The promised land must become a land of promise, President Shimon Peres said Tuesday night at his 90th birthday celebration, an event that also marked the start of the fifth annual presidential conference, Facing Tomorrow.
"We long for peace with our neighbors. The yesterday between us and the Palestinians is full of sadness. I believe that the Israel of tomorrow and the Palestine of tomorrow can offer our children a ray of hope," he told the audience.
The great, the good, the rich and the famous were out in full force in Jerusalem to help Peres celebrate.
The reception that preceded the main gala saw journalists from print and screen mingled with politicians and donors, diplomats and Jewish leaders from abroad.
The gala included a performance by Barbara Streisand and Eyal Golan and was attended by Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and - of course - Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara, along with Robert De Niro, Prince Albert of Monaco and other heads of state from all around the world.
The organizers had clearly worked hard to create an impressive spectacle for the president. A warm and admiring opening speech by Tony Blair was followed by a swarm of children taking to the stage to wish Peres happy birthday in song.
"We in Britain have our queen, and you have your Shimon," the former British prime minister said. "Peres worked tirelessly for Israel's security because he knew that was what Israel needed."
"Tonight we do not celebrate Peres's age, we celebrate his character," Blair continued. "To the youngest 90-year-old I know, yom huledet sameach
Popular Mizrahi singer Golan stuck to Hebrew favorites, including a moving rendition of Yerushalayim shel Zahav
(Jerusalem of Gold.)
The singer followed a series of video greetings, including messages from Mikhail Gorbachev, who originally had been listed as a guest at the conference, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and even U2 lead singer Bono, who praised Peres as an inspiration.
US President Barack Obama, in his video message, said his Israeli counterpart is "quite simply a living legend."
Netanyahu, clearly in his element among such an illustrious crowd, made his opening remarks in English, but then switched to his native Hebrew to say "mazal tov, dear Shimon."
As he promised at the start, he summed up his comments by saying in English: "When Shimon was born, the Jewish people were defenseless... We were almost destroyed. And then we built a state and an army."
"Peace favors the strong," the prime minister said, a statement that was met by rapturous applause. "Shimon Peres has devoted his life to build Israel and to build peace."
"We meet from time to time," the prime minister told the audience.
"He talks about robotics, genetics, brain research, everything. On education, science, everything. Shimon, you prove that you can be curious at every age, and be young at every age."
Played on by a saxophone sextet, Clinton's fond reflection on their two decades of friendship included the joke that the former US president had secured a promise from Peres to join him in celebrating his 80th and 90th birthdays, as well as to attend his funeral. He also quipped that Peres is the last living Israeli who knew King David.
Streisand, who after her performance introduced her friend President Peres, sang a moving adaptation of Avinu Malkeinu
(Our Father, Our King) , earning her a standing ovation. She followed that up with a stirring rendition of People from her hit movie Funny Girl.
"What a heavenly voice," the president remarked immediately after her performance.
Taking to the stage at the end of the night, a visibly moved Peres thanked those who had contributed to the evening, and reflected on his life's journey, which, he said, "is a road that runs between Vishnieva, where I was born, to Israel, where I lived as a youngster, full of dreams." It is the road between my grandfather and David Ben Gurion, the two figures who have left the deepest imprint on my life to this very day.
He spoke of his love for Israel, and his dedication to the pursuit of peace. "I believe that Israel can go higher and higher, if we make the necessary decisions," he declared.
"The State of Israel is the living proof that the potential hidden within the human being is richer than the resources buried in the soil," the president asserted, before saying "I love this country."
"I am in love with my people who can be passionate and even short-tempered," he continued. "Their language is sometimes less than diplomatic but at the same time their understanding, their creativity, their courage and the goodness of their heart, their generosity and the warmth which they exude – can melt hearts."
"The same Israeli who will curse a driver who unfairly overtook him on the road will willingly give up his life on the battlefield for the sake of his country or to save the life of a brother," the president added.
"The advancement of peace will complete the march of Israel towards the
fulfillment of its founding vision. An exemplary and thriving country. A
country living in peace and security in its homeland and among its
Facing Tomorrow in numbers: Jpost.com staff contributed to this report
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