In eulogizing his wife at her funeral in Ben Shemen Friday morning, President
Shimon Peres said that it had been love at first sight when they first met, 73
RELATED:Sonia Peres, president's wife, dies at 87 in TAPM calls Peres, gives condolences on wife's death
“My love for her will remain in my heart until I die,” the
Sonia Peres – or Sonia Gal, as she preferred to be called
in recent years – passed away in her sleep on Thursday night at age 87 and was
laid to rest at the place where the couple first met as
Hundreds joined Peres as he arrived at the Ben Shemen Youth
Village for the funeral.
Peres recalled how he met Sonia when they worked
together at the youth village. He was a student there and had seen a beautiful
young girl with braided hair. He had wanted to approach her, but was too
“One night when we had guard duty, we arrived late and saw a young
girl tending the garden, wearing shorts. She had a wonderful face. I knew that
it was love at first sight,” Peres said.
When he dared to speak to her, a
few days later, he asked if she wasn’t afraid of snakes. She laughed and told
him she was part of nature.
The president went on to say that Sonia was a
modest woman who invested a lot of her time in volunteering and public
“She loved the country. She loved the people. She did most of
her work in secret,” he said.
And throughout the years, Sonia Peres
remained one of the people. She never wanted to be part of high society, said
“She wanted to stay ‘on the ground.’” Among the many good
deeds to her credit was washing the floors of an institution for mentally
She also gave of herself to widows, orphans, new
immigrants – in fact, to anyone in need. She collected clothes, bedding and
household items for them and asked for no acknowledgement.
associated with many causes, but never sat on an executive committee. She
remained part of the rank and file.
“I learned more from her than I could
ever teach her,” said Peres.
“She was the compass and the conscience of
I loved her at first sight, and that love will stay with me
until I too close my eyes forever.”
Among those attending the funeral
were Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, former premier Ehud Olmert, Defense
Minister Ehud Barak, Ministers Eli Yishai and Dan Meridor, opposition leader
Tzipi Livni, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi
Ashkenazi and his designated successor, Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant.
were also people from Kibbutz Alumot, where Sonia and Shimon Peres lived when
they were first married; veterans from Ben Shemen from their student days there,
and others of succeeding generations who got to know them during their many
visits to their alma mater; as well as old Labor Party stalwarts, business
people such as Yitzhak Tshuva and Dov Lautman, who came with actor Haim Topol;
Dalia Rabin; former US ambassador Martin Indyk; and former Peres protégés Uri
Savir, Yossi Beilin and MK Dalia Itzik.
The state’s fifth president
Yitzhak Navon attended, as did Reuma Weizman, widow of the late president Ezer
Weizman, former Tel Aviv Mayor Shlomo Lahat, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, and
representatives of the Druse and Bahai communities – in fact, an extraordinary
mix of people who came to pay tribute to an extraordinary woman who dedicated
her life to the needs of others, asking for nothing in return, often hiding
beneath the cloak of anonymity. Many more people came than had been
Following a service in which Sonia Peres was eulogized by her
husband, three children and two of her grandchildren, a private funeral
conducted by Rabbi Mordechai Bar-Or and attended by relatives and the closest of
family friends was held in the Ben Shemen Youth Village Cemetery.
Yoni Peres, a self-confessed problem child who was frequently ill, there was
great reason to remember his mother with love and with longing.
how difficult he was or what scrapes he got into, he recalled, she was there to
support him, to love him, to boost his self esteem. She was never critical, and
always encouraged him to find his own path.
Contrary to most children in
north Tel Aviv, where he lived as an adolescent, he chose to go to an
agricultural school, and his mother, of course, enrolled him at Ben Shemen.
Later, when he set up a veterinary hospital, she came to help him.
she wasn’t a mother just to Yoni and his two siblings. She “adopted” children
who had lost their parents and had nowhere to live. Many related to her as a
“I had only one grandma,” said Yael Peres, one of her
granddaughters, “but you acted like two, and you left a void in my life, because
you were such a dominant force in it.”
Yael’s father, Chemi, apologized
to his mother, saying that he regretted not having told her often enough how
much he loved her. He had always thought there was time. And yet his mother had
given so much unconditional love to every member of her family, and to the
spouses of her children.
“It was a privilege to have been your son,” he
His sister Tzvia Walden, noting that their mother had died on Tu
Bishvat, the New Year for trees, recalled that her mother had been born on Rosh
Hashana, though her documents state differently.
She had falsified them
in order to serve in the British Army because she had been too young to
Mikka Almog, like her cousin Yael, wept as she related how she
had told her two older children of their great-grandmother’s passing.
told them you were in paradise, but that with your passing, we lost paradise,”
she said. “You embraced us all with love and compassion and always allowed us to
make our own choices.”
Only 20 days before the funeral, Almog had given
birth to her third child, Avigail, and gone straight from hospital to her
grandmother’s house. “You took care of us with such devotion,” she said weeping
at the recent memory.
Beit Hanassi has been flooded with condolence
messages from world leaders, many of whom telephoned President Peres to express
their sympathy. Among them were King Abdullah of Jordan, President Hosni Mubarak
of Egypt, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and US Secretary of State
Mubarak told Peres that many Egyptians were thinking of
him during this difficult time. Peres replied that Sonia had loved Egypt, had
visited there on several occasions, and regarded peace with Egypt as a matter of
She had a special nostalgia for Egypt, having served
there during World War II.
President Peres, who is sitting shiva in Tel
Aviv in the mornings and in Jerusalem in the late afternoons and evenings, has
canceled all his appointments this week.Jerusalem Post staff contributed
to this report.