By Jeannie Gerzon
From 2004 to 2015, the Yitzhak Rabin Foundation (YRF) operated as the American Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center (AFYRC) with an initial goal and purpose of providing funding to complete the Yitzhak Rabin Center and Israeli Museum in Tel Aviv. When I joined the organization 14 years ago, the building was merely a skeleton and our overall goal was to complete construction and bring the Center and Museum to an operational stage. Our group was able to not only fund seventeen million dollars to fulfill this goal, we saw the Yitzhak Rabin Center and Museum become a thriving center of activity, hosting tens of thousands of visitors annually.
Newly re-branded from the AFYRC to YRF in 2015, the board decided to continue to support programs that honored the legacy of Yitzhak Rabin beyond the Center. We created partnerships with academic institutions and supported non-partisan initiatives that promoted peace and better understanding among Israel’s diverse groups and its surrounding neighbors. YRF’s signature achievement was the establishment of two fellowships in Post Graduate Democracy Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Yitzhak Rabin’s name. Rabin was assassinated at a rally calling for non-violence and the legitimacy of divergent ideologies through the democratic process. It was probably the most traumatic event in the history of the modern state and had an unimaginable impact on Israeli society. Rabin’s legacy can only thrive if Israel’s young people are educated to nurture and safeguard its nascent democracy, providing its leaders with policy advisors who will help them rise above day-to-day politics and forge a path forward. Thus, we are proud to have made the Rabin Fellowships at the Hebrew University possible.
Without a movement or base in Israel, we realized that our impact would limited beyond what we had already accomplished and that future support for a living legacy of Yitzhak Rabin had to generate from within Israeli society itself. We see glimmers of hope in the Israeli youth movements, especially around the time of the anniversary and the Rabin rally.
The time came to consider shutting down before our efforts became ineffective. Rather than perpetuating the organization with our mission accomplished, the board and staff of the YRF decided to close operations effective March 1, 2018, and dissolve the corporation. While not an easy decision, the decision was made in good conscience for the right reasons and for the benefit of both supporters and cause. We decided before it became too difficult to raise money, before interest dissipated, and before the programs lost their importance and significance. As leaders guiding an important mission, we had to recognize when our job was done and when it was time to let others take on the next steps to perpetuate the important initiative of Rabin’s legacy.
We were and are a group deeply committed to perpetuating what Rabin stood for and we loved working together. Our dinners in the Labor community were annual events greatly anticipated and well attended. We played an important role in bringing Labor leaders, their top officers and associates to Israel, many of whom would not ordinarily have had the opportunity to visit.
Although many of our supporters and board members were saddened that we were closing, we recognize that support of Yitzhak Rabin’s legacy is not a responsibility that should emanate from an American-based organization, by friends or family but rather, from within Israeli society. Once that happens, I believe American support will return.
On March 1, which would have been Yitzhak Rabin’s 96th birthday, we reflect on who he was – a Zionist, a patriot, a man of integrity, someone who sacrificed personal ambition for the security and well-being his country and citizens. He instilled a sense of hope and optimism in the future. It is time for Israel’s next generation of leaders to continue in his footsteps and keep Rabin’s legacy alive.
Former executive director of the Yitzhak Rabin Foundation, Jeannie Gerzon now works with the Emergency Volunteers Project, an Israeli based NGO that recruits, trains and brings American firefighters, medical personnel and communal volunteers to help Israel during emergencies. [email protected]