Following the assassination of Israel's Prime Minister, members of the University and friends from throughout the city gathered in Blanche Levy Park for a campus memorial service sponsored by Penn Hillel. Speakers included the Israeli Consul Eli Avidar, Hillel's Director Jeremy Brochin, Rabbi Howard Alpert, students Sarah Davies, Steve Ebert and Seth Lasser, and the President of the University, whose reflections are below.

Extraordinary Images and the Power of Ideas

A Message from Judith Rodin, delivered at the
Memorial Service for Yitzhak Rabin, Monday, November 6, 1995

Shalom. This morning we watched an extraordinary sight: The funeral of an Israeli prime minister, beamed around the globe, attended and eulogized by the world's leaders--including representatives of the Arab world and the President of the United States.

The event, and the attention it has received, are a stunning reminder of how much the world has changed.

No one who saw today's extraordinary pictures from Jerusalem--or those taken in September of this year and two years ago on the White House lawn--can doubt the extraordinary power of ideas to change human reality.

Only a month ago, it was Yitzhak Rabin, himself, who called our attention to some of those extraordinary images--and to the idea of peace that they so powerfully represented.

Sadly, it was the power of another idea that took Yitzhak Rabin's life.

The Importance of Doubt Ideas can be comforting things--especially so when we are absolutely certain in our belief; powerful in our rhetoric; steadfast in our commitment to action on their behalf. But it is precisely then that ideas are most dangerous, when we are least likely to think through the powerful connections between rhetoric, behavior and ideas.

Ideas have consequences. And absolute ideas--whether they come clothed in the xenophobia of nationalist fervor, the divine sanction of fundamentalist belief, or the savage mythologies of racism--absolute ideas have absolute consequences. Absolute, unchallengeable, truth permits everything and constrains nothing. Absolute certainty certifies absolutely the rightness of one's actions.

That is why we must always hold out the smallest possibility that we may be wrong--even in our most fervent beliefs. It is that small opening through which compromise and compassion enter the world. It is through the possibility of error and the expectation of further enlightenment that we admit our human limitations. It is in the recognition of others, and the possibility that, if not wholly right, they may not be wholly wrong, that we recognize each other as fellow human beings.

Yes, ideas have the power to change the world--but we have the power to change our ideas--and thereby, to change each other.

The Example of Yitzhak Rabin There is no finer exemplar of that ability than Yitzhak Rabin. A lifetime warrior, committed to the establishment and security of the state of Israel, he had the courage to change, to seize the idea of peace, and to make it a reality.

Yitzhak Rabin's life and work is a testament to the triumph of hope over fear, of an idea over vengeful emotion, of change over paralysis. Because of him--and those like him who have the courage to take risks for peace--there is, today, even as we mourn his passing, brighter hope for the future.

Let us, then, be comforted by his example and emboldened by his achievement. Let us take inspiration from his vision and lessons from his life. And let us envision for ourselves a world filled with more extraordinary pictures--pictures of ourselves and those we fear, pictures of ourselves and those we hate, pictures of ourselves and those we find intolerable.

Such pictures are, indeed, worth a thousand words. They are the pictures of hope and the pictures of peace.

Thus saith the Lord:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
Lamentation, and bitter weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children;
She refuseth to be comforted for her children,
Because they are not.

Thus saith the Lord:
Refrain thy voice from weeping,
And thine eyes from tears;
For thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord;
And they shall come back from the land of the enemy.
And there is hope for thy future, saith the Lord.

-- from Jeremiah, 31:15 & 16


Tuesday, November 21, 1995
Volume 42 Number 13

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