The ‘young’ guy in the room

"You probably look at me as if I just came from kindergarten," Peres tells centenarians.

PRESIDENT SHIMON PERES speaks to centenarians 370 (photo credit: Liron Almog)
PRESIDENT SHIMON PERES speaks to centenarians 370
(photo credit: Liron Almog)
In what is a very rare moment in his life these days, President Shimon Peres on Thursday found himself to be one of the youngest people in the room. The occasion was a reception co-hosted by the president and Dr. Lea Ness, deputy senior citizens minister, in honor of Israeli citizens over age 100.
Around the world, October 1 is celebrated as senior citizen’s day, but the ministry has extended that to the whole month in Israel. Ness, aware of the significance of so many elderly Holocaust survivors and war veterans in the country, is devoting the month to highlighting the contributions of the country’s oldest citizens to the founding of the state. The National Insurance Institute estimates there are over 1,000 citizens age 100 and up in the country.
When Peres, 89, entered the main reception hall, his face was wreathed in smiles, as he shook hands with a bevy of men and women who were all older than him.
In addition to the dozens of centenarians present, up to three generations of family members were in attendance. Family members and caregivers alike jumped up throughout the ceremony to snap photos, despite repeated requests by moderator Natan Datner, the star of the Cameri Theater production of Fiddler on the Roof, that they remain in their seats so as not to obscure the view of the television crews and news photographers.
Peres was thrilled to address the many triple-digit age attendees.
“You probably look at me as if I’ve just come from kindergarten,” he said to them, “but I look at you as people who turned the State of Israel into a flourishing garden. You created something from nothing,” he told his guests. “We were a tiny country without water, without oil, without gold, with swamps and desert and a harsh climate. And out of all that, you built a state and a nation.”
Collectively he said, the centenarians represented 10,000 years of the history of the State of Israel.
Instead of talking about red lines on Iran – the way Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been doing for the past month – Peres spoke of a red line on age. There should be no red line to mark a cut-off age for anything, he said, adding that people should live as long as they can.
Looking around him he said: “You have proved that one can reach 100 without growing old.” Peres confessed that he doesn’t like being referred to as a pensioner and that he seldom takes vacation. He just enjoys working, and his work day often extends beyond 12 hours. He urged the senior citizens to tell their grandchildren and great-grandchildren about their experiences in life, so that they too would be inspired to give of themselves for the benefit of the state.
Three of the centenarians present conducted video interviews before the event that were shown on large screens.
Shmuel Zaharoni, 100, originally from Yemen and now living in Tel Aviv, said that he likes to be independent and prepares his own meals. He says his recipe for longevity is to laugh often, to refrain from getting angry, to try to be calm and to thank God daily for the gift of a land of milk and honey.
Polish-born Nina Kaplan, 102, who came to Israel from Brazil and lives in Netanya, moves around without the aid of a cane or walker. She appeared in the video buying vegetables and cooking in her kitchen, even making her own dough. She has 31 great-grandchildren.
Lithuanian-born Zippora Sandler, 100, who lives in Rehovot, said there is no one in the world like Peres and she wants to thank him for everything he does. She also declared that she was proud that women were mothers of the nation.
“I don’t have another country. Everything here is great. If you don’t believe in that, you can’t live here,” she said.
Ness, like Peres, referred to the collective history of the senior citizens and their contributions to the state.
“You don’t have to read a history book. You lived history and that’s what you see when you look back.”