The last remaining founder of the State of Israel passed away this week. Former Israeli President Shimon Peres was 93 years old when he died on September 28. For nearly 60 years, he loyally served the citizens of Israel in many roles including as Prime Minister, President, Defense Minister, and Minister of Foreign Affairs. In 1994 he and Yitschak Rabin won a Nobel Prize for their efforts to secure peace in the region.
I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Peres, but the circumstances were unfortunate. During the summer of 2014, my wife Rachel and I paid a shiva visit to the family of the Ethiopian soldier, Moshe Malko, who had been killed in the war in Gaza. Coincidentally, we had been renting an apartment one floor above Mr. Peres’s apartment in Talbea (Jerusalem). We had heard that the Molkos had few visitors and decided to pay a shiva visit in their community in Neve Ya’acov about twenty minutes north.
The large immigrant family was sitting shiva in the social hall of their neighbourhood synagogue; their house was too small to accommodate even a modest group of comforters. Those who came to comfort the boy’s parents and siblings stood in line to share a wordless expression of sorrow. We sat down on folder chairs across from them in silence. What does one say to a family who sacrificed their son so that we can live in safety and security?
Towards the end of our shiva visit, President Shimon Peres and Mayor Jerusalem Nir Barkat entered the room. Here was a humble Ethiopian family who prior to all of this wasn’t known by diplomats, dignitaries, or politicians. Now, some of the most important people in Israel made the time to express their sympathies. Peres extended his hands to embrace the deceased soldier’s mother. I could feel the warmth and empathy he was expressing (see photo).
That summer, Mr. Peres announced his retirement (read his most moving farewell address http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/peress-farewell/). At 91 he was the oldest living head of state in the world. He was a noble soldier and a pursuer of peace. He was a visionary and inspiring speaker. He also had a disarmingly self-deprecating sense of humor. If you haven’t seen the four-minute parody that he made about his search for employment after leaving the Presidency, take the time and watch it.https://youtu.be/__7b9O8k1tw.
He was also a great optimist. Aviva Klompas, a former speechwriter for UN Ambassador Ron Prosor and current Israel strategist for the UJA of Boston and daughter of our recently retired TCW Guidance Department Head Margaret Klompas, captured Peres’s uniqueness in her blog post two weeks ago.
In addition to being a father of the Jewish state, Shimon Peres was a father of possibilities. At a time when nobody thought that peace was possible between Israel and its Arab neighbors, he helped negotiate peace with Egypt and with Jordan.
This champion for peace was also a realist who said, “I don’t say that peace is perfect, but we prefer an imperfect peace to a perfect victory or a perfect war.” (http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/praying-for-shimon-peres/)
Shimon Peres dealt in hope. He was a man of dreams. In a TED talk, Mr. Peres shared some wisdom that is appropriate for the High Holiday season. He said: “In the evening, I make a list of the mistakes I made during the day and the people I insulted, and I look for ways to correct it. In the morning, I make a list of the dreams I have and try to realize them.”
In a strange way, I feel like an orphan. Mr. Peres was the last living connection we had to the generation of courageous leaders who launched the rebirth of the modern State of Israel and the historic ingathering of the Jewish people. May his ever-flowing optimism inspire all of us to dream dreams that will help build a more secure future for our homeland and our people.
May Shimon Ben Yizchak V’Sarah rest in peace.