Latest update: December 12th, 2012
The outspoken statements we cited here, at the Jewish Press, by Hagai Amir, brother of Rabin’s assassin Yogal Amir, took me back to my own personal encounter with the Rabin assassination. It didn’t exactly change my life, but it taught me several crucial lessons.
On that fateful Shabbat in November, 1995, when rumors reached Manhattan’s Lower East Side that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had been wounded by an assailant’s bullets, we were at the Seuda Shlishit (third meal) in the Chassidic shteibel where I davened for more than two decades. (I also belonged to another, more left-wing, modern Orthodox shul. I’m a difficult person to classify.) Between conversations and nibbling, one of my neighbors bent over and whispered, smiling, “At least in this shul we know no one is going to recited Tehillim for his speedy recovery.”
My immediate, totally uncalculated reaction was to open a siddur (prayer book) and begin to recite Tehillim. I couldn’t behave otherwise. That‘s my nature – if someone will tell me NOT to jump off a bridge, I’m already up on the railing, hat in hand.
Even if I had known on that Shabbat that Rabin’s murder would mark the end of my career in Hebrew language journalism, I definitely would have continued to recite those chapters of Tehillim, and not just to be different than the other Jewish guy who said whatever he said.
Still, if on that Shabbat you would have asked me if I supported Yitzchak Rabin’s politics, I would have certainly replied in the negative. There are even those that claim that Yitzhak Rabin himself already didn’t completely agree with his government’s course of action, and was possibly even considering how to change direction, when the murderer’s bullet stopped him.
However, it’s not those old arguments that I want to relate, rather my inconspicuous and non-dramatic connection to the big story. Maybe one day some historian will come across this article and I will merit having my name mentioned in a footnote in some important book about the murder.
I have already gone over broad details of quite a few accounts of Rabin’s murder, and considering the fact that I am a peaceful individual by nature, even a bit of a coward, certainly not the type to run ahead and climb all kinds of barricades, I have been incredibly close to several high profile murders.
One Shabbat afternoon, when I was 6 years old, in Ramat Chen, Zhurabin shot his cousin over something the cousin he had done in the Irgun. It was a dark Shabbat in 1960, I believe, about 35 years before the gloomy Shabbat of the Rabin murder. I was looking out my bedroom window on the second floor on HaSeren Dov Street and I saw the wounded uncle limping down the sidewalk to Dr. Gorelick’s house at the corner of Aluf David Street.
He left a trail of big, thick beads of blood on the gray, cement sidewalk, tiny red puddles that turned brown, but didn’t disappear for many years. Red and gray were the colors of the Zhurabin murder attempt. I think he was put into a mental institution and after that we were told not to mention the whole affair in front of his children, even though they were bullies and occasionally deserved pushback. (If they didn’t pick you to play little-goal soccer—the soccer equivalent of stickball—you didn’t play.)
When I was 16, I hung around with some friends in Bat Yam, among them Rachel Heller, a thin, shy, teenage girl. I really have nothing significant to say about besides her name and what she looked like. Several years later, when I was already in New York, distributing Ma’ariv and Yedioth newspapers every Friday night, I suddenly saw that a guy named Amos Barnas admitted to murdering her seven years before. I didn’t remember this entire affair until 1981, when I saw Heller’s picture and did a double take.
Before this, in 1980, I was driving a yellow taxi cab and I left off a passenger at the Dakota Building at 72nd Street and Central Park West, just a day before Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon on the very same sidewalk.
By the way, does anyone know why all American assassins have two first names? Lee Harvey Oswald. James Earl Ray. John Wilkes Booth. Charles Julius Guiteau (killed Garfield).
Reagan’s attempted assassination was done by John Hinckley Jr. See? No two names – no assassination. I think it’s proper protocol that before someone murders someone important, he should make sure to have at least two first names.
On the other hand, Yigal Amir has only two names.
The November 1995 murder of Yitzhak Rabin brought my career in Hebrew journalism to an end, more or less.
What started it was that Yedioth decided to cut into the territory of Yisrael Shaleim, the main newspaper of yordim (Israelis that leave the home country) in the United States. I had a weekly column there, besides a weekly article and all kinds of additional stuff under various pen names that all together made up my salary. However, the owner, Shmuel Shmueli, paid very little and also bounced checks like he was one of the five openers of the Harlem Globe Trotters.
When Yedioth decided to use the Yedioth America supplement as the ax with which to chop the branch that Shmueli was perched on, they called his writers in for private talks, offering us slightly higher salaries plus the seductive promise that Yedioth won’t ever bounce our checks.
It didn’t take them more than a minute and a half to convince me. That was in 1993.
In 1995, they already knocked out Yisrael Shelanu and Ma’ariv and it came time to start cutting back on needless expenses, such as local journalists. I was unaware of it, naturally, but in the editorial office, they had already hung up my picture with a bull’s eye on my face. There wasn’t any question as to their disposing of me and my weekly check – it was only a question of when.
And I, the idiot with an inflated ego big enough for three people my size, provided them with plentiful opportunities to off me. In my column, you see, I would sometimes aggravate people. It’s what I do. I’m a lonely, lonely man who makes enemies. Or, in other words, a journalist. We’re an unattractive but necessary part of society, like garbage collectors.
Rabin was murdered in November and I decided to work on my eulogy column for his Shloshim (end of 30 day mourning period). It included remarks which could inevitably upset someone here and there, so I dutifully waited a month before publishing a negative piece about the deceased.
What did I write? I was assigned two tabloid-size pages and I wrote about my incident with saying Tehillim that Shabbat afternoon. I wrote that Yitzhak Rabin had been the poster boy of the Palmach and of Israel’s founding generation. I dug and I found (I was already an internet expert at the time) that gorgeous picture of Rabin and Yigal Alon in Gaza during the War of Independence, with the waving hair and the wind and the dust . Wow – what a great picture. And I eulogized him.
In the end I also wrote that Rabin was the Zelig of Israeli politics, a chameleon who changed his personality according to the demands of his bosses, from shooting the “holy canon” at Altalena for Ben-Gurion, through giving the order to break Palestinans’ bones in service of Shamir, and, finally, the suicidal Oslo pact, under the pressure of the Shimon Peres gang.
So I politely waited 30 days before publishing that eulogy, but what I didn’t know was that the memorial ceremony for Rabin in Madison Square Garden, with the huge picture of the departed leader hanging from ceiling to floor, was scheduled for the 40th day after his death for some reason. So on that on Friday, when my column appeared in Yedioth as part of the weekend paper, someone made sure that widow Leah Rabin saw it.
Leah Rabin didn’t pick up the phone to Yedioth America. She went straight to the owner back home, to Nonny Moses. And he called and asked my local bosses if it was true that Yedioth published a column endorsing Rabin’s murder.
They suspended me for two weeks, even though they weren’t exactly able to put into words what I had done wrong, but I understood, and, to tell you the truth, I was happy that they didn’t completely ditch me. Journalists buy fish for Shabbes just like everyone else.
They did ditch me, finally, a few months later, because of some other aggravating piece I wrote, calling the principal of an orthodox yeshiva in Long Island a lunatic.
Trust me, he was a loon job. But he hated seeing it in print. And my bosses, who had already gotten out of me what they needed – annihilating their competition – decided to make their move.
Since then, when I talk about that affair with close friends, we refer to it as the time when I murdered Rabin. But, please, don’t send any secret service agents after me because it’s only used as a metaphor, and I’m not sure if the Secret Service will understand the difference.
That’s it. Since then, I haven’t been involved in any famous murder. But I live in Netanya, mob capital of Israel, so, who knows, one of these days…
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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