In 1994, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres affixed the mezuzah on the door way of the Israeli embassy in Rabat, Morocco. At the ceremony, I raised a glass of kosher Moroccan wine to celebrate with Professor Shimon Shitreet, a minister in Rabin’s cabinet who was born in the Atlas Mountains. It was good wine and kosher. I asked the caterer for a box and brought it with me back to Israel on Shimon Peres’ plane.
Peres spent three days in Morocco meeting with world leaders and conceptualizing a mid-east development bank and regional roads systems not seen since the time of the spice road. On the four-hour flight home, Peres, who always detailed his big picture approach with attention to the finest granularity, walked the aisle of his jumbo jet questioning every one of the 100 business people and politicians about what they accomplished in Morocco and in the finest details and how he can help..
I told him about my undertakings to develop regional business research, but he fixated on the box of wine on the seat next to me. He pulled out a bottle and I lamely tried to save my bounty:
“This is the first time I’ve seen an Israeli customs official on board a flight,” I chided him jokingly.
“Oh, its unofficial,” Peres quipped, “It’s just that this state official has a custom of drinking wine”.
“Livriut” (Hebrew) “To your Health,” I wished him and gladly surrendered the bottle.
Other vignettes on my encounters with Peres:
Peres — like Rabin — was educated and developed his core values at a boarding school
Before the founding of the State, boarding schools were considered the Ivy League of Israeli education. The concept was simple. We don’t yet have our own civil society so the goal of education is not to emulate society, rather to build one. And the boarding school was a microcosm of that idealized society to come — the one Peres and Rabin later built.
While President Peres visited the Yemin Orde, a boarding school caring for children at risk whose first students where orphaned survivors of the holocaust. Noting the school is on the Carmel Mountain where Elijah, the prophet of the children, dwelled, Peres told Yemin Orde’s Director Dr. Chaim Peri: There is no place like Yemin Orde anywhere in the world — no place! I pray that the whole world will become like Yemin Orde.”
Other Nobel Laureates, including the Dalai Lama and Elie Wiesel shared the same praises for Yemin Orde when the school exported its tied and tested model of caring for children and helped build a boarding school in Rwanda for the Tutsi orphans of the massacres there.
Last summer – the President of the Harvard Club of Israel invited me to a closed door session at the Peres Peace Center to both hear from and inform Peres about goings-on in Israel. I was busy that day and knowing the 93-year-old would always be around I skipped the meeting.
I had spoken with Peres on-and-off over the years: When he was Prime Minister, we had interfaced on issues surrounding bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel. Years later, he asked me to join a foreign ministry initiative to have Israeli experts volunteer in developing countries. I also served on a board with his son and always had the sense Israel is like a sandbox; everyone knows each other and if I ever needed to talk to him there was an open door.
The day after the meeting when I heard a digest of the things Peres said — I was sorry I missed the session.
He told our group, many of whom are venture capital managers and attorneys buying companies for evaluations of tens of millions of dollars, the explanation he gave to Ben Gurion about valuations when he was buying armaments for Israel in 1948: “If you don’t want it – it’s expensive and if you want it – it’s cheap”.
Peres concluded his remarks: Most people prefer to remember instead of dreaming.
Here’s to remembering “The Dreamer”