Sorrow and hope After Rabin: Noa Ben Artzi-Pelossof, the only granddaughter of slain Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, writes about the human side of her grandfather and finds herself on the world stage.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Noa Ben Artzi-Pelossof steps onto the stage at the Gordon Center in Owings Mills wearing a pair of silver-heeled, red-white-and-black striped boots. The ankle-high, Parisian footwear complements her black leather jacket, satin blouse and pants. A lock of red hair, inherited from her beloved grandpa, Yitzhak Rabin, falls in front of her face as she talks about the slain Israeli prime minister.

She is an admiring granddaughter remembering a man others knew only as a soldier-statesman and a peacemaker. She is a young writer trying to exorcise the "the tiny roots of sorrow" growing like a tree inside her. She is a freckle-faced, green-eyed teen-ager painfully aware that her new-found fame, her appearances on stages from Baltimore to Berlin, are the result of the most devastating moment of her life.

The world first saw Noa Ben Artzi-Pelossof on the day of her grandfather's funeral last November, dressed in mourning, sharing a podium with presidents and prime ministers, asking the angels to protect him. Her eulogy made the world weep.

Grandfather you were the pillar of fire in front of the camp and now we are left in the camp alone, in the dark; and we are so cold and so sad...

Then, she was a new soldier, in the midst of her mandatory military duty, working for the army's newspaper. As the family's designated writer, she wrote the eulogy sitting at her grandfather's desk. It was to be her final letter to him. But the 431-word missive thrust her into the world's spotlight. A French publisher approached her. Ms. Artzi-Pelossof wondered if she had anything more to say about her grandfather. Was there any purpose in looking back?

From the pain and grief of her grandfather's loss came her newly published 181-page memoir, "In the Name of Sorrow and Hope."

"I have a message to deliver," says Ms. Artzi-Pelossof, 19, who was in Baltimore Saturday to promote the book. "I wrote a book about my grandfather in a way nobody wrote about him. After the assassination, he was portrayed as a peacemaker, as a soldier, as a politician, as a zillion things, but not as a man because nobody knew his human side. I thought it was only part of the picture and not the full picture."

When her parents divorced, she and her brother lived for several years with her grandparents, and she attributes her closeness to Mr. Rabin to those days.

Until his murder, her fellow Israelis knew her only as "the prime minister's granddaughter." They may not even have known her name. The funeral changed that. As has the book -- published in at least five countries -- and the month-long tour to promote it.

With wit and the candor of youth, Yitzhak Rabin's only granddaughter is wowing audiences with reminiscences of her Saba (Hebrew for grandfather), stories of their family life and ruminations about her country's future.

She's been interviewed by Diane Sawyer, profiled by People magazine and photographed for the cover of French Elle.

But she doesn't think of herself as a celebrity. In fact, she abhors the description. In her speeches and interviews, she describes herself as a typical teen-ager. She dances at Tel Aviv discos. She sleeps late. She has a navel ring and a pet poodle named George. She considers her brother Jonathan to be like a twin.

"I'm a normal teen-ager. I do what normal teen-agers do," she says. "I had my normal life in Israel. Nobody recognized me in the street. Now they do."

She's become the face of Israel's so-called Candles Generation, the idealistic young people who mourned her grandfather's death by descending on his house with candles lit in his memory.

She's handled her sudden burst of fame with ease. Ms. Artzi-Pelossof is funny, smart and articulate. Her poise belies her 19 years. She arrives at the Gordon Center in what she calls her Michael Jackson boots ("These are his colors," she explains.) Her hair is pulled back with a black heart-shaped barrette. She is accompanied by a publicist and a beefy security guard named Avi.

A crowd of about 300 awaits her. During her speech, she reads solemnly from her notes. Her olive green eyes barely look up. But when the audience begins to ask questions, the young woman Yitzhak Rabin lovingly called "Noale" sparkles.

Her plans

Asked what her plans are after the army, she responds: "I don't know yet." She pauses and then delivers a punchy addendum: "I have the privilege not to know."

People want to know if she will enter politics. Her reply again, "The truth is I really don't know." But then the politician in her adds, "I don't want to promise things I can't deliver." And when another questioner seeks to pin her down, Ms. Artzi-Pelossof offers this frank retort: "OK guys, you can ask the same question in many different versions, I will give the same answer." And the crowd roars with laughter.

She is a lively storyteller. Consider this remembrance of Yasser Arafat's visit to her grandparent's home to pay his respects to his partner in peace. The Palestinian leader arrived at the Rabin house in disguise.

He was wearing "a long raincoat and red scarf, thick dark glasses and hat," she tells the audience. "He looked like a Polish uncle and not like a terrorist."

Again, the crowd erupts in laughter.

"It rarely happens to me that I can't talk. I was checking him very careful to see that he only has two eyes and one mouth," she continues, as the crowd again laughs.

The teen-ager pauses. "And he did."

"He was very nice. I know this is very difficult to accept and it was hard for me, but this was the truth," she says.

But Noa Ben Artzi-Pelossof wouldn't be her grandfather's granddaughter without conveying his sentiments about the man considered by many Israelis to be a terrorist:

"He used to say, 'You don't make peace with your friends. You make peace with your enemies. With your friends you don't have to make peace. You agree. And you don't choose your enemies."

Some at home have criticized her for writing the book, contending she is commercializing her grandfather's death. It's unclear how much she'll make from the book, though she says it's nothing like the reported $1 million paid for the American rights alone. Her critics don't rattle her. She confidently dismisses them.

'Can't please everybody'

"I always remember one thing my grandfather said: 'You can't please everybody. So be at peace with yourself.' Once you know you are doing the right thing and you know what your goals and your aims are and the people you care about know it as well," she says, "criticism is not a reason not to do, this is being chicken. It won't take you anywhere.

"If you write a book that is so emotional, that is so important to you, what you gain for yourself, it's not the money," Ms. Artzi-Pelossof says. "Writing was a great therapy for me."

And she has not yet healed. Since her grandfather's death, she has slept several nights a week at the home of her grandmother, Leah Rabin.

"I still have very difficult moments. I know that people find that when grandparents die, that it's something a part of the nature," Ms. Artzi-Pelossof says. "But this death wasn't part of the nature. This death was a cruel destiny The awareness of his absence is so strong."

She believes her grandfather led her country down a one-way road to peace, and there's no turning back. Her status as a soldier forbids her from talking about the turmoil gripping her country today, the Hezbollah bombings in northern Israel and the Israelis' rigorous and deadly response, though she makes it clear that she considers the American media to be very pro-Lebanon.

She's not "used to people calling me and asking me questions to solve the world's and the Middle East problems," but she is hopeful peace will come to the Middle East. That is what her grandfather wanted. That is what she wants.

"More than funeral eulogies or memoirs, peace will be a lasting monument to his life," she says.

Excerpts

Experts from Noa Ben Artzi-Pelossof's "In the Name of Sorrow and Hope":

"Grandpa was laid out on a table, covered by some sort of sheet or blanket, I cannot remember which. I could only see his face and his shoulders. Saba's face was still red. It still showed some colors of life. I stepped forward to kiss his face, but the skin was cold. I will never forget that cold, the feeling on my lips. My grandfather, whose skin was always smooth and warm, was lying there lifeless. I will always remember the strange half-smile that was stuck to his lips, frozen on his face, the same special smile that I knew so well. This was the place where I kissed him for the last time, on the left corner of his smile."

"As I see it, Israel is like a divided body, healthy on one side, stricken with cancer on the other. And that cancer is the extreme right. It was the cancer that killed Grandpa. It is the cancer that is still trying to kill Israel. How can we rid ourselves of this cancer?

I am not a politician nor a sociologist but I believe that only through education can we bridge the huge gulf between the religious extremists and the rest of us. Tolerance must be taught in schools, but also the respect for all opinions and wisdom of a united Israel.

Pub Date: 4/22/96

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