Sweet dreams, Shimon. The world will miss you.
Shimon Peres will forever be known as a visionary; as a man who spent his life devoted to the State of Israel. There are those who talk about his greatness. There are those who speak about his eloquence. And there are those who describe his forward thinking. But I will forever remember Peres for his heart.
The first time I met Peres was about eight years ago. Peres had come to New York following a meeting with Obama in DC. As the Director of Media Affairs at the Israeli Consulate in New York, I handled his media for the visit and helped with the coordination of these interviews. There we were, Peres’ staff, consulate staff, and team of security, all squashed together in the green room prior to an interview.
To my left sat Shimon Peres, the president of the State of Israel. Peres, at this point was well into his 80s, looks up at me and says, “I can’t see you standing as I’m sitting,” and he gets up to offer me his seat. I very gently declined his offer, explaining that I sit all day and am quite happy to have the opportunity to stand. But the conversation didn’t stop there. The president of the State of Israel is asking me, a mere media specialist, how I’m doing and asking for my advice before he goes on air. And from there, we discussed his meeting with Obama and his analysis of Israel’s relationship with the new leader of the free world following that meeting. Peres was optimistic after his meeting. But, that shouldn’t surprise anyone who knew him or followed his career. There was no “I can’t” with Peres. There was always a solution.
Often leaders will distance themselves from the “common folk.” They see themselves in high regard who don’t have the time or patience to speak with everyone whom they encounter. This is understandable considering the fact that many people want something from them. There are those that want favors. Others want to offer their “advice” and then there are those that want to add another “selfie” to their collection.
But Shimon wasn’t an ordinary leader. He was a person who looked at you, and not down at you. He saw everyone as a person, and not as a title. He didn’t see leader or worker. He didn’t see people as Arab or Israeli. He saw children as children, men as men, and women as women. He didn’t judge. He accepted. He listened and wanted to hear. He valued the words of the people he spoke to and was ready to learn. He was a person that could meet you once, and would remember you. He was more than a leader. He was a mensch. And that was why he was loved by the left and right. That was why he was the President for the People, and not President of the People.
The world lost a mensch; a much more important characteristic than being a leader, a visionary, or a president.
Rest in peace, Mr. President. Baruch Dayan Emet.
Sweet Dreams, Shimon. The world will do it’s best to carry forward with your vision of peace, but it will be one step harder without you.