Jeannie Kedas (D.C., 1990-1997), who served as the Senator’s personal assistant and later press secretary, reflected on the night before Senator Kennedy traveled to Israel for Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral. This recollection includes unforgettable details from Jeannie’s dear friend, Steve Kerrigan (Boston and D.C., 1993-2003).
It was 1995, and the Senator was getting ready to travel to Israel with then President Clinton and the Congressional Delegation for the funeral of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin who had been assassinated. The news had rocked the world and a huge number of dignitaries were expected to attend. I arrived at the Senator and Mrs. Kennedy’s McLean house to help get him ready for the trip. They were there along with the brilliant and much missed Nick Littlefield, my work brother Steve Kerrigan, and the always calm, cool and also sorely missed, Rick Ally.
We were all in the kitchen, going over details, Steve with his Radar O’Reilly-like ability to recite times and locations off the top of his head, and Nick and the Senator, volleying quips back and forth. I especially liked when the Senator would wink as if to say, “watch this,” and he’d start peppering Nick with questions, just to get him going. He knew he could push Nick’s buttons.
The Senator was thinking of what he could bring with him for the newly widowed Leah Rabin, a gift or gesture, something to help ease her shock and grief. I clumsily blurted out, “Has anyone seen Schindler’s list?” Everyone turned to me as if to say, “Yes, the world has seen it, Jeannie.” But it was the Jewish custom of placing stones on the deceased’s grave that I was inarticulately referencing. “What if you placed a stone….”
And that’s when it turned into…rushing to Arlington National Cemetery to dig up some of the earth from President John F. Kennedy’s gravesite and bringing it to Israel to place on Prime Minister Rabin’s grave. We sprang into action, Mrs. Kennedy getting a spoon and two baggies, Rick pulling the car up, my stuffing “the bag” with call sheets, itineraries, must dos, letters to sign, and extra contact lenses.
Steve and Nick went ahead to the grave and started digging, while the Senator and Rick waited at the gate — the plane was taking off soon and they still had to get to the airport! And this is why I especially loved the Senator — in addition to all his kindness, commitment, intelligence, empathy and perseverance — because of his wonderful, mischievous sense of humor. He actually called Arlington Cemetery to say someone was desecrating the graves.
When they came back to the car, the Senator slyly asked, “Have any trouble?” Steve answered, “No, I dug fast, and Nick fast-talked the park ranger.” The Senator was still chuckling as they pulled away in the minivan. Safely tucked away with him were the two baggies of earth from that very sacred place.
Later that night, my phone rang and it was Steve. “Are you watching the news,” he asked? I clicked the TV on and there was Tom Brokaw, speculating what Senator Kennedy had placed on Prime Minister Rabin’s grave. The Senator, in quiet deference and after everyone else had paid their respects, reached into his suit coat pocket and took out the contents of those baggies, quietly placing the soil from one fallen leader’s grave onto that of another. No big fuss, no announcement, no clicking cameras, just the perfect, heartfelt, quintessential Ted Kennedy thing to do. He then went to Leah Rabin and exchanged private words and they embraced as only two people who have known such loss could.