Peres family extends mourning period to meet huge demand

While the shiva mourning period for Israel’s ninth president technically ended when the Jewish New Year began, there were many people who still wanted to express their sympathy and personal grief.

By
October 5, 2016 20:27
2 minute read.
Peres memorial at the Knesset

Peres memorial at the Knesset. (photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)

 
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After some 50,000 people passed the casket of Shimon Peres as it lay in state in the Knesset, one might expect a lull in those wanting to pay their respects.

While the shiva mourning period for Israel’s ninth president technically ended when the Jewish New Year began, there were many people who still wanted to express their sympathy and personal grief. In response, the Peres family agreed to continue sitting at the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa until Thursday evening. The people who waited on Wednesday to exchange a few words with the former president’s daughter, two sons and several grandchildren present, extended in a line the length of the very large lobby. Another, slightly shorter line awaited visitors once they passed through the door of the spacious library where the mourners sat.

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People of different faiths and age groups waited, some in attire that signified their ethnicity and religion. There were also tourists, people in wheelchairs, and others who walked with the aid of canes, walkers or crutches. They all made the effort to indicate that they cared, that they too felt bereaved.

Near the lobby entrance, floral tributes were arrayed near memorial candles – some lit by visitors, some waiting to be lit, and others whose flame had expired. There were large portraits of Peres, both formal and informal. One formal painting hung by the candles while the national flag and peace flag of the Peres Center flanked the floral displays.

A condolence book was available in which people could inscribe their feelings. Hardly anyone penned only two or three lines. Long sagas were written in many languages. Here too, people waited patiently for their turn to leave something of their feelings.

Professor Rafi Walden, the late president’s son-in-law and personal physician, served as the family’s equivalent of secretary of state. He graciously moved through the lobby, thanked people for coming, swapped reminiscences with familiar figures, especially with the Labor Party’s old guard and Israeli diplomats who greeted Peres at airports around the world.

A Druse delegation was ushered in almost immediately upon arrival without any complaint from those who had waited so long to offer condolences to mourners in the Peres family.



One wall of the lobby featured illustrations of activities and projects of the Peres Center, which for 20 years has fostered peaceful coexistence. The Center was built deliberately on the Mediterranean shoreline of Jaffa, which has as mixed an Arab Jewish demography as anyone could wish for. On the opposite wall were Peres memorabilia – photos of Peres at different stages of life and with people whose names are also prominent in Israel’s history.

The Nobel Prize citation was also on display, along with a personal letter from Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, in which he commended Peres’s leadership and vision and thanked him for the chance to represent Israel in space. A post script indicated that the letter was strictly private and not for distribution to the media, but now that both are no longer alive, the Peres Center thought it appropriate to display the letter from one realistic dreamer to another.

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