While Israel mourns the passing of Shimon Peres and the world pays tribute to this larger-than-life man, my Facebook feed is full of selfies of my friends with the late President of Israel. I am moved to see how many in my own network were inspired by the President who especially loved his people and the power and innovation of social media.
Although we did not get a photo opportunity together I did have the privilege of meeting Peres a few months ago in Johannesburg. I will never forget the feeling of his soft and delicate hand in mine and the look in his eyes when I thanked him in Hebrew “for everything”.
In what was to be the last months of his life, Peres, at 92, traveled to South Africa amidst anti-Israel sentiment and BDS activity, despite having been hospitalised twice in the weeks preceding. He met with South African government officials and dignitaries and assisted in fundraising efforts for the South African Jewish community.
At the one-night-only event, “Man of Peace,” hundreds of people gathered in the Sandton CBD to celebrate his life and be touched by his wisdom, humour and wit.
That night in Sandton, Peres became my President too. Peres had the ability to open hearts and minds and draw upon his experiences to teach and transform. At the end of the evening I had the chutzpah of beelining past government officials and security guards to shake his hand and I am so glad that I did.
I feel tremendous sadness that Peres is no longer with us. His passing marks the completion of many chapters spanning the full gamut of the modern day State of Israel. We have lost a great leader and an enlightened being. A man who never gave up on peace and who probably uttered the word more often and more eloquently than anyone else in our lifetime.
That Peres passed right before the Jewish New Year also feels symbolic with Israel’s future made even more uncertain without the physical presence of this warrior for peace.
During his short visit to South Africa Peres met with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s second wife. He shared with her that “in each of us is a Nelson Mandela outlining the path to peace and reconciliation.” Peres also recounted to her that “Nelson was a dear friend of mine and his morality, nobility and courage brighten our future.”
Peres, we feel the same way about you. Thank you for your leadership, for choosing to be optimistic and for pioneering peace. Thank you for being a stand for what is possible and for never giving up hope for our country, the region and the world. May your memory be a blessing to us always and may your vision for peace inspire and guide us into our collective future.