It is somehow fitting that Shimon Peres z”l leaves the earth in the last week of the year. With Rosh Hashanah right around the corner our collective eyes are looking forward, preparing to step into the future. Shimon Peres only looked forward and marched only ahead. He embodied optimism; despite consistent opposition from pragmatists and realists, Shimon Peres dared always to dream of a better tomorrow. “Optimists and pessimists die the exact same death,” he once said, “but they live very different lives!” He lived and died an optimist, through and through.
Shimon Peres’ story mirrored the story of the State of Israel. The last of the generation of Israel’s founders, Peres served in the Knesset longer than just about anyone, held positions in more governments than just about anyone, and played significant, even decisive, roles in every decade of Israel’s history. I picture him accompanying his mentor David Ben-Gurion, in debate with his constant rival Yitzhak Rabin, joining the government of his longtime frenemy Ariel Sharon, and, finally, serving as Israel’s 9th President. It’s simply impossible to think about Israel over the past seventy years without also thinking about Shimon Peres.
Some years ago, as part of a group of rabbis traveling in Israel, I had the good fortune to meet Shimon Peres. For the only time in his adult life, he was not in government, instead using his time and his seemingly boundless energy, to help develop Israel’s fledgling hi-tech sector. Impeccably dressed – I don’t think I ever saw Peres in anything other than a suit and tie – he exuded sophistication and ebullience. Great things were on the horizon, he assured us, and he was right. The start-up boom was in its infancy and Israel’s bio-tech and pharmaceutical industries were still gathering steam. Even out of office, Shimon Peres was cheerleading and networking and helping to build the future.
Last summer, Nomi and I visited the Peres Center for Peace, the last of Shimon Peres’ great projects. He wasn’t in that day, but we got to visit his personal library and to see his office suite on the center’s top floor. The Peres Center sits directly on a beach in Jaffa – in the 1940s a drop off location for illegal Jewish immigrants – commanding a stunning view of the Mediterranean, adjoining a century’s old Christian cemetery, nestled in a mixed neighborhood. The building’s location and stunning modernist design together bespeak the man. Zionist leader, state builder, idealist, peacemaker, and more besides.
We noted too that every member of the Peres Center staff whom we met seemed to be a third of the former President’s age (or younger!). Already past 90, Shimon Peres sought out the company of, and surrounded himself with, young adults. The past, which he had a major hand in shaping, was past. He cared about, dreamed about, planned for, only the future. He leaves us all with an extraordinary legacy of determined optimism, clear-eyed pragmatism, great style, abiding humor, and, yes, relentless optimism. Y’hi zikhro barukh. May the memory of Shimon Peres z”l ever be a blessing.