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Looking back, I see how far my haredi community has come

This essay is part of a collection of essays commemorating the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. The collection was produced in partnership with BINA: The Jewish Movement for Social Change.

I was seven years old when the three shots were fired in Kings of Israel Square in Tel Aviv. I was an ultra-Orthodox, Jerusalemite girl, dressed in my uniform in shades of blue, living in my happy, second-grade bubble. I was a little girl who did not think about sociological questions or the sectors of Israeli society. I didn’t think about trends or relations between different population groups. I was a girl who almost exclusively knew ultra-Orthodox people just like her, a girl for whom all the people in her world were alike.

Avigayil Heilbronn

Avigayil Heilbronn

So I do not have a particularly strong memory of this tragic event. I do not remember how it affected my community. I did not have the tools then to understand societal issues at all, and certainly not on an adult or even teenage level.

So recently, I went out to investigate. I asked men and women who are older than me what they remember about Rabin’s assassination. What was the our sect’s reaction to the assassination? Were there specific political implications for the ultra-Orthodox population? What happened to us then?

After quite a few conversations with dozens of men and women, the conclusion was fairly clear: The ultra-Orthodox community did not feel particularly connected to this event. It passed them by without any real impact. Rabin’s assassination had an impact on secular and national religious relations, but it did not affect the ultra-Orthodox.

In fact, as the people I spoke to remembered it, the ultra-Orthodox sector did not mourn Rabin as much as it mourned the fact that the killer, Yigal Amir, was a religious man. In those days, it came as a huge shock that a religious person was capable of murder. People were unable to comprehend the fact that it really happened. It was unthinkable. If there was anything that preoccupied haredim at that time, it was this religious crisis.

Very early on, people tried to explain the distortion of the ideology of religious Zionism, as opposed to the ultra-Orthodox ideology. How when one takes a mitzvah from the Torah and places it above all others, a religious extremism arises that has no connection to the Torah. How it is forbidden to change the Torah as we wish. How one value can not take over all the other values. How this could only happen “with them” and never “with us.” We ultra-Orthodox would never kill. We are fine. They are not.

With only a few exceptions, such as the famous prayer in memory of Rabin conducted by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in one of his classes, when the news of the assassination attempt broke, there was almost no public mourning for the late Yitzhak Rabin among haredim.

The ultra-Orthodox sector, which was and still is for the most part politically right, had not liked the prime minister. When you add to this the feeling that was on the street at the time, that the State of Israel was being lost, that the terrorist attacks had become routine, it’s not surprising that there was a certain satisfaction that the Oslo process was stopped.

Here and there, there were even joyous performances, where we children sang mocking songs about Yigal Amir who murdered Rabin. I do remember that.

Today, 25 years later, I’m pretty shocked at the thought of how we behaved. That we did not feel belonging, that we did not know that we should learn from every event that happens. That we let our children sing mocking songs. That we did not understand the situation in depth, we did not see the process, that from a slight incitement came a massive incitement that eventually led to murder.

But I am also very happy. Because I think and I feel that we have made significant progress. Today there is no chance that anyone in my community would rejoice at murder or death. As left-wing and secular as the person may have been, it is hard for me to imagine that happening. Today, parents would not let their children sing those songs.

I want to think that we have changed for the better, that we have connected with the entire Israeli public, that we have learned a degree of Derech Eretz (respect), that we have learned what national responsibility is, and that there are lessons to be learned from every significant event that happens in the country.

I hope I’m not wrong.

Avigayil Heilbronn lives in Jerusalem. A Hi-Tech employee in the past, and a social activist in the Haredi community in the present. Founder of “Lo Tishtok”, an organization that helps victims of sexual abuse in the Haredi community. She is public relations coordinator for Pnima movement which aims to address the rifts and polarization in Israeli society.

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