If it were up to Shimon Peres, the 93-year-old former president would have inscribed the following on his tombstone: “He died before his time.”
His son Yoni related this anecdote as he eulogized his father at his state funeral on Friday at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl, where world leaders and Israeli diplomats gathered to bid farewell to the indefatigable leader, who often said that his best day was tomorrow.
“Indeed, my dear father, this is how I feel – you left us prematurely. There is so much more you could have done,” Yoni said.
At the funeral, which featured eulogies from Israeli and American heads of state, Yoni and his two siblings took a moment to remember both their father as a private man and the statesman whom they admired.
“Father considered himself shy, even though he was always under the spotlight,” Yoni said.
“I must have inherited that trait from him. We had a deep and special bond. Despite his many absences, he always took a loving interest in us, even from great distances. He helped me through hard times, and I tried to be at his side, too, in difficult times, to help him, even though he had enormous reserves of inner strength.
“My father was very sensitive and caring towards all people. He wasn’t ruled by his ego, he treated everyone as an equal and was always attentive, interested and supportive,” Yoni said.
His daughter Tzvika Walden said, “Today, I bid farewell to two people. The first was Peres of the state, of the people, the citizen of the world. Others will eulogize that Peres. I will share a few private moments.
“I say goodbye to the man my mother called Buzhik, and [the man] I called father, grandfather and great-grandfather.”
She recalled how he was the first to rise for the blessing over the wine at weekly Friday night dinners.
He would hold “the booklet with the Shabbat songs printed in tiny letters, trying to make out the words of the songs through his thick lenses, never skipping a word, singing at the top of his lungs.
“To me he was a young man who used his creative skills to get us to eat. Who cut sandwiches into triangles and diamonds. Try this. It’s a Burmese sandwich. My father pulled out all the creative stops, and used every trick of the trade to tempt us to open our mouths and eat and grow.
“I remember him at the table of a French restaurant, when he whispered in my ear, it tastes good, but nothing compares to your mother’s salad. To him, Israel’s cucumbers and tomatoes were the finest of delicacies,” Tzvika said.
Throughout his life, she said, her father was a man in love, not just with his wife Sonia and their family, but with the people of Israel and the promise of the future.
“My father, you were a lover of life, who sprung like a lion at daybreak to fulfill his mission. For so long, I tried to catch up with you. But now, heed my loving words, you have earned a well-deserved rest,” Tzvika said.
Peres’s son, Chemi, recounted how his father, before leaving Eastern Europe, had promised his grandfather that he would remain true to Judaism.
“You kept your promise to your beloved grandfather, when you bid him farewell on your first stop on the way to the Land of Israel. You never forgot what it means to a Jew. And I promise you that neither will I.”
Chemi recalled the deep love his father felt for his mother, Sonia.
“Your parting words to her when she left us are engraved on our hearts: ‘I fell in love with you on the first day we met, I’ll love you till my last day on earth.’ Your love was the first and greatest gift you gave me, my wife Gila and our three children. I have carried the love you both instilled in me from the day I was born, as will my wife and children, forever,” Chemi said.
In remembering his father, Chemi said, he would also hold dear his fathers’ impact as a statesman and his mission to work for peace and a better future for Israel.
“We will remember you as one whose greatness stemmed from a deep passion to serve a great cause, and not out of a desire for power. You leave behind a monumental and lasting legacy. I will never forget what I learned from you. The older I grew, the closer we became. And the closer I got, the more I saw your greatness. You were a giant.
“You always preferred the possibilities offered by the imagination, [as opposed] to clinging to memories of the past. The legacy you leave to us is the world of tomorrow.
“I told you that I loved you. But I never knew how much. Only the pain of loss and [the] sorrow of separation that surround us all here together have helped me understand.
“Farewell, my teacher and mentor. Farewell, beloved father and grandfather. We will travel the path of light you left us,” Chemi said.
To the world leaders who sat in front of him, Chemi said, “We believe that if he could, he would have used this opportunity to remind us all that the role of leaders today is to serve their people, and that there is no greater responsibility and no greater privilege than that.
“He saw in all of you leaders, friends and partners in his quest for peace. We will treasure his memory and honor his legacy,” Chemi said.
Peres’s friend, the renowned Israeli author Amoz Oz, recalled how the first time he met Peres, they sat until midnight at the dining room in Kibbutz Hulda, arguing about the future of the country and the West Bank.
At the time, he said, Peres was considered to be among the more hawkish politicians in the Labor Party.
“As the conversation grew longer, I slowly discovered his secret, more secret than Dimona, guarded more tightly than the preliminary talks of the Oslo Accord,” Oz said.
“I discovered his deep naiveté, the naiveté of a relentless dreamer,” said Oz. Peres was person of contradictions – he both respected reality and at the same time wanted to and had the ability to change it. It was these two qualities that made him a “trailblazer,” Oz said.
“Almost all trailblazers, almost all of the great people who lived ahead of their time, seemed to many to be dreamers, strange people, until the future had arrived to prove them right,” Oz said.
He compared Peres to the biblical Joseph, who fulfilled most of his dreams.
His greatest strength was also a political flaw, which sometimes failed him, Oz said. “Shimon wasn’t a sophisticated politician. Due to his enthusiastic naiveté, his rivals managed, sometimes, to cause him to fall,” Oz said. But when he stumbled, “it was because his eyes were turned to the stars.”
Peres was a man who began his political life as a hawk, and then changed “to adopt a vision of peace and of a new reality,” Oz said. “Peace isn’t only possible, it is necessary and inevitable, simply because we are not going anywhere, we have nowhere else to go, and the Palestinians are also not going anywhere, they too have nowhere else to go. Deep in their hearts, almost everyone on all sides knows this truth,” Oz said.
“Where are those courteous leaders who would stand up and fulfill this truth?” asked Oz.
“Where are Shimon Peres’s successors?” He recounted for the mourners how every Friday afternoon for the past 42 years, he and Peres had long talks on the telephone right before the start of the Sabbath.
“Today is Friday, the eve of Shabbat. Five p.m. will arrive in a few hours. If anyone thinks that at 5 there will be no conversation between myself and Shimon, he is mistaken.
“This conversation will go on as long as I am alive. More than that, as long as the State of Israel lives, its conversation with Shimon Peres is open and ongoing,” Oz said.