Jewish World Review Nov. 25, 2003 / 30 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764

Rachel Raskin-Zrihen

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Disturbed today by the JFK assassination | One of the most disturbing things about the 40th anniversary of the JFK assassination is that I remember it like it was yesterday, and it disturbs me in some shallow, vain way, that I remember anything that happened 40 years ago. But remember it, I surely do.

I was a student in Mrs. Holmes' third-grade class at Grandview Elementary School in Monterey Park's main rival: Bella "Smelly" Vista, across town. They called us "GrandPiew." We thought ourselves extremely clever.

Anyway, we had just come in from recess, and were talking, laughing and finding our seats, when another teacher entered. She was openly weeping, which mildly concerned me, since I'd never seen that happen before. She approached Mrs. Holmes, whispered in her ear, and the two embraced as Mrs. Holmes also started to cry.

Several more students had begun to notice that something was amiss, but the class was still generally boisterous, when Mrs. Holmes turned to us from the edge of her desk, tears staining her face, and said, "class, President Kennedy has just been shot."

Complete silence instantly enveloped the room. Everyone seemed to turn in unison and say, "what?"

A portable TV — the one we used for our weekly televised language class, where I learned how to say "Hola, maestra," in badly accented Spanish, was wheeled in, and a white-coated man was telling a crowd of reporters stuff I didn't understand about President Kennedy's condition.

We watched Walter Cronkite, fighting tears, announce the President had died. They let us go home early that day, and I remember everyone's front door was open along the way. Everyone was outside with their neighbors. Everyone was crying.

I remember struggling with the whole concept of what had happened. I was not all that clear about death in general then, though I'd lost my grandparents and knew in some broad, undefined way, that death meant the person was gone. But it didn't seem possible that President Kennedy was dead. He was handsome, smart, funny and young. Around my parents' age. He had children about the ages of my brother and I. People that age didn't die.

Also, as far as I was concerned then, "Kennedy" was synonymous with "president." He was the only president I'd ever been cognizant of, and it sounded right to me — President Kennedy. The words just went together like "vanilla ice cream" or "Captain Kangaroo." It never occurred to me there would ever be another president.

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When I got home my mother was crying, and I knew for sure that a terrible thing had happened, and that it had happened to us, personally, along with everyone else.

I saw Lee Harvey Oswald shot on TV.

There was a subtle shift in the world that day — the same kind of subtle shift that occurred on 9/11. People's perception of reality — of what is possible and what impossible, changed, at least for those of us young or unaffected enough not to already have become jaded. And I think it made a lot of people figuratively, and, in some cases, subconsciously, throw up their hands and think some 20th Century variation of "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die."

What came to be the '60's — a wild, discontented and somewhat angry time — grew directly out of the frustration and despair of the Kennedy-King-Kennedy murders. And what society is now is a direct result of that. I doubt the world would look the same had those tragedies not happened.

And I'd bet that in September 2041, with four decades of aftermath to study, historians, philosophers and pundits will suggest a similar universe shift and a similar or worse pandemic reaction resulted from that event as well. Some events are like pebbles hitting a pond — they cause ripples for a moment and then everything is as it was. Other events, like 9/11 and the JFK assassination, are more like fiery meteors crashing into the pond.

Nothing is ever the same.

JWR contributor Rachel Raskin-Zrihen's column. Comment by clicking here.


© 2003, Rachel Raskin-Zrihen