An Evening of Tribute Salutes Slain Leader

Never mind that surrounding them were hundreds of photos and exhibits dedicated to freedom and diversity, both here and abroad. The people gathered at the National Liberty Museum in Center City on Sunday were focused on one person in particular – a man who fought for peace in the Middle East, and who died for it as well.

In a museum meeting room adorned with a mural of America's founding fathers in a meeting of their own, nearly 200 people joined to honor an Israeli founder, Yitzhak Rabin, and to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his assassination.

The nearly two-hour evening program in honor of the former Israeli prime minister – who was shot down in 1995 by Yigal Amir, a Jewish law student disgruntled by Rabin's strive for peace with the Palestinians – included instrumental music, choir songs, a memorial video, speeches and a prayer in Hebrew led by an Israeli Navy Liaison Officer.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell had planned to attend the event, which was sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the Consulate General of Israel, but had to cancel his appearance because of last week's transit strike.

The slain premier "played a major role in shifting Israel from an era of war to an era of negotiations and toward peace," said Uriel Palti, consul general of Israel. "We will always remember [him], and will continue to bring the State of Israel to a greater peace."

After a somber memorial video, featuring clips of Rabin's funeral and some of his speeches calling for change, the mood became more optimistic as audience members sang and clapped along with Israeli songs performed by Atzilut, an orchestra that mixes klezmer, Sephardic and Middle Eastern music.

Ralph Begleiter, a former correspondent for CNN and purportedly the last Western journalist to interview Rabin live before his murder, served as the evening's keynote speaker.

Begleiter was in Jerusalem on Nov. 1, 1995, to talk to Rabin about the pending peace negotiations with Syria. Three days later, he was in Damascus, speaking with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa about similar concerns when he heard the news of Rabin's death.

"Rabin [had] wanted me to be able to assure the Syrians that he was intent on reaching an agreement," stated the journalist. "The main question … was the principle of whether this Israeli leader, who had commanded the capture of the Golan in 1967, was now ready to return it to Syrian sovereignty in exchange for peace with Damascus. My unequivocal impression from Rabin on that day was that he was indeed prepared to make that compromise."

Begleiter predicted that when Israel eventually resumes talks with Syria, the maps and documents about the agreement developed by Rabin will serve as a foundation for negotiations.

"Those years were a golden age of Arab-Israeli peacemaking," said Begleiter. "Together with all of you tonight, I salute the courage which led Rabin through that difficult time and the courage which ultimately provoked a young Israeli extremist … to take his life."

The event concluded with the Beth Shalom Congregation youth choir performing "Shir L'Shalom," a song sung by Rabin just minutes before he was shot. The blood-soaked words to the song were found in his breast pocket at the hospital.



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