When you undergo a traumatic experience, especially at a young age, you remember details of that experience for the rest of your life.
And so it was for so many on the day of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy: Friday, November 22, 1963.
I was an eighth-grader at Akiba Hebrew Academy, in Merion, Pa.
The previous day, we had discussed in our current events club how Kennedy and David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s recently resigned prime minister, had a vociferous argument over Israel’s nuclear weapons program — just six weeks after Kennedy pushed through the nuclear test ban treaty for the entire world to sign.
Kennedy didn’t want Israel — or any other country — to produce nuclear weapons.
Ben-Gurion shot back that Israel’s adversaries wanted genocide — that this was the lesson the Jews had learned from the Nazis, that this was why the Jews needed nukes (the dialogue is well documented in Avner Cohen’s 1998 book, “Israel and the Bomb.”
As I walked out of school to catch the bus home that Friday afternoon, a seventh-grader followed down the steps, yelling out the news that the president had been shot dead in Dallas.
The first thoughts to hit me were that Kennedy was such a young guy, like a nice uncle who always had new ideas. My mind was racing, and I quickly wrote down my thoughts when I got on the bus to go home.
How would we remember Kennedy? I remembered listening to him in sixth grade at his inauguration: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” He had one message: to get involved. Join the Peace Corps. Fight for civil rights. Help poor nations abroad and act in accordance with “Profiles in Courage”: Be proud to stand for the principles of your country, no matter what.