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.

April 22, 1996|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN STAFF

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.

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