Shimon Peres was a lucky man. He was both a dreamer of dreams and a doer of deeds all in the name of Israel and the Jewish people. In Bereshit Rabbah we learn from Rav Aha; “Some have dignity of old age without length of days, while others have the length of days without the dignity of old age; but in the case of our father Abraham, the dignity of age coincided with long life”. The same can be said of Shimon Peres.
He was always so accessible. So, like many who are privileged to work for the Jewish people and Israel I have memories of many encounters with Peres. The earliest some 30 years ago was at a concert that I arranged by Peter Yarrow in New York with Mr. Peres to raise funds for his campaign for Prime Minister. He was fierce in his determination to “fulfill Ben Gurion’s dreams” of peace with Israel’s Arab neighbors and prosperity for all Israelis.
In the early 1990’s he joined a Jewish Agency-United Israel Appeal mission to Belarus to witness firsthand the latest miracle of mass Aliyah. We went to Vishnyeva with him so he could see what had become of his birthplace. He regaled us all with stories of his youth, his amazing memory of who lived in each house as he walked down the road, and demonstrated how to draw water from the well. And he praised the work of the Jewish Agency, for which he once worked, for its continuing efforts to bring Jews home. In the intervening years I saw him often at many functions and of course his Tomorrow conferences among other places.
My last deeply personal encounter was in his presidential office. My colleague Paul Kane and I were there to see if we could help him with one of his latest dreams; a new museum named for Albert Einstein that would sit on the Mt. Scopus campus of the Hebrew University and pay homage to what he called the gift of Jewish insight. Architectural plans had already been drawn and it was time to consider how to garner support for this effort.
The design, which in large measure was his, featured a large convex structure on the top made entirely of reflecting solar panels. The plan was that each hour a beam of would “ascend the heavens” for a least a mile. This eternal light, a new ner tamid, would become the modern and enduring symbol of Jerusalem, eclipsing the domes and symbolizing Jews and Israel as the “Or l’goyim”. It would remind us of the true Jewish responsibility to use our efforts to enlighten and improve the world.
Our teacher Abraham Joshua Heschel taught us that there are three ways to mourn. The first is to cry. Many of us have and will shed tears for this great and good man, Shimon Peres. The second is to grow silent. Those passing by his coffin in Jerusalem do so in silence. But the third way to mourn is to transform sorrow into song.
May we all, in the days and months ahead, sing songs of love, songs of reconciliation, songs sung with the pride and purpose that Shimon Peres championed all his life. But most of all to honor his memory may we sing – all of us together, Jews and non-Jews, Israelis and Palestinians, – songs of peace. Yehi Zichro Baruch