As people all over the world mourned the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in individual synagogue and community memorial tributes, they also came together in a collective venue – cyberspace.
From far-flung locales such as Botswana and Beirut to Jewish population centers in North America, Jews and non-Jews logged on to their computers in astounding numbers once they heard the news of the assassination.
Each of the major on-line services had bulletin boards full of hundreds of messages about the assassination and some, including America Online, offered real-time cyber-chats between members – some of whom vehemently disagreed.
On one of the AOL bulletin boards this week, a man named Zalmi wrote: “The fact that Rabin was killed is the proper punishment for the person who gave away the land of Israel to the Arabs.”
SAlbert promptly responded: “A Jew’s murdering Rabin does not bode well for Israel, neither does the hatred and vitriol that Jews have directed toward each other.
“Now more than ever, we have a need for ahavas Yisrael (love of Israel) and for achdus Yisrael (unity of Israel),” he said.
“Please tone down the rhetoric and don’t inflame divisions between Jews. Hatred between Jews must not be allowed to grow and those opposed to it must speak out,” SAlbert wrote.
Among the most powerful postings were the thousands and thousands of condolences being written on-line.
Most of the message-writers were from North America and Israel. But many logged on from Finland and Singapore, from South African and Australia, from Bolivia and Korea.
From Botswana one correspondent wrote simply: “May he rest in peace.”
The common thread in most of the messages was a sense of shock and sadness. Some who left messages wrote that they despaired for the future of the Jewish people. Some clung to a sense of hope for the peace process.
Thousands of messages have been written in each of the 14 “condolence books” put on the World Wide Web by the Israeli Internet provider service Netking (http://www.netking.com).
Hundreds more were posted to the condolence page put up by the Israeli Foreign Ministry (http://www.Israel-mfa.gov.il./news), according to a ministry spokesman in Jerusalem, who was responding to an e-mail query.
All the messages, promised the creators of the web pages, will be passed on to Leah Rabin, the prime minister’s widow.
The Foreign Ministry site also provides biographies of Rabin, on-line biographies of each of the Israeli government ministers and a printer on the structure and process of the Israeli political system.
On the Actcom page (http.//actcom.co.i./~asi/), Hebrew poetry written for Rabin is interspersed with photos, comments – and an update from the Islamic fundamentalist Hezbollah in Beirut.
“There was heavy firing into the sky in celebration in several parts of Beirut when it was learned that Rabin was dead,” according to the Hezbollah spokesman in Beirut.
But not everyone from Lebanon agreed with the celebrations. Hanna Abou-Makhlouf wrote in one of the condolence files: “I am very upset at the `spontaneous’ happy demonstrations in the streets of Beirut.
“The people firing in the air in the streets in jubilation are ignoring the silent majority of Lebanese who would agree with me that the cause of peace in our region has been hurt by Mr. Rabin’s death.
“If it was up to the Lebanese people we would have signed a peace with Israel long ago because we have very much to gain by peace and very much to lose by war and turmoil. But as you know we have been assigned a custodian – Mr. [Hafez] Assad of Syria – and we have to play along or else.
“My condolences to Mr. Rabin’s family and to the Israeli people. Let us give peace a chance.”
From Chicago, Ray Hanania, the president of the Palestinian-American Congress, wrote of his “deep sorrow at the news of Rabin’s murder” in a message he also posted on the Netking condolence page.
“While Rabin symbolized for many Palestinians harshness and pain in past years, during the past several years he symbolized a very brave individual who fought for a peace for both peoples.
“For that he will be remembered and admired by the people of Palestine,” Hanania wrote.
The Jewish Communications Network (http://www.jcn 18.com/) offers essays on the assassination’s ramifications by its own columnists and links to related news sources – from transcripts from the Voice of America to articles from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, The San Francisco Examiner, Time magazine, USA Today and the Nando Times.
The price paid for free speech in cyberspace was also evident to some who logged on.
An Italian Jew named Daniel was getting on-line for the first time when Rabin was assassinated. “News came by so fast I couldn’t believe it,” he wrote. “At times, I was getting information faster than CNN.”
“But what upset me more than the assassination was the fact that a lot of white-supremacist/neo-Nazi knuckleheads were using the occasion to cut into the channel and spread the usual anti-Jewish filth, he wrote, adding in parentheses, “I’ll leave the details to your imaginations.”