JERUSALEM, Oct. 20 (JTA) – Four years after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Israelis are still grappling with the social chasm the murder revealed. In an effort to heal some of those rifts, secular and religious youths attempted, if only for a day, to seek out what unites them. As commemorations began Wednesday, hundreds of high school students met in a “dialogue tent” set up in the Tel Aviv square where Rabin was slain. The images of ponytailed secular teens exchanging words with their religious counterparts provides some signs of encouragement that the gaps separating Israelis might one day diminish. “We still may not agree, but perhaps we understand that the dismantling of settlements may be incredibly painful for one side, while making another side happy,” one participant told Israel Radio. “When you meet face to face, you realize all the stigmas are wrong,” Aviad, a 17-year-old student from a religious school in Haifa, told the Israeli daily Ma’ariv. Israel’s national day of mourning for Rabin, following the Hebrew calendar date of the assassination, got under way Wednesday with a candlelighting ceremony at the presidential residence. Other events included a state memorial ceremony at his grave at Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem and a special Knesset session. The anniversary was marked as settler leaders began dismantling several settlements in the West Bank, sometimes facing opposition from younger, more militant settlers. Four years ago, in the weeks preceding the slaying, settlers launched large-scale protests across Israel against turning over any West Bank territory to the Palestinians. Yigal Amir, who was very involved in those protests, shot Rabin on Nov. 4, 1995 – and later said his actions were justified by Jewish law. This week, echoing the acrimony that preceded the slaying, Orthodox rabbis prohibited the dismantling of West Bank settlements. Israel’s attorney general this week stressed that while freedom of expression must be upheld, law enforcement officials must ensure it does not slide into political violence. The renewed momentum in Israeli-Palestinian peace moves, and the concessions it is expected to bring, have sharpened the political debate. At the same time, religious-secular tensions have also intensified. Organizers of the dialogue tent hoped the encounters would help the different groups bridge their differences. Such dialogue “helps create a public atmosphere that could prevent the next political murder,” Danny Tropper, chairman of the Gesher – Hebrew for “Bridge” – Foundation, told the Israeli daily Ma’ariv. On Nov. 4, the date of the assassination on the secular calendar, a memorial integrating some of the graffiti art put up at the site of the assassination is to be unveiled. A week later, on Nov. 11, U.S. first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton is due to speak in Tel Aviv as the guest of the Rabin Center for Israel Studies. In the United States, Israeli consulates throughout the country, working in many cases with local Jewish community federations and Jewish community relations councils, are planning memorial events surrounding the anniversary. Eitan Haber, the senior aide who officially announced Rabin’s death and later eulogized the slain leader at his funeral, will speak at consular events in New York, Boston and Chicago. In Los Angeles, an interfaith service is planned for Oct. 24; in Houston, singer David Broza will perform a special memorial concert on Nov. 6. (JTA staff writer Julia Goldman in New York contributed to this report.)
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