Friday, November 9, 2012

1995 Federation Community Mission and Rabin’s Assassination

By Claire Ellman, Board Chair of the Jewish Federation of San Diego County

I never imagined 17 years ago that today I would be writing to you as Chair of your Jewish Federation and reminiscing about the Federation community mission when 200 of us went to Israel in November 1995.

I have been on many missions but this one was different. It left a mark on so many of us and we bonded in a way that was so unusual.

The Federation community mission to Israel that year was chaired by Rod and Gloria Stone who have both served as Chairs of Federation and in many other leadership capacities for our community.

I was a co-bus captain on the Blue bus and the first few days we had a great time- I remember so well arriving in the late afternoon in Jerusalem and after a welcome ceremony at the Haas promenade we went to our hotel. A group of us decided to take some of the “ first timers” to the kotel. However much in awe I still am as I descend the steps leading to the Kotel one cannot forget the faces of some of those who see it for the first time. To this day I can see the look on Myrna Cohen’s face as I watched her intently catch her first glance.  We have an eternal bond of that moment.

We shared so many wonderful experiences together which included of course a meaningful Shabbat. Being together with so many  from our community ( first timers and veterans) , CEOs and staff of our partner organizations and Rabbis and cantors made this so special.

But then it was November 5th and we were in Jerusalem out for dinner in small groups on Yoel Solomon and we heard the news.  I was sitting next to Gary Jacobs and we had nearly finished our dinner.  ( I still see myself sitting at that same table and chair  every time I pass the same restaurant even today!).  Rabin had been shot!. I don’t remember if we had  heard if he had died or not but Gary and I walked those in our party back to the hotel and the shock of the events embraced us.

We all sat in the lobby watching the TV and eventually went to our rooms. Alone in my room, I couldn't sleep at all and remember going down the hall at 2.00am to a friend’s room and joining them as they too were glued to the television ( which none of us understood) mesmerized with the images we saw over and over again until early dawn. The leadership huddled on the impact this would have on our mission and wisely decided that we should stay in Jerusalem and cancel our plans for going north. The next two days were a blur or shock for us all- veterans to Israel’s from the group were buddied up with first timers so they didn't’t feel so isolated and we spent the time walking the streets of Jerusalem feeling deeply for our Israeli brothers and sisters whose pain was so evident. How could this happen?? We stood in long lines on the day of the funeral to pay our respects to Prime Minister Rabin.

The rest of the mission took on a somber mood but one of tremendous cohesiveness and camaraderie. We bonded in a special way and to this day our experiences on that trip have kept us united. I came home with 10 copies of newspapers from those day to share with my family – I still have them- a remembrance of a very sad time we shared together with our community.

Many Federation and Community leadership and excellent professionals over the past 17 years were incubated on this mission.  Even though I was already involved in this community, this mission was a force that allowed me to progress and grow to this day.

Some of those, to name a few, who joined me on this journey of community involvement include  Federation Board Chairs, Women’s Philanthropy Chairs, Federation Men’s Event Chairs, JCC  and Hillel presidents, JFS and Seacrest Board committee and staff, JCF board members and staff , Synagogue leadership, and many others involved  community wide .  The impact that this mission made on our lives will always hold a special place in our heart. Thanks for the memories!! 


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