Nov 10, 2011

The Many Faces of Kikar Rabin

With Ibn Gvirol Street on its east side, Hen Boulevard on its west side, and Frishman Street on its south end, Kikar Rabin is central Tel Aviv’s largest open public city square.

Kikar Rabin (Rabin Square), formerly Kings of Israel Square, was renamed after the assassination of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at a peace rally in 1995.  To this day, the square is a popular gathering spot: in a single week, the square would have hosted a social justice movement protest, the beginning of the Nike 10K Nightrun, and the annual memorial to the square’s namesake, had it not been postponed because of bad weather.  

And so, as I try to experience everything Tel Aviv has to offer, I find myself time and again at Kikar Rabin.

The Social Justice Movement Protest (October 29, 2011)
The protest was the first in just under two months.  The one prior, held on September 3, brought approximately 460,000 protesters to the street nation-wide.  Prior to the September 3rd culminating rally held before the onset of the Jewish holiday season (which, from Rosh Hashanah to Simchat Torah, usually spans about a month’s time), rallies and marches were held since the start of the movement in mid-July.  At first only attracting about 1000 participants, the movement swelled to hundreds of thousands within a month.

The October 29th rally that Doug and I attended, which brought about 20,000 people to the streets, was consequently a rather disappointing turnout from perspective of the movement’s organizers.  Beyond that, people who had the opportunity to go to the earlier rallies said that something was missing from the one held on October 29th (a fire, a fervor, an electric current of passion for social change, if you will).  People were not chanting the movement’s mottos at the hosts’ promptings, they were not loudly calling for justice, and they were not incredibly engaged in the rally.  From what we’ve read, it seems the October rally served as more of a social event which people attended merely to see friends and say they were there.
At the protest on October 29, 2011. The sign to the left reads: "The nation demands that the budget be increased" (it had been voted on by the Knesset prior to the protests)
From my perspective, it was still fascinating and powerful.  While only 20,000 people attended, I’m inclined to say they represented many more who simply couldn’t attend on the late-October eve, which happened to be the night before fall semester classes began for students. 
It's estimated that about 20,000 people attended the October 29, 2011 rally
To put the protest into a more concrete perspective for those unfamiliar with life in Israel: it’s expensive to live here.  Apartments, food, childcare, etc.—they all carry New York City price tags.  But Israel does not boast salaries similar to those paid in New York City.  In fact, the average annual salary of Israelis ($28,320, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, April 2011) is only slightly above what America calls the poverty line ($22,314 for a family of four).  Long story short, many in the middle class find themselves living paycheck to paycheck.  Young families struggle to save any money in the hopes of being able to afford buying their own home one day. 
Protesters' signs
It is worth mentioning that Israel has socialized health care and education.  Everyone has access to health care (albeit to doctors with varying degrees of quality).  Obtaining a bachelor’s degree or attending professional schools costs students only a few thousand dollars a year, a far cry from the $40,000+ a year it costs to attend college in the United States.  In this regard, if nothing else, Israelis are fortunate (although if you ask them, they would say attending college is expensive).

With all this said, I personally don’t know what the government can possibly do on a short-term basis to alleviate financial difficulties.  Subsidies, housing allotments, and the lowering of the minimum age for children to receive free education, will only go so far.  At some point, salaries must rise to meet the increased price of living.  Until then, I sympathize with the protesters and hope that, whatever the outcome, the living standard of middle class Israeli will rise.
At the protest on October 29, 2011
Nike 10K Nightrun (November 2, 2011)
A lighter gathering than the social justice movement rally, thankfully!

Doug and I signed up for the Nike Nightrun in early October. I was hesitant to at first—at that point I hadn’t run more than 3 miles at one go, and the race was over 6 miles long.  Besides that, running was kind of grueling for me. 

And then one day I ran with my friend Alexis.  By the end of the run, I realized that not only could I run the 10K, but I would also have someone I would want to run it with.  And so began the training process. We ran together as much as we could before the race.  What with Career Israel trips, holidays, and starting our internships, it wasn’t easy.  Nevertheless, we gradually increased our running route until we hit 5.3 miles, only about one mile shy of the race distance. 
With my lovely running partner, Alexis, before the race
On the day of the race, Kikar Rabin was filled by a moving mass of neon yellow.  People were stretching, chatting, and taking pictures. Despite all attempts at creating order, things felt rather disorganized as runners from all starting times gathered by the start line to await the beginning of the race. Doug, who was supposed to be in the second starting wave, ended up in the very front of the pack waiting to start.  Alexis and I roamed about with a few other friends from the group who were running the race.  We watched as the first waves started running. Doug sprinted off, ultimately finishing 67th in the race (out of more than 12,500 participants!) 
Doug zooming off from the starting line
Doug finishing the race 67th!
He ran the 10K in 39:10. Amazing!
Alexis and I, meanwhile, ran the race at a more leisurely pace.  Both of us were determined to run the entire 10 kilometers.  We weaved past other runners as the route wound through Park Hayarkon, a 1000-acre park in north Tel Aviv.  As we neared the finish line, we both sped up, excited to have completed our first race.  And it was exciting! My name was called out on the loudspeaker as I crossed the finish line, announcing (to me and everyone else!) that I completed the race. 

Post-race: victorious! We even got medals!
Thinking back, I can’t help but be thrilled by the entire thing.  When Doug and I first arrived to Tel Aviv, I told him my goal was to be able to run to Yafo (about 3 miles from our apartment) by the end of the program in January.  Not only did I manage to run the distance to Yafo and back by November, but I also managed to run a 10K race and enjoyed doing it. 

Annual Memorial to Yitzhak Rabin
On November 4, 1995, Rabin was murdered by Yigal Amir, an extreme right-wing religious Zionist who opposed Rabin’s peace initiatives and the signing of the Oslo Accords.  After the assassination, thousands of young Jews visited the square to mourn and pay their respects to the late Prime Minister.  In 2005, he was voted the greatest Israeli of all time in a poll by ynet, an Israeli news site.  Yet, fewer and fewer people attended the annual memorial ceremonies held in his honor.  This year, the group that usually organizes the memorial decided to simply cancel it, seeing it as a drain of funds that could be used to maintain the Yitzhak Rabin Center; while another group adopted the responsibility and was to hold the event on November 5, the memorial has been suspended “until further notice.”

Doug and I intended to go.  We tried to find information about the memorial event prior to its postponement but found nearly nothing online.  We hardly managed to find out that it was canceled due to “bad weather” (it was certainly chilly out, but not raining or anything). 

Memorial to Yitzhak Rabin, located where he was assassinated on November 4, 1995
As we wait to find out when the memorial will be held, I’m willing to bet that in the meantime, we’ll find ourselves taking the short walk to Kikar Rabin for other random events.

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