Alone in the mammoth crowd, the widow stood beneath a huge portrait of her martyred husband. Shiva, the traditional week of mourning, was over. For better or worse, life must go on.
But first, Leah Rabin had something to say Sunday night to a nation and to a man whose life she had shared for 47 years. The crowd - an estimated 250,000 people filling block after block - grew eerily silent.
Now, the widow spoke, addressing her husband, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, slain eight days earlier on this very spot by a fellow Israeli:
“Yitzhak, were I only able to tell you a bit of what has transpired since that sad moment, an entire country in a week of mourning, stopped in its tracks, weeping.
“Your grave is never cold, covered with flowers, lit with memorial candles. …
“The terrible price we all paid was not in vain, for we rose from the nightmare to a different world. You are still our hope for peace and a society that will be better.
“Goodbye, my dear friend, father of my children, grandfather of my grandchildren. Rest in peace and you will always be among us.”
Leah Rabin was finished, but the people were not.
Left-wing and right-wing, mostly young but also old, they remained in place and brushed away tears.
They lighted candles, held pictures of Rabin close to their chests and handed out stickers saying, “Shalom, haver” - “Goodbye, friend” - the phrase so memorably uttered by President Clinton.
They saw that acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres defied his security chiefs and joined other dignitaries on the stage. They hoisted signs that said “Enough Violence” and “Peres - Good Luck, Friend.”
They heard Rabin’s widow effectively bequeath the mantle of power: “I appeal to you, Shimon Peres, to continue to guide the Israeli nation to peace in the path and spirit of Yitzhak.”
They lingered under the protection of 2,000 police officers and soldiers, and this time, the rally remained peaceful.
They sang HaTikvah, the Israeli national anthem, and listened to mournful ballads of hope lost and found: “My Last Summer With You,” “He Who Dreamed” and “I Have No Other Country.”
They shuddered during that last song as singer Corine Elal began weeping when she arrived at the lyric, “My heart aches. This is my home. My country has changed its face.” She hesitated, the air grew still, many in the crowd wept with her and finally they all finished together.
They bore witness as the site, Kings of Israel Square, was renamed Yitzhak Rabin Square. And, in Rabin’s name, they vowed to purify a political environment so venomous that it had turned deadly.
“I feel very bad, very guilty, very, very ashamed,” said Adi Ziedweber, 33, a former paratrooper and until last week a member of the opposition Likud Party.
“I was a non-believer, but I was very wrong. I believe there will be peace. I personally don’t want to be in a war again. I don’t want my children to go to war.
“I realize, because of the assassination, there’s only one way to go forward in Israel, and that’s in peace.”
Members of Rabin’s Labor Party also have been engulfed by guilt since his death, now believing they had abandoned him to face a torrent of criticism alone. His widow touched on that Sunday.
“They trusted you too much and let you fight alone in the turret,” she said. “They were too quiet when they witnessed the hate scrawled on the walls and the vicious banners.
“But you pressed onward. Now, the silent majority will be silent no longer.”
Hearing those words, Noa Ben-Or, 36, felt her heart tremble. She clung tightly to her 8-year-old son, Tomer.
“I feel like I didn’t do my duty,” she said. “I hope we won’t stay home anymore. My biggest fear is that my son will have to fight some day. It’s important for me that he come here and see this atmosphere.”
Police and Israel Radio said at least 250,000 people crowded into the square. If the estimate was accurate, that made the rally one of the largest in Israeli history.
The gathering capped a day crowded with memorials to the first Israeli leader slain in the line of duty.
In the morning, Rabin’s family emerged from a week of house-bound mourning for a simple ceremony at the grave on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl.
Later, Peres led a ceremony at Labor Party headquarters in Tel Aviv, promising to follow Rabin’s path to peace and lashing out at what he called the “devil’s disciples” trying to block that path. As expected, the party formally ratified him as its leader.
But Sunday’s main event surely was the assemblage at what is now Yitzhak Rabin Square. And there, at the end, some Israelis dared to believe they sensed reconciliation.
“I’m feeling a sense of unity - at least partial unity - of the nation,” said Yaacov Katz, 63. “All the young people and the older people together - it gives me hope for better times.”