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He was a pioneer, and a founding father. He was both hawk and dove, warrior and peacemaker. He was an innovator and mediator. He was a Nobel laureate and visionary. He was a leader whose personal and political history was deeply woven with the story of Israel and the Jewish people.
Today Israel is in mourning. We bow our heads for our beloved Shimon Peres z”l, who has passed away at 93. He was the last of our original founding fathers and a true icon.
Shimon Peres z”l, was the eternal optimist, a rare quality in this world. He had transcended a decade’s long career in politics where he held many of the top portfolios in government including the office of Prime Minister twice. His relationship at times with the Israeli public was very complicated. He had suffered many political losses and at times was deeply unpopular, more so after the signing of the Oslo Accords. He endured a lot of criticism for his role in the signing of these accords. Many had held him and Prime Minister Rabin z”l, responsible for the terror that followed in its wake.
Despite this, Peres remained ever hopeful that peace is possible in our very volatile region.
But he transcended politics and in 1996, founded the Peres Centre for peace with the intention of furthering his vision of people in the Middle East working together to build peace through socio-economic cooperation and development and people-to-people interaction.
He was a great unifier and amongst his many accolades, received both a Knighthood from her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II and honorary title of Sheikh by Bedouin dignitaries in the Negev for his work on behalf of the people of the Middle East.
A true Statesman, he shook the hands of Presidents and Popes, Kings, Queens and movie stars. Every celebrity who visited, wanted an audience with our ebullient, eloquent and warm elder Statesman. His love for technology was legendary and I sheepishly admit that he was probably more proficient than I am. Who can forget his final message to the world on Facebook– “Buy more Blue and White” or his infamous job hunting clip on YouTube?
I was immensely privileged to meet President Peres when I participated in the Ministry of Foreign Affair’s Young Jewish Diplomats course in 2007. Hearing that young leaders had come to hear him speak, he came over to meet us. He took his time greeting all of us and shaking our hands. When it was my turn he asked in his deeply accented English that had never lost its Polish inflection “where are you from?” This was at a time when South African President Mbeki has made such sweeping statements like HIV does not cause AIDS and expressed support for Iran. I responded (trying not to giggle like a teenager at a One Direction concert) “South Africa Mr President”. After a very short exchange he was on to the next person but left a lasting impression with me who was extremely star struck.
As I write this, tributes are pouring in from all over the world as Peres continues to unite the most unlikely folk. There will be many, many more for a man truly deserving of tribute and honour.
There will be only one Shimon Peres – and from a grateful nation who bows our head in mourning we say Thank you Mr President, for all you gave us, in the good times and bad, in times of strife and peace. May you look down on us one day as we achieve your dream – of a lasting peace.
May your memory be forever blessed.
When two great Statesmen met…..