‘Candle generation’ members aim to carry Rabin’s legacy into Knesset

Jonathan Lis | Haaretz.com

Dana Oren was the subject of a photograph that imprinted itself on the Israeli consciousness after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated on November 4, 1995.

In the picture, taken about an hour after the murder, the 17-year-old girl is being held up by two friends, her face conveying the shock of seeing the prime minister shot at a peace rally. Not long before, she had led fellow members of the Labor Party Young Guard in dancing in the fountain in what was then called Malkhei Yisrael Square, holding a huge sign that read “Rabin, we’re with you.”

Now Dana Oren-Yanai is 34 and lives in Herzliya. She is one of at least three members of the Labor youth leaders of 1995 – of the “candle generation,” the teenagers who streamed to the square to light candles in mourning, pledging that “Rabin’s path will win,” in the words of one of the slogans of the era – who are running for the Knesset in the upcoming election.

“The truth is, that was not an easy time,” said Oren-Yanai. “As young people, we felt that the future of the State of Israel and the fate of the peace process rested on our shoulders.”

Seventeen years later, she is going to try her luck at securing a spot on the Labor Party ticket and a seat in the Knesset, along with fellow former Youth Guard activist Eran Hermoni and Peace Now secretary-general Yariv Oppenheimer, who has remained politically active in the intervening years but has never made it into the Knesset.

Hermoni, who is 32 and lives in Modi’in, remembers the giddiness of dancing in the fountain at what later became Rabin Square.

“We worked hard on the rally,” he recalled. “We handed out flyers and tried to convince people to come. When we saw that so many people were coming to the square, there was such an uplifting atmosphere.”

Hermoni first became politically active when he was 12. He volunteered at his local Labor branch before the 1992 election, won by the Rabin-led Labor Party. But the “awareness of how important it is to be involved” didn’t really crystallize until after the assassination, he said.

At that point, he recalled, “I saw what happens when the silent majority remains silent.”

Oren-Yanai, Hermoni and Oppenheimer all talk about encountering the right-wing protesters demonstrating against the Oslo Accords in the months leading up to the assassination.

Oppenheimer, who was on his first furlough from the army during the rally at which Rabin was killed, said he is reminded of that night when he receives threats from right-wing extremists.

“When I’m attacked today by right-wingers, I feel a kind of continuity from those days,” said Oppenheimer, who has been active in the Labor Party since 1992.

Those intervening years of left-wing activism may not proffer up a Knesset seat, though. “This generation has not managed to reach the leadership level in the Labor Party,” he said.

Oren-Yanai said that while most of her friends have continued lives of public activity, they have moved away from politics.

“The funny thing is that the young people who were at the demonstrations on the other side, like Yoel Hasson and Gilad Erdan, have already found their place in the Knesset,” she said, naming a Kadima legislator and the environmental protection minister, a Likud member.

“The generation of candles is an image, a picture,” said Oren-Yanai. “But behind this image were young people who to this day see public service as something important, not something trendy. From my perspective, ‘Rabin’s way’ is not just a cliche or a slogan. Our values are the values of that time.”