Looking at Ourselves

David Grossman, translated from the Hebrew by Haim Watzman

The following speech was given at the Rabin memorial ceremony, Tel Aviv, November 4, 2006, in the presence of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

At the annual memorial ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin, we pause to remember Yitzhak Rabin the man, and the leader. We also look at ourselves, at Israeli society, at its leadership, at the state of the national spirit, at the state of the peace process, and at our place, as individuals, within these great national developments.

This year, it is not easy to look at ourselves.

We had a war. Israel brandished its huge military biceps, but its reach proved all too short, and brittle. We realized that our military might alone cannot, when push comes to shove, defend us. In particular, we discovered that Israel faces a profound crisis, much more profound than we imagined, in almost every part of our collective lives.

I speak here, this evening, as one whose love for this land is tough and complicated, but nevertheless unequivocal. And as one for whom the covenant he has always had with this land has become, to my misfortune, a covenant of blood. I am a man entirely without religious faith, but nevertheless, for me, the establishment, and very existence, of the state of Israel is something of a miracle that happened to us as a people—a political, national, human miracle. I never forget that, even for a single moment. Even when many things in the reality of our lives enrage and depress me, even when the miracle disintegrates into tiny fragments of routine and wretchedness, of corruption and cynicism, even when the country looks like a bad parody of that miracle, I remember the miracle always.

That sentiment lies at the foundation of what I will say tonight.

See, land, that we were most wasteful,” the poet Shaul Tchernichowski wrote in 1938. He grieved that in the bosom of the earth, in the land of Israel, we have interred, time after time, young people in the prime of their lives. The death of young people is a horrible, outrageous waste. But no less horrible is the feeling that the state of Israel has, for many years now, criminally wasted not only the lives of its sons and daughters, but also the miracle that occurred here—the great and rare opportunity that history granted it, the opportunity to create an enlightened, properly functioning democratic state that would act in accordance with Jewish and universal values. A country that would be a national home and refuge, but not only a refuge. It would also be a place that gives new meaning to Jewish existence. A country in which an important, essential part of its Jewish identity, of its Jewish ethos, would be full equality and respect for its non-Jewish citizens.

Look what happened.

Look what happened to this young, bold country, so full of passion and soul. How in a process of accelerated senescence Israel aged through infancy, childhood, and youth, into a permanent state …

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