In Memory of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin
By Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz
Editor's Note: The fallowing eulogy, previously published in the 1995 issue of The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington’s journal, The Record, was delivered by Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz during the memorial service held at Adas Israel Congregation the evening after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's funeral, November 6, 1995. More than 3,000 Washingtonians, Jews and non-Jews alike, attended the service. When the 1,500 seat sanctuary was filled, the crowd poured into adjoining social halls and out onto the steps of the synagogue. At the conclusion of the service, yahrzeit (memorial) candles were distributed. As the crowd stood and sang songs on the steps outside, hundreds of flames from the candles could be seen flickering in remembrance of Yitzhak Rabin. The service was organized by the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Washington (now The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington).
This has been an incredible, emotionally draining day of mourning and tribute. The television screen has linked much of the world together in a single network as though we were one family, all tuned to the same channel in hope of finding solace, only to find the horizon dimmed by the grey tint of despondency. Even though the electronic media gave us the opportunity to enter into the hearts of a bereaved family and nation, we have come here tonight because we require a more personal form of comfort. In reciting the mourning prayers together, there is a measure of comfort.
That so many of this morning's eulogists stressed the multifaceted personality of Prime Minister Rabin only serves to illustrate the aptness of the rabbinic insight that every person has three names: one bestowed by his parents, a second name that he acquires by his own achievements in his lifetime, and a third name ascribed to him by his friends after his death. Many biographies have already delineated the noble name bestowed by his parents; his achievements have been glowingly described in the press and do not require my additions.
It would seem appropriate, however, to ponder the name history will give him; it is a persona that describes Yitzhak Rabin as a soldier, a diplomat, and a statesman. These three attributes do not do justice to his name.
As a soldier, he was a reluctant warrior; as a diplomat, he shunned pomposity and ceremony; as a statesman, he demanded not words but deeds. More accurate was the portrait depicted this morning by his granddaughter, Noa Ben Artzi, who portrayed him so movingly as a loving and sensitive grandfather, father, and husband, whose caressing hand and warm smile she will miss.
Those who knew him from his life in Washington will recall t hose attributes and mourn him as one would a friend.
Yitzhak Rabin came to Washington as his country's ambassador in 1968 after his miraculous victory in the Six Day War. We were honored that he and Leah made the Adas Israel Congregation their synagogue, though of course they were welcomed in every synagogue and church in the land.
Leah and Yitzhak's son, Yuval, this tall, handsome, and sturdy young man who recited the kaddish so movingly this morning, marked his becoming a bar mitzvah on this pulpit.
The recollection of that bar mitzvah impelled me to seek out the particular haftorah that he had chanted. It was from the prophet Zechariah and contained that marvelously prophetic line, "Blockade shall no longer exist, and Jerusalem will dwell in safety."
The year was 1968.
Rabin was not a stranger to the synagogue, though he would complain that one reason he didn't attend more frequently was that every time he attended, he had to accept an aliyah to the Torah. The problem with that was that he insisted on reading his own Torah portion. And one day, pausing for a moment, he exclaimed, "There is a mistake here!" We had never noticed it. (We had to interrupt the service in order to bring a replacement scroll, for it is forbidden to use a defective scroll in religious worship.)
Newspapers today and yesterday wrote that Yitzhak Rabin projected a stern image: grim, unsmiling, and sometimes dour.
But as Noa testified and as his friends know, nothing could be further from the truth. He was a compassionate and sensitive person, delightfully relaxed in social settings, and given to hearty humor. What is true is that he was a serious person who did not readily reveal his feelings. What is equally true is he was an extremely humble person.
And what is also true is that he was weighed down with his concerns. As Defense Minister, he was concerned for the welfare of those in his charge, and as Prime Minister, he was concerned for the welfare of those missing in action, who were uppermost in his mind and who colored his interviews and public statements.
Further, not victories, but peace with his neighbors was on his mind. Recall the words of this reluctant warrior delivered on Mount Scopus after the Six-Day War:
Our victory celebrations are marred by sorrow and shock. The men in the front lines were witness not only to the glory of victory but to the price of victory: their comrades who fell beside them. The terrible price that our enemies paid touched the hearts of many of our men.
The year was 1967.
His quest for peace was not of recent vintage. In 1973 he spoke these words at a convocation at the Jewish Theological Seminary:
For 25 years we have been conducting a monologue on peace, trying very hard to transform it into a dialogue. That dialogue will yet come, of that I am convinced.
Responding to a letter challenging Israel to try harder to find a formula for peace, he responded 20 years ago:
We have sought to grasp what appeared to be a possible opening for peace, but we were quickly and brutally rebuffed. Our neighbors simply will not sit down with us. The best we hear is that peace with Israel will have to be left to the next generation. We don't accept this. We want peace now and we are ready to compromise very substantially in order to achieve it.
The date of that letter: 1975.
Leah Rabin, his wife, understood her husband best. Her heroic courage has been and continues to be an inspiration. Just a few months ago, after one of the brutal terrorist at tacks that befouled the year, she wrote a letter describing the agony and ecstasy which characterized their daily life:
Yitzhak is like the rock of Gibraltar. He doesn't lose his perspective, neither with the ecstasy nor with the agony. He just carries on, determined to reach his goal of a peace agreement.
This rock of Gibraltar bade farewell to Adas Israel when he completed his tour of duty as Ambassador. He said movingly:
I have been tendered many farewells by many groups, but none is more significant than the one that takes place in the synagogue, for I have learned that the synagogue is the heart and soul of Judaism and essential to its survival. My Jewish identity began with my first breath in Jerusalem. The encounter with the synagogue has given me a different way of living a Jewish life. It has been a rewarding experience.
This reluctant warrior captured the hearts of his listeners when he fairly pleaded at the signing ceremony at the White House:
No more war. Let there be an end to bloodshed, an end to weeping mothers, and an end to wives weeping for their husbands. Let us make true peace.
Rabin disproves a Hebrew adage comparing a person to a tree: "A giant tree is best measured only after it is cut down."
It really wasn't necessary to cut down the tree. We measured his greatness in the name he acquired in his lifetime.
Earlier this week, our friends at The Forward published a list of 10 facts about Jewish Washington, D.C. called "Of Goldie Hawn, Theater J and 8 Other Things About (Jewish) Washington D.C." We’re adding our hometown voice with ten things you might not know about Washington’s Jewish history.
1. Home to the Only Congressionally-Chartered Shul
1856: Washington Hebrew—the city’s first Jewish congregation—successfully petitioned Congress (then constitutionally responsible for D.C. law) for legislation ensuring its right to purchase property.
2. The Civil War Couldn’t Keep the Jewish Community Apart
1862: Because Civil War travel restrictions prevented Washingtonian Henry Baum from traveling to his bride, Virginian Bettie Dreifus’s home in Alexandria, the marriage took place in D.C.
20th Century: From hundreds of Jewish immigrant-owned "mom and pop" liquor stores to producer-distributor-powerbroker Milton Kronheim, Jewish Washingtonians have helped quench the thirsts of Washington’s denizens for over a century.
6. First Israeli Flag-Raising on Embassy Row
1948: President Harry Truman’s recognition of Israel’s independence on May 14, 1948, spurred hundreds to stream to Embassy Row to cheer and dance as the new state’s flag was first raised.
7. Ferris Bueller Actor Bar-Mitzvahed in Maryland Suburbs
1957: Years before Ben Stein became a speechwriter for President Nixon, an actor, and game show host, his family sent this invitation to celebrate his bar mitzvah at the Montgomery County Jewish Community Center (today’s Ohr Kodesh Congregation) in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
8. The Beatles’ First U.S. Concert
1964: Washington Coliseum owner Harry Lynn hosted the "Fab Four" for their first U.S. concert on February 11, 1964, the day after the band's roaring introduction on the Ed Sullivan Show.
9. Eruv Encloses All Three Branches of the Federal Government
Today: Built in 1876, the historic Adas Israel synagogue was saved from demolition in 1969 by moving it three city blocks, where it now stands as the Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum. The synagogue will move again: once to a temporary location, and finally to the corner of 3rd and F Streets, NW, where it will be the focal point for the Society’s new Jewish museum;
On June 9, 2015, we celebrated the 139th anniversary of the historic 1876 synagogue with Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Councilmembers Jack Evans, Brianne Nadeau, and Elissa Silverman (seen below left).
The program included historic readings from the original dedication service, which was attended by President Ulysses S. Grant, making him the first U.S. president to ever attend a synagogue service. Participants included several descendants of former congregants who prayed in the building and three local rabbis: Rabbi Bruce Lustig (Washington Hebrew Congregation), Rabbi Gil Steinlauf (Adas Israel Congregation), and Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff (Captain, Chaplain Corps, USN, retired).
This morning, President Barack Obama spoke at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C. in celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month. Watch the speech in its entirety.
U.S. presidents have participated in the affairs of the Washington Jewish community since the founding of Washington’s first congregation. Indeed, President Obama is the second president to visit Adas Israel’s synagogue; the first was President Ulysses S. Grant in 1876! The following timeline features some of those presidential connections with Washington’s Jewish community.
Have a story of a national leader’s visit to your synagogue? Tell us about it at email@example.com.
1856: President Franklin Pierce signed “An Act for the Benefit of the Hebrew Congregation in the city of Washington”, which ensured the right for Jews to purchase land for a synagogue in the District of Columbia. With this act, Washington Hebrew Congregation became the only congregation in the country with a Congressional charter.
1876: President Ulysses S. Grant became the first U.S. president to attend synagogue services when he attended the dedication of Adas Israel Synagogue at 6th & G Streets, NW. Grant stayed for the entire three-hour service and made a subsequent gift of $10 to the building fund. Learn more about President Grant’s visit to the synagogue and Ulysses S. Grant’s notorious General Orders No. 11 issued during the Civil War.
1898: President William McKinley attended the cornerstone laying of Washington Hebrew Congregation at 8th & I Streets, NW, attended by over 3,000 people. Learn more about Washington’s earliest synagogues.
1925: President Calvin Coolidge spoke during the cornerstone-laying ceremony of the Jewish Community Center at 16th & Q Streets, NW.
1926: Orthodox Zionists met with President Calvin Coolidge at the White House.
1930: The first issue of the National Jewish Ledger (now called Washington Jewish Week), featured a Rosh Hashanah message to Washington Jews from President Herbert Hoover. Explore Jewish Washington in the 1930s.
1952: President Harry Truman attended the cornerstone-laying ceremony for Washington Hebrew Congregation’s new building at Massachusetts & Macomb Streets, NW.
1955: President Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke at the dedication of Washington Hebrew’s new synagogue. During his speech, President Eisenhower mused that it is incumbent upon his office that he should attend “such a great and significant event in the lives of one part of the great faiths that have made this country what it is, to pay his respects to that faith and to this event and to the people who have made it possible.” Read President Eisenhower’s entire dedication speech.
1983: President Ronald Reagan visited a Hanukkah celebration and met with Soviet Jewish emigres at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville, Maryland. During the visit, President Reagan remarked, “To every religious dissident trapped in this cold and cruel land, let us pray that the warm lights of Hanukkah will spread out the spirit of freedom and comfort and sustain every person who is suffering tonight.” Read President Reagan’s complete speech. Learn more about the Washington area's movement to free Soviet Jewry.
2005: President George W. Bush visited the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue just prior to a major event celebrating 350 years of Jewish life in North America. Read President Bush’s remarks.
2011: Former President Bill Clinton visited the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue for a wedding. Read about the visit in The Washington Post.
Description: Black and white photograph of Justice Arthur Goldberg with Albert and Lillian Small at the 1975 rededication of the historic 1876 Adas Israel Synagogue. Justice Goldberg was an active member of Washington’s Jewish community. For years, he and his wife Dorothy hosted an annual Passover seder with members of Washington's political and intellectual elite as guests.
Arthur Goldberg (1908 – 1990) came to Washington from Chicago in the 1950s. A labor lawyer, he was the general counsel for both the Congress of Industrial Organizations and the United Steelworkers of America, which merged to form the AFL-CIO in 1955. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed him as Secretary of Labor. The following year, Kennedy appointed Goldberg to the Supreme Court, and, in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson appointed him as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
The Goldbergs’ D.C. Seders
In 1961, just two months after Arthur Goldberg’s appointment as Secretary of Labor, the Goldbergs hosted a Seder attended by national and international leaders. According to a draft guest list in the Arthur J. Goldberg Papers in the Library of Congress, invitees included President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy, Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, Chief Justice Earl Warren, Justice William Brennan, Senator Everett Dirksen, Senator Paul Douglas, AFL-CIO President George Meany, Israeli Labor Attaché Nataan Bar-Yaakov, family, and friends. Ultimately, the President and First Lady did not attend the Seder. JHSGW president, Sam Brylawski, who was then eight years old and whose family were neighbors of the Goldbergs, filled one of the Kennedys' places at the Seder table.
The evening's menu included beef bourguignon, potato kugel, whole hot peaches, prunes, and apricots. According to a draft menu, well-known D.C. Jewish restaurateur Duke Zeibert made matza ball soup based on a “yeshiva chef’s recipe” published in the New York Times.
Throughout the decade, the Goldbergs’ Seders were lively occasions attended by a list of well-known figures. As a law clerk for Justice Goldberg, legal scholar Alan Dershowitz attended. In his memoir Chutzpah, he recalled, “George Meany would sing Irish ballads; Hubert Humphrey would tell stories; and Dorothy Goldberg would sing Yiddish labor union songs.”
The Family’s Haggadah
Similar to many families, the Goldbergs’ Seder centered on their family Haggadah, which was adapted from various published versions. In The Goldberg Haggadah, as they titled it, the story of the Israelites is a symbol for contemporary struggles like civil rights. Displayed here is a page from the family's Haggadah, with the hosts’ initials next to assigned readings. In the margin is a note from Dorothy Goldberg, reminding her to mention the description of the Exodus in the African-American spiritual “Go down, Moses.”
Their Haggadah is explicitly American in tone, arguing, “Pesach calls us to the eternal pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” In the introduction to her own published Haggadah, Cokie Roberts, journalist and daughter of Congressional Representatives Lindy and Hale Boggs, remembers participating in the Goldbergs’ 1967 Seder “with gusto” when “the crowd started singing freedom songs from the civil rights and labor movements, held over from the days when Goldberg had been a leading labor lawyer.” Brylawski, who went on to work at the Library of Congress, adapted parts of the Haggadah for his family’s Seders. “We used it several years,” he told the Society. “It's wonderful — tying Moses to the contemporary labor movement.”
Creating a Home with the Seder
Georgetown Law Center professor and another former Goldberg clerk, Peter Edelman, well-known for his legal career and public service, also attended the Goldberg Seders. In a lecture on Goldberg’s legal achievements, Edelman reminisced, “You went to Passover Seder; it didn't matter whether you were Jewish or not — you came to Passover Seder at his house. The crowd just got bigger and bigger. That's probably why he had to leave Chicago — because he needed to start a new crowd in Washington.”
And that he did, both in future Seders at home and for the wider Jewish community. In 1964, Goldberg participated in a model Seder at Washington Hebrew Congregation to show Jewish students how Seders should be conducted. After leaving Washington for New York, Goldberg continued to host an annual Seder at his home in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Goldberg returned to Washington in 1971 and continued this tradition.
This is the kind of story that you will encounter in the Society’s future museum showcasing the Washington region’s Jewish life and heritage.
Do you have a uniquely Washington Seder? Tell us about your Passover traditions.