If we watch closely, occasionally we will recognize critical moments in time when God orchestrates events as if He intends them to grab our individual attention and reveal purposes beyond our understanding. Shortly after the elections in November 2008, during an inbound flight to Israel to lead a small group tour, I vaguely remembered that the annual memorial service commemorating Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination would be occurring soon. After arrival at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport, we met our guide and boarded our bus. Our guide’s name was Shlomo, and during the short ride that followed, I asked him when the Rabin memorial event would be held. He told me that it would begin in about an hour and a half, that the location was just a short walk from our hotel, and asked me if I would like to attend.
Following dinner, several of us met Shlomo in the hotel lobby and from there we joined the growing throng of people headed for Rabin Square on foot. Our destination was a large open-air plaza in downtown Tel Aviv. Among the crowd there was a palpable feeling of expectation in the air. Most of the people we saw were below the age of 40. Typical of Israeli society, security was high. Entering Rabin Square, musicians welcomed the rapidly growing crowd of a reported 100,000 people. Most of the attendees were squeezed into a surprisingly small area in front of an elevated stage on one side of the plaza. We squirmed our way towards a vantage point where we could observe what was happening, up close and personal.
In a captivating display of sight and sound, Israeli political luminaries and musicians filled the stage. Large helium-filled balloons commemorating the Geneva Peace Accords surrounded the area. On prominent display were signs and banners urging all Israelis to seek peace through non-violent measures. There we were, not more than fifty yards from the podium where Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni, and others from Israel’s center-left political parties gave messages that were met with mostly favorable applause. The speeches were laced with political rhetoric riding on the land-for-peace legacy of Yitzhak Rabin.
Tzipi Livni is the current leader of Kadima, a centrist political party. Livni was once a member of Likud. Following Ehud Olmert’s recent resignation as Israel’s Prime Minister, Livni assumed her current position as the ranking member of her party. Failing to cobble together a coalition government, she has now been forced to call for national elections in February of 2009. Candidates not in attendance like “Bibi” Netanyahu and others from the hawkish right (Likud), were jeered and reprimanded by the crowd. Many of the speeches given by the politicians were standard “stump” speeches. They did not sound any different in delivery from those we heard in our own recent campaign season.
But this night wasn’t about the United States. It was about Israel and its future. Surrounded by regional enemies who wish to crush it and throw the Jewish people into the sea, all of the Israelis in the crowd had either served in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces)… or will before long. There was a moment of somber silence as the entire crowd reflected on the current status of Gilad Shalit, held captive by Hamas in the Gaza Strip for over 900 days. Also remembered were the two young soldiers captured and killed by Hizbullah sparking the latest war with Lebanon.
It was impossible not to get swept up in the moment. In some ways, the events of the evening felt like the peace rallies of the 1960s here in the United States. Tightly choreographed, the intentionally stirring political messages were woven together in a tapestry with familiar melodies performed by equally emotive musicians. The crowd cheered the speeches and sang along with music.
An uncomfortably strange moment for us as American observers occurred towards the end of the evening. The actor/host announced the presence of a foreign guest speaker – a dignitary who personally represented our next president. To the stage strode James Hoffa; the current head of the Teamsters Union and son of the late Jimmy Hoffa; past president of the Teamsters who was convicted of bribery in 1964. Shlomo (our guide) was stunned to learn that the man he was listening to was the son of the convicted criminal pursued by Bobby Kennedy through two Democratic administrations. Hoffa assured them that although Barak Obama could not attend, Israel and the cause of peace had no better advocate and friend than America’s soon-to-be new president.
Clearly, from the response of those in attendance, many of the young Israelis were pleased with what they have seen and heard about Obama. In bringing greetings from Obama to the people of Israel, Hoffa encouraged the crowd that just as “change” had recently come to America through the political voice of the American people, so the assembled crowd could bring change to Israel and the Middle East. Hoffa then attempted to rouse the crowd to a chanting of the “Yes, we can” mantra heard during Obama’s election night acceptance speech. Most of the people were either confused or amused at the “American’s” attempt to rally them so superficially.
The last person on the agenda to speak was Dalia Rabin, the daughter of Yitzhak Rabin. Yitzhak was brutally assassinated at 9:40 P.M. exactly 13 years earlier, following a similar peace rally held in that very square. Dalia noted that “Abraham Lincoln can now rest easily one hundred and forty years after his assassination because a black man had finally been elected to the presidency of the United States.” Speaking out as if her father’s spirit were present, she promised him that one day soon he, too, would be able to rest once peace had been brought to Israel and the Middle East by those who could hear her voice.
The speeches given were noble sounding and idealistic. As a child of the 60s who’s first vote was cast for George McGovern, I experienced a number of conflicting emotions during the evening. Now, as a believer in the Prince of Peace, I realize that true peace will only be experienced by those Jewish people in the crowd who may one day finally place their faith in Yeshua Ha’Maschiach (Jesus, the Messiah). Until then, there will be no personal peace experienced by those in attendance. There will be no lasting national peace in Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel) until Messiah returns to establish His thousand year reign and rule from Jerusalem.
On the way back to my sea-side hotel, I overheard people discussing what they had just experienced. Hebrew, Russian, French, Spanish and English could all be heard . At midnight, the streets were still bustling with activity as I sat alone in a café on the corner of Dizengoff and Ben Gurion streets. Then a thought slammed into me like a freight train. “If the Rapture occurred right now, statistically less than one quarter of one percent of the people I’m watching will join me in heaven today.”
Scripture tells us that the hearts of the Jewish people have been hardened due to Israel’s rejection of the only permanent cure provided by God for mankind’s deadly sin sickness. Theologically, the time in which we now live is known as the “Church Age.” According to Romans 9, 10 and 11, the largely Gentile Church is commanded to live in such a righteous manner that the Jewish people will see us in love with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and become jealous (Romans 11:11) enough to ask us “what are you doing with our Messiah?” When that happens we must be prepared to give a compelling response.
Sadly, most believers (Jew or Gentile) don’t know how to effectively communicate what they believe and why… with anyone! Yet we have been called by God to use the Jewish Scriptures (Old and New Covenants) so that we can model the ministry life of Yeshua’s disciples and extend His invitation to those around us to experience real peace through a single act of faith.
Next year, the same Rabin memorial service will be held again… if the Lord has not yet called His Bride (the Church) home. What’s at stake was made very clear to me in Rabin Square on that night of November 8th, 2008. I have no doubt, God orchestrated things so that I could be present to observe, and sitting in that corner café, an anthem from the 60s began to play through my mind. Today, its message (slightly modified) is my cry and my prayer.
“All we are saying is… give the Prince of Peace a chance.”