Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Shimon Peres of Blessed Memory

Shimon Peres and Barack Obama at a 2014 meeting in DC (JTA/Getty Images)
I will miss him. 

It is a sad day for the Jewish people. With the passing of Shimon Peres, we find ourselves bereft of all the original pioneers of the State of Israel. Ben Gurion, Weitzman, Meir, Begin, Rabin, Dayan… all gone.  

A generation passes and a new generation arises. Rarely replacing the greatness of the previous generation. Peres was a member of what has been called the greatest generation. They were people that were called upon for great sacrifice and rose to the occasion unlike anyone in our day. 

I often speak about the last generation of Gedolim – rabbinic leaders of the past that have no equals in our day.  In the realm of nation building, sacrifice, and dedication, Peres has no equals in our day either.

Many know him from his long political life in Israel serving in government in many capacities. Including as Prime Minister and President. Others will remember him as the architect of Israel’s nuclear program. Still others will remember him for winning the Noble Peace Prize along with Itzhak Rabin and Yassir Arafat. Or they might remember him for being honored in America with the American Presidential Medal of Honor. And there are those who will remember him for his pursuit for peace which generated his participation in the Oslo Accords. Which outlined a plan for peace intended to end decades of conflict with the Arabs. All true and worthy of note. 

For me, the warm relationship he had with the Yeshiva world is just as memorable. I do not believe he was observant. At least not in the Orthodox sense of the word. But that did not diminish his respect and even admiration for those that were and dedicated their lives to Torah study. Matzav  - in their tribute to Peres put it this way: 
Peres had a special connection with the chareidi public. The gedolei Yisroel, both today and those of the previous generation, will never forget his status as the patron of the yeshiva world. Peres was responsible for the original arrangement that allowed yeshiva bochurim to be exempt from the draft, an arrangement that is still in place today. Whenever the status quo was challenged by various voices in the country – usually on the grounds that there were only 400 yeshiva students when Ben-Gurion agreed to the arrangement, while there are now tens of thousands of bochurim,kein yirbu – it was always Peres who spoke out in favor of it. 
After his recent stroke, his illness did not go unnoticed. He was visited in the hospital by politicians (even those that were his political opponents) and rabbis. There is no doubt about his contributions to Judaism, to Israel and to peace. That the peace he sought was so elusive can in no way be attributed to him. He was a man of principle who fought just as hard for peace as he did for the right of Israel to exist, to be strong, and to be a home for all of the Jewish people.

Peres surely had his critics on the right. But agree or disagree - no one can deny his genuine contributions and sincere pursuit of peace. Although I no longer consider it possible as things stand now, I for one supported his pursuit of peace. Even if it meant implementing the Oslo Accords - if it would have produced a true and lasting peace. With no more violence between us and no more wars.  

It won’t happen. But one can dream. One can dream the dream of a Shimon Peres that a true and lasting peace would be a boon to Israel, the Jewish people, the entire Middle East and even the world. Alas, it’s a dream. A very elusive one. We will probably have to wait for Moshiach for that dream to come true.

The tributes are coming in from around the world including the Vatican. Even Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas had some nice things to say about him. One of the most impassioned tributes is from President Obama as reported in JTA
“Shimon was the essence of Israel itself — the courage of Israel’s fight for independence, the optimism he shared with his wife Sonya as they helped make the desert bloom, and the perseverance that led him to serve his nation in virtually every position in government across the entire life of the State of Israel,” he said.
“Perhaps because he had seen Israel surmount overwhelming odds, Shimon never gave up on the possibility of peace between Israelis, Palestinians and Israel’s neighbors — not even after the heartbreak of the night in Tel Aviv that took Yitzhak Rabin,” referring to the 1995 assassination of Israel’s prime minister by a Jewish extremist.
“A light has gone out, but the hope he gave us will burn forever,” Obama said in the concluding paragraph. “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.” 
It is relatively rare that a sitting President attends the funeral of a foreign leader. Especially one that has been out of office for a while. That honor usually goes to the Vice President. But President Obama will be personally attending that funeral to be held this Friday along with many other world leaders, including Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and England’s Prince Charles.

Shimon Peres surely had his critics. Mostly on the right side of Israel’s  political spectrum. But I believe that there is not a responsible politician in the world that didn’t respect him and his lifetime of contributions to the Jewish people. May His memory be a blessing.