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It’s Too Late

I was one of those awful people who shouted at Yitzhak Rabin and called him a traitor. I stood behind the barricades, held up my placard and screamed: “Boged.”

I remember it clearly. He came right past us, his car slowing down to almost a halt. We’d been waiting a long time for him to leave the Hyatt Hotel on Mount Scopus after a keynote to some American group – Conference of Presidents? Hadassah? Someone next to me said Rabin was afraid to come out, that he was waiting for us to disperse.

It was freezing cold outside, really vicious — even for a Jerusalem winter night. I remember I kept stamping my feet and rubbing my hands. And a few times while we waited, I was tempted to leave, feeling that it was enough. That I’d accomplished what I’d come for. And what was that? The nearest I can get to describing my true agenda was that I needed, almost physically, to shout out loud that the situation could not go on. Bombings, shootings, kidnappings. Blood all over Jerusalem’s streets, and the vile doublespeak of elected officials who called the victims “sacrifices for peace.”

I had a wonderful time at the beginning. There was a feeling of release, almost elation as we traded complaints and articulated outrage at the latest government action. Like privates far behind the enemy lines, we completed each others’ theories about the great men who were so callously deciding our fate. We clapped, we chanted, we shouted, our breath smoking like good cigars in the cold Jerusalem night.

But most of the time, we waited. Ehud Olmert, Jerusalem’s Likud mayor, came out first. He waved and smiled and gave us thumbs up. “I’m on your side,” he said out loud, rolling down his window. A few more cars followed. We shouted louder. Our throats got tired.

And finally, when it was almost too cold to bear, someone announced: “He’s coming.” A great scream went up and the police and soldiers moved in and pushed us back. And then I saw him. He was in the back seat of his car facing me. I could see the blood rush to his face as the shouts and insults came through the rolled-down window. He looked out at us. I could see the muscle in his jaw flinch.

The words froze in my throat. To say that I felt ashamed would be true, but not precise. I felt as if I had physically harmed someone I knew well, someone I had grown up with and admired. When I went home that evening I remembered an article I had once read about Rabin as a little boy, how he had often been left alone in an empty house because his mother was off to yet another important cause. And the idea of it made me want to cry.

A few weeks ago, on the eve of Yom Kippur, I went up to Mount Herzl and walked past the graves of Theodor Herzl and Golda Meir in the section reserved for “Great People of the Nation” to the final resting place of Yitzhak Rabin. There were only a handful of people there; some Japanese tourists, a family from a kibbutz.

I sat down on the cold stone fence opposite his grave, and I thought: The dead can’t hear our pleas for forgiveness or see our tears, only the living. And when I finally got up to face a day of fasting, prayer and hope for atonement, I understood for the first time the devastating finality of the words “too late.”

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