Accolades Pour in Following Death of Former Israeli President Shimon Peres

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Shimon Peres died at the age of 93.

Late Tuesday, messages of mourning from the global Jewish community flooded the cybersphere as it was announced Shimon Peres, former Israeli president and prime minister as well as Nobel Peace Prize winner, died at 93. He had been hospitalized two weeks prior due to a stroke.
 
Born Shimon Perski in Poland before immigrating with his family, Peres led a career in public service in various roles throughout seven decades. 
 
He worked to build Israel’s defense system and fight for Israel’s independence. In the War of Independence, Peres was responsible for arms purchases and recruitment. He joined Haganah under David Ben-Gurion, who then became his mentor. At 24, Peres was appointed head of Israel’s navy by Ben-Gurion, then-prime minister.
 
Peres was appointed deputy director-general of the Ministry of Defense in 1952 and later director-general and deputy defense minister. 
 
Among his notable (and long) list of titles and accomplishments, he served in Knesset, was named Minister of Defense, Foreign Affairs, Immigrant Absorption, as well as many other cabinets. Other titles include the leader of the Labour Party. 
 
In 1993, as the foreign minister, he negotiated a peace agreement with Yassir Arafat known as the Oslo accords, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Yitzhak Rabin.
 
Peres was the prime minister of Israel from 1984 to 1986 and 1995 to 1996, and Israel’s ninth president from 2007 to 2014. 
 
World leaders from presidents to rabbis expressed their grief at his passing, regardless of whether they agreed with his views.
 
President Obama released a statement in honor of the man whom he called “the essence of Israel itself” and a leader he was grateful to have called his friend. 
 
“A light has gone out, but the hope he gave us will burn forever,” Obama said in the statement. “Shimon Peres was a soldier for Israel, for the Jewish people, for justice, for peace, and for the belief that we can be true to our best selves — to the very end of our time on Earth, and in the legacy that we leave to others. For the gift of his friendship and the example of his leadership, todah rabah, Shimon.”
 
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed a “a deep personal sorrow on the passing of the nation’s beloved, the former president of the State of Israel, Shimon Peres.”
 
“Shimon dedicated his life to our nation’s independence,” Netanyahu added, according to an article from Haaretz. “As a visionary, he looked to the future. As a security official, [he] fortified the power of Israel in many ways, some of which remain unknown even today. As a man of peace, he worked until his last days toward reconciliation with our neighbors and a better future for our children.”
 
Members of the Philadelphia community — Jewish and non-Jewish alike — also shared their thoughts on the loss.
 
Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia President Bud Newman remembered meeting Peres on several occasions.
 
“I had the pleasure of meeting Shimon Peres in Israel several times and found him to be a man who measured his words, who always seemed to have his leadership directed toward the most important issues of the time and most importantly for me, he had unwavering faith in the people of Israel, the Jewish nation and its ability to rise above and survive all obstacles,” Newman said in a statement. “I know many in our community have had similar experiences. I join so many who have expressed how much they will miss him.”
 
Former mayor Michael Nutter met with Peres in 2013 while on a trade mission and maintained a friendship with Peres’ son, Chemi. 
 
“I was honored to lead a PHL delegation to Israel, we met President Shimon Peres. A great leader, he will be missed,” Nutter tweeted Wednesday morning with photos of him with the Israeli leader. 
 
Many Philadelphians remembered Peres as a great humanitarian and leader.
 
“Shimon Peres was a man of great wisdom and insight,” said Mim Krik, president of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. “He served his fellow man and was recognized as a Nobel Prize winner for his humanitarian service and efforts in the quest for peace in Israel and the world. He will be missed in many ways, and in reflection of his being, may his passing be a blessing to all.”
 
Lee Bender heard the news six hours before others in the U.S., as he is on vacation in Barcelona. 
 
“He was clearly an icon and clearly one of the founding fathers of the state of Israel and one of the founding fathers especially of Israel’s defense system, and a man of vision and peace,” said Bender, co-president of the ZOA-Greater Philadelphia District. “I can’t say that we at ZOA completely agreed with his vision completely, but he certainly had the right goals in mind.”
 
Bender recalled being at a conference some 15 years ago and hearing Peres speak. In fact, he remembers one thing Peres said that has stuck with him: “The most important right of the Jewish people is to breathe.”
 
For him, Bender saw that as “meaning, of course, that our rights to exist are primary, everything else is essentially commentary. That’s my interpretation. To breathe, to be alive. If that’s the essence of the man, that’s the essence of his greatness.”
 
Calling Peres a dreamer, Bender added, “It’s a tremendous loss but his legacy is clearly here. His legacy is the strength of the Jewish people in our homeland.” 
 
The message of tikkun olam stuck out for Bender as far as Peres’ legacy as well, in that as the Jewish people, “we are able to us our own resources to better the world, which are clearly the highest of Jewish values.” 
 
Peres visited the Philadelphia area many times to meet with community members, at synagogues as well as schools.
 
In April 2003, the Jewish Exponent sat down with Peres, who was at the University of Pennsylvania meeting with students, to talk about the Oslo accords, as well as his hope for Israel’s future.
 
Peres said he hoped for Israel to “live in a world of peace,” he told then-reporter (now editor-in-chief) Joshua Runyan. “We have had our portions of war and terror. We would like to see our children enjoying peace.” 
 
In March 2004, Peres visited Cherry Hill synagogue Temple Beth Sholom, and Rabbi Emeritus Steven Lindemann still remembers his speech.
 
“[Peres] was well into his 80s when he visited us and spoke here,” Lindemann recalled. “It was remarkable to hear him speak not about the past — it wasn’t a retrospective, he didn’t review his own history of involvement in Israel’s history, he didn’t talk about his many accomplishments from working with Ben-Gurion to working on Israel’s nuclear reactor, or his acquisition of arms for the country, or his political positions, or his Nobel Peace Prize. Instead, he focused on the future.”
 
Peres spoke about Israel’s technological innovations and contributions, particularly nanotechnology, and how it can be used to attain peace and economic stability for Israel and its neighbors.
 
“He always believed in the possibility of peace, he always believed in the possibility of peace through scientific advancement,” Lindemann said. “He knew Israel had to be strong but constantly pursue the peace it wanted, it could not simply give up on that. That’s what made him a great leader and that’s why he was revered.”
 
The legacy Peres leaves behind sends a message to the rest of the community.
 
“It’s a reminder that the founding generation of Israel is now gone and that we’d do well to remember their values, their hopes and their dreams,” Lindemann said. “It’s up to us to continue to work to fulfill them. They gave us a great beginning, they gave Israel a great beginning and guided it with love. It was their life work and it, for example, continues to challenge us to reflect that commitment in our own engagements with Israel and reflect that love.”
 
Having heard Peres speak on numerous occasions before, Lindemann said the 2004 visit is one that still stands out.
 
“You felt like you were in the presence of history and the presence of a world renowned statesman, leader, thinker, and that loss will be felt.”
 
Peres' dream of achieving peace in Israel stands out to many in the community. 
 
“Beyond his remarkable achievements, Shimon Peres was an important part of Israel’s identity, and a spokesman for its best aspirations, for as long as anyone with ties to Israel can remember,” said the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Jewish Reconstructionist Communities and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association in a statement.
 
“His dream of a more peaceful, just, interconnected, and cooperative Middle East will continue to inspire the Jewish people and seekers of peace throughout the world. May his memory be a blessing, and may his vision inspire us to continue the work for co-existence, humanity, and peace.”
 
The Anti-Defamation League turned to Peres’ work toward peace and recalled honoring him with its Distinguished Statesman Award in 2014.
 
“History will remember Peres for his tireless commitment, dedication and contributions to a secure Jewish state of Israel living in peace with its neighbors,” said Marvin D. Nathan, ADL national chair, and Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO, in a statement. “In the weeks he spent in the hospital, the love he received from Israel and all across the globe reflects how meaningful he was for so many.
 
“We will deeply miss his clarion voice, statesmanship and wisdom.”
 
A funeral for Peres will be held Friday in Jerusalem and is expected to be attended by leaders and dignitaries from around the world. He is survived by three children, Tsvia Walden, Yoni Peres and Chemi Peres, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
 
Contact: mstern@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0740
 

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