Remembering Safire


My obit is here. At Commentary, Tevi Troy remembers breaking fast at the Safires’ home, and digs up this lovely recollection of Yitzhak Rabin and William Safire behaving like two menschen on opposite sides of the Oslo debate:

The day before Yom Kippur, Safire left the Agnew campaign for 36 hours to fly cross-country to Washington, arriving at Adas Israel synagogue on Connecticut Avenue just in time for the Kol Nidre service that signals the onset of the holiday.

Unfortunately, the synagogue’s rabbi considered himself a bit of a political speechwriter as well, and gave an overly political and unbecoming sermon that evening condemning “those who would use alliteration to polarize our society.” As Safire put it in his book Before the Fall, “that’s all I needed; the ‘nattering nabobs of negativism’ was not a sin I had come to atone for.” Yitzhak Rabin, who was the Israeli ambassador to Washington at the time, comforted Safire after the sermon and later told the rabbi that he felt the attack was inappropriate, something for which Safire was forever grateful.

Two and a half decades later, Safire and Rabin were reunited at a dinner at the Israeli embassy. The two men got into a heated discussion about the Oslo peace process and, according to Safire, “the man sitting at the table between us—Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who never breaches protocol—blanched at the seeming heatedness of the exchange.” Rabin then told the story of that long ago Yom Kippur and explained to Christopher, “That’s why we can get angry with each other today without getting angry with each other.”

The famously uptight Christopher probably remained mortified nonetheless, but Safire recounted that he “walked out of the Ambassador’s residence that night with a good, hot column for my paper and a good, warm feeling for Yitzhak Rabin.”


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