here a text version of my remarks about Shimon Peres during Shabbat services on 10/1/16
A few vignettes to share with you this morning –
It is 1930 and a young Jewish boy is sitting at a kitchen table with his grandfather, studying the Talmud. They are in Eastern Europe, the Pale of Settlement, the area that was sometimes Russia and sometimes Poland. His grandfather is an Orthodox rabbi, traditional, wearing a black gaberdine and a high black kippah, a rabbi coming from a long line of rabbis. He teaches his grandson the text in Hebrew, translating it into Yiddish, using the traditional chant to make the texts easier to remember. The boy is seven years old, bright and capable and a bit of a dreamer. His parents are secular Jews, and the boy struggles to mesh the values his grandfather teaches him with the way his parents live. At one point on a Shabbat afternoon his parents put on a record, and he walks into the living room and smashes the record player, believing the music to be a violation of Shabbat. The boy loves his grandfather, learning from him not only a love of Judaism, but also a love of the Jewish people that would be a guiding force in his life.
It is 1936, and the boy is now a teenager, just past the age of his bar mitzvah. He is waking the streets of Tel Aviv with a friend on a warm spring day. There is just the hint of a breeze coming off the Mediterranean. They talk about where they’ve come from and what they hope to find in the future. A couple of years earlier his parents decided to leave Europe and move to the land of Israel where they hoped to make a better life and live without the threat of anti-Semitism. The boy is a polyglot – in other words, a quick study at languages, and within a short time has mastered the spoken Hebrew of the Yishuv, adding it to the Polish, Yiddish, and Russian that he already speaks. A bit later in his life he would add English to that list as well. He didn’t know it that warm spring day, but those languages would become the tools of his trade, and as he grows, he learns to be a master communicator.
It is now 1944, and the world has become a dark and troubled place. Our teenager is a young man, 21 years old, a leader in the Zionist Youth Movement. He has already lived for a number of years on kibbutzim, and understands agriculture. His work experience includes time spent as a farmer and also as a shepherd. He has dipped his toes into the early political world of the growing Jewish state, and is known and respected by his peers. But on this night he leads a group of older teenagers and a team of young scientists on an secret and illegal mission in the Negev. In the darkness they quietly cross into a closed military zone controlled by the British. Their orders come from the Palmach, and like the biblical מרגלים their mission is to scout out the land. How can this arid wilderness be settled? Can it be cultivated, can it be made green and fertile? After just a few days they team is spotted by a Bedouin camel patrol and captured by the British. The group spends two weeks in a British jail, and as the leader of the team, the young man is heavily fined.
It is a cold November day in Paris in 1954. The skies are slate grey, and a brisk breeze blows though the streets, sending the Parisians scuttling for warmth. The street cafes are largely empty. Our young man is 31 now, and as the November days go by he meets with top representatives from the French government and its military. He passionately yet patiently states the case for the 6 year old State of Israel. That she is a budding democracy. That her regional interests align with those of France. Ultimately the French decide to support Israel, selling her weapons, and even siding with her in the 1956 Sinai campaign. His work enables Israel to defend herself against hostile Arab neighbors, and also to establish her nuclear reactor in Dimona, tipping the balance of power in the Middle East Israel’s way. Just a few years later the French would present the young man with the Legion of Honor, the highest honor bestowed by their country.
The vignettes could go on and on. In 1963 there were negotiations with then President of the United States John F Kennedy, bringing Hawk anti aircraft missiles to Israel for the first time. There were two stints as Prime Minister. Almost 50 years of service in the Keneset. A Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. And of course yesterday, with tributes being paid from leaders all over the world, with the heads of state and dignitaries from over 70 countries in attendance, the 93 year old Shimon Peres was laid to rest on Har Herzl, that beautiful and historic cemetery just on the edge of Jerusalem, in the land that he so deeply loved and had worked so hard for. His love of Judaism and the Jewish people, the love he had learned as a boy sitting at his grandfather’s knee, never left him. Neither did his idealism, the fierce belief that he carried that our actions can make a difference in the world, and that the pursuit of peace must always drive us forward and must never end.
May his soul be bound up in the bonds of eternal life. And may his memory always be for a blessing.