs, and we, the Jews, were in fact the occupiers.
One of the most objectionable and even detestable things I ever heard Rabin say was a reference he made to the 200,000 settlers who were then living in Judea and Samaria. The then-prime minister said that the settlers were only 3 percent of the population at that time and that he had an obligation to serve the other 97 percent. Luckily, that formulation did not work out, and today there are upward of 600,000 Jews living in those areas.
Meir Kahane also advocated for separation from the Arabs, but he wanted to do it differently. He campaigned diligently and over a long period for Israel to coax and cajole the Arab population to leave Israel. No, he did not want to mercilessly dump them in the desert but preferred to make it attractive and cost-effective for them to leave of their own volition. At one point he introduced a plan by which Arab families would receive as much as $250,000 to leave sovereign Israel. The money was going to come from the United States as a foreign-policy expense and part of the high cost of peace.
Rabin and Kahane had one other thing in common. They were both killed by assassins as they stood before audiences hoping and dreaming about celebrating a Jewish future in the State of Israel.
And then there was Shlomo Carlebach, who was nothing even resembling a diplomat. He was a talented artist—a man of the people whose life work is still very much alive in our hearts and on our minds, as his stories and melodies roll off our tongues.
I sat through many a session and interview in radio studios early in the morning and then sometimes late at night with both Kahane and Carlebach. At first I looked at them as just people in the limelight whom readers and listeners wanted to know more about, and I happened to have the venue that could serve that up.
But over a short time I began to acquire an affinity and admiration for them. I recognized and cherished the genius they both displayed in their respective ways. I had no way of knowing at the time that their legacies would be this strong all these years later.
In a sense, despite their popularity and the great demands on their time, they portrayed a loneliness that struck a necessary but also sad chord. Sure, they had families, but they were away from them for long stretches of time. In a sense they were wedded to either their talents or their missions in life, and those were the most important things to them.
All three were special people who cast a giant shadow. That reality just might be part of the costly nature of greatness.
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.