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How Israeli Jews Remember Yitzhak Rabin

On the 23rd anniversary of the death of Yitzhak Rabin, slightly over 50% of Israeli Jews say they feel sad on his remembrance day, and slightly less than 50% say this day “feels like any other day.” This data, based on a comprehensive survey, comes from a JPPI research project on Israeli Judaism. By law, Rabin`s memorial day takes place according to the Hebrew calendar on the 12th of Cheshvan. The main memorial rally in Tel Aviv usually takes place closer to the Gregorian date of his death, November 4th. This is the case this year.

The commemoration of Rabin`s death always raises heated debates in Israel. One side of the political map claims that his memory is being exploited by a particular political group and used to promote its message. The other side of the political map claims that the motivations behind his assasination are being pushed out of the mainstream narrative. Surveys that have been conducted since the assassination have shown that most of the Israeli public appreciates Rabin and regards him as an exemplary leader. However, a large part of Israeli society feels  his death has been politicized and  a significant segment of Israeli society questions the conventional narrative of his assassination.[1]

In the Israeli Judaism research project, Rabin`s memorial day was utilized as a case study to understand how Israeli Jews commemorate certain events. Among other data, the research shows that about 15% of Israeli Jews participate in some sort of event honoring  Rabin’s memory.

As one would expect, Rabin`s memory differs for each Israeli group. Only a third of those who identify as politically center or left wing say that they feel like the memorial day is a “completely ordinary day” (30% and 36% respectively); in contrast, two thirds of those on the political right feel that way (66%). Israelis from the political right almost never attend the main memorial ceremony in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, which is the main source of complaints about the politization of the day, and about making it a day in which only leftist Israelis who supported the Oslo Accords can mourn for Rabin. Some of them,  still a small percentage, attend local Rabin remembrance ceremonies. The only group that attends the main ceremony in significant numbers (about 27%) is the political left, though we must remember that self defined “leftist” Israeli Jews constitute a small group comprising about 5% of Israeli Jews.

If we look at how certain religious groups commemorate Rabin, we see that the Haredim are the group most indifferent to Rabin’s remembrance day (of course, this does not mean that they are indifferent to the actual act of assassination). Eight out of 10 Haredis said that Rabin`s memorial day feels like “any other day,” a significant disparity from other groups, including those who identify as “religious,” of which 59% say that this is like “any other day” and about 42% report feeling sad.

Approximately 1 in every 10 Israeli Jews lights a memorial candle for Rabin, but in this case, the identity of Israelis who light a candle might be surprising. This is because the act of lighting a candle is in itself a sign of a certain cultural language of mourning. This creates a unique situation: while only 34% of Zionist Haredis report feeling sad on Rabin`s memorial day, this group has the highest precentage of people lighting commemoration candles in Rabin’s memory. The groups who feel the saddest on Rabin’s Day (the totaly secular and the somewhat-traditional  secular) rarely light candles, for the reasons mentioned above. The act of lighting a candle was wide spread in the days following the assassination, but having a religious conotation it is usually a less common practice among secular groups.

JPPI’s Israeli-Judaism project is headed by Senior Fellow Shmuel Rosner, and Professor Camil Fuchs (Tel Aviv University), who oversees the surveys and statistical analysis. JPPI Fellow Noah Slepkov assisted in data analysis, drawn from a survey conducted of 3000 Israeli Jews in two rounds, one of 2000 Israeli Jews and another of an additional 1000 respondents, a representative sample of the Jewish public in Israel. The statistical margin of error for the sample of 3000 survey respondents is 1.8%.