The nation bowed its head in mourning Wednesday upon hearing the news that Shimon Peres, the country’s formidable former president and prime minister, had succumbed to the stroke that hit him two weeks earlier.
Citizens mourned the loss of an Israel that once was – a country many still pray is not completely lost.
Peres was more than just a former politician and leader. He was the country’s elder statesman and the last of the state’s founding generation. His death symbolized the end of an era.
In his 93 years, Peres saw it all and was at every major juncture this country went through in its 68 years of statehood. On the night of November 29, 1947, when the UN voted on the Partition Plan, Peres sat with David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister.
“Today they dance,” Ben-Gurion said that night. “Tomorrow there will be war.” There were many wars, and Peres played a role in them all.
Throughout his career he dreamed, always looking at failures as opportunities. While political opponents called him the “eternal loser” for his failure to win several elections, he never let the losses linger. The next day he would be back at work, thinking up new ways to advance the country.
While others viewed his dreams as naïve policy-making – especially with regards to the Palestinians and the Oslo Accords – Peres refused to give up on peace and the opportunities he believed it would afford the Jewish state.
The obstacles never went away, but Peres was blessed with an unusual degree of persistence.
When the finance minister, for example, told him in the 1950s that he wouldn’t provide funding for the construction of a nuclear reactor, Peres succeeded in raising the millions of needed dollars off-budget.
When Israel’s universities refused to cooperate in the development of weapons, he found scientists elsewhere.
Peres saw opportunity where others saw peril. He refused to give up.
Until just recently, Peres was still dreaming. Conversations with him were a mix of history and science. Nanotechnology and neuroscience were just two of his most recent obsessions.
Last year, Peres proposed to IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot that every soldier should attend university and get a bachelor’s degree before military service.
He also recently recommended that the Education Ministry establish a program to teach twoand three-year-olds a second language in nursery school.
Nothing is impossible, Peres used to say. But, he would add, nothing happens on its own. If you want something to happen, you have to push forward, sometimes all by yourself.
For 93 years, Peres pushed. It is now time to push this country forward without him.
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