With the exception of his good friend Israel's fifth President Yitzhak Navon, who is two and a half years his senior, it is rare for President Shimon Peres to meet anyone older than him in age. Thursday was an exception when he met with Holocaust survivor Mira Shoval who will celebrate her 100th birthday in September.
Three months ago, Shoval's granddaughter wrote to the President's office explaining her grandmother's background and added that all that her grandmother wanted for her triple digit birthday gift was a meeting with the President of the State of Israel to tell him her story.
Needless to say, there was no question of the President refusing.
He met Shoval at Tel Aviv University where he was one of the speakers at a conference on the new senior citizen.
They had a private discussion during which Shoval told him the story of her life, placing particular emphasis on the war years in Poland during the period of the Holocaust, the time she spent in a forced labor camp in Russia, the murder of her husband and the start of her new life and the building of a new family in Israel.
Peres listened carefully to all that Shoval had to say, embraced her and said: "The 100 years of your life are a reflection of the contemporary history of the Jewish People who rose from the ashes of the Holocaust to the rebirth of the State of Israel. These were very difficult years, but they also carried moments of joy. Your husband was murdered by anti-Semites, yet you survived and you were privileged to see the redemption of the Jewish People in the glorious State of Israel. This is the best place in which to live and I am happy and proud that you were able to do this."
When she came to Israel said Shoval, she could not believe that "we had a state of our own". She had joined a Hashomer Hatzair kibbutz and worked hard – but this work was with a purpose, she said and she did not mind it at all. "I'm proud that the State of Israel was established in my lifetime," she said.
Peres who is arguably the only person of his age in Israel who works more than an eight hour day, six days a week, told conference participants that with the increase in longevity, people were capable of being productive for a much longer period than in previous generations. Whereas 70 and 80 were once regarded as the twilight zone of life, today people in that age group are still energetic, creative, productive and efficient said Peres.
"We are living in a new era with new rules but with an antiquated attitude."
The conference under the auspices of The National Council for the Advancement of Senior Citizens, attracted some 750 participants, and was a small step toward the abolition of compulsory retirement that is based on chronology with no regard for ability and experience.