President Shimon Peres spent his last night in office comforting bereaved families of soldiers who died in battle in the Gaza Strip.
It has been an emotional week for him not only because he is leaving what he calls his gilded cage, but because he has spent time each day with grieving families.
On Wednesday, the plans he had made to visit the families of St.-Sgt. Moshe Malko, 20, and lone soldier St.-Sgt. Max Steinberg, 24, had to be changed to fit in with the timetable of US Secretary of State John Kerry.
It was important to Peres, who has been a staunch supporter of the Ethiopian community, to visit the Malko family at the Shaarei Ezra Synagogue in Jerusalem’s Neveh Ya’acov neighborhood, and equally important to sit with the Steinberg family in the capital’s Crowne Plaza hotel. The Steinberg family came from California for the funeral, and Peres brought with him a letter of appreciation he had written.
The letter reads: Dear Evie, Stuart, Jake and Paige, As Max is being put to rest today, in my name and on behalf of the people of Israel, I want to extend our profound condolences on the tragic death of your son and brother.
We are overcome with sorrow at the loss of one so young, and our hearts go out to you in these difficult times. By volunteering for the Golani Infantry Brigade, Max made his choice to defend the State of Israel and its people, and fell in the line of duty. We salute his valor and loyalty to the country he called home, and will honor his memory and legacy in perpetuity.
Today, we bow our head in respect to a brave young man and soldier, and as we mourn together with you on this day of bereavement, I offer my deepest sympathy.
May you know no more sorrow and may he rest in peace.
The Steinberg family sat shiva in one of the meeting rooms of the hotel and Peres after embracing them spent time asking them about their son and listening to anecdotes about the young man who was determined to prove his mettle in the Golani Brigade.
It was a little more heart-breaking for him to visit the Malko family, where all the relatives appeared to be broken in spirit. Their anguish was tangible, though they said little. But the expressions on their faces indicated how honored they were that the president of the state had come to see them at the height of their grief.
On a table next to where they were sitting was a computer screen with a close-up photograph of a heroic looking Moshe Malko in army uniform.
Before leaving, the president wrote in the visitor’s book that Malko had been a courageous fighter who had been dedicated to the defense of his country, and it was for this reason that Peres had come in his own name and in the name of the nation to offer condolences. He was aware that Malko had volunteered for every dangerous mission, that he was fearless and well liked by everyone, he wrote. Moshe represented the best in Israel, the best in the IDF.
“I came here to salute him,” Peres said.