Remembering Shimon Peres

In November 1995, Israeli Defense Minister Shimon Peres reviews an honor guard at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv.

By Eric Berger, STAFF WRITER

Former Israeli president and prime minster Shimon Peres, who died at the age of 93 on Sept. 28, had a global profile as prominent as any leader from the Jewish State. That included recognition in the St. Louis Jewish community. Then serving as Israeli’s deputy prime minister, Peres visited the city in 2006 after the Lebanon War to raise funds for Jewish Federation’s Israel Emergency Campaign. 

Some local Jewish leaders were able to meet Peres, a founder of Israel, on that trip. Some clergy or Jewish professionals heard him speak in Israel. And still other members of the St. Louis Jewish community simply followed his long career in public office.

We asked some of these people to share their thoughts on Peres and the impact he had on Israel and Jewry at large.

Peres visited St. Louis on Sept. 18, 2006, shortly before Rosh Hashanah. He told the crowd gathered at the Ritz-Carlton in Clayton that he continued to think positively about Israel’s future, despite the fact that 119 Israeli soldiers, more than 40 Israeli civilians and more than 1,000 Lebanese fighters and civilians were killed in the war. 

“To me, being optimistic is about how we live our lives,” he said. “We have continued to live our lives and to look forward more than backward since l948; as we approach the Jewish New Year, I remain optimistic and wish everyone here a shana tova, a Happy New Year!”


During a lunch, Barry Rosenberg, then CEO of Jewish Federation of St. Louis, asked Peres about working in the 1930s as a shepherd on a kibbutz in British-controlled Palestine. Peres told him that he handled the sheep OK but that cows “are very hard to guide.”

“They go wherever they want to go,” Rosenberg recalled him saying. “You try to bring them in one direction and they walk off in a different direction.”

Then he added, “It was very good experience for working with the Jewish community,’ ” Rosenberg recalls. “I thought it was an incredibly funny line. I think that’s an indication of his wit, he took a strange question and turned it into a funny joke.”

Rosenberg also attended several Israeli Presidential conferences, gatherings of leaders in fields ranging from business to art, founded by Peres in 2008. 

“Whenever he spoke, he did so with a great deal of passion, not only for the Jewish community, but also for the whole Middle East environment. He had a vision of collaborative Middle East, where Arab countries and Israel were working together and cooperating on water projects and energy projects. He really believed that that was possible, and he spent the last section of his life trying to pursue that.”

Heschel Raskas, a former Federation president, also had memories of Peres both in St. Louis and at the conferences in Israel. He introduced Peres at a press conference in St. Louis.

“I was particularly impressed by his ability to communicate his vision of peace and the importance of Israel for the Jewish people and the world,” Raskas said.

He once was in the audience at a president’s conference in 2013 for a panel discussion of Arab bloggers co-hosted by Peres and actress Sharon Stone.

“He coaxed her into talking about how she had gone to the Western Wall and what that meant to her,” Raskas recalled. 

Both Rosenberg and Raskas said they noticed Peres’ well-known curious nature. Rosenberg praised Peres as an early champion of nanotechnology.

That ability to move among a number of different arenas is one of Peres’ qualities that Rabbi Carnie Rose of Congregation B’nai Amoona admired.

“I’m always struck by that generation of leaders who were so broadminded,” said Rose. “They were well read; they were masters of all. They didn’t just know their own area. Their libraries were vast and they had a deep appreciation for what the Jews have created over the course of time. I don’t think we are going to see those kinds of people; I don’t experience them in the next group of leaders.”

Peres also had admirers among the millennial crowd. National Public Radio reporter Daniel Estrin, a St. Louis native, did a story after Peres’ death about how the leader had shot a music video encouraging people to friend him on Facebook and push for peace.

Julia Katzman, a recent college graduate from St. Louis who is participating in a 10-month volunteer program in Tel Aviv, attended Peres’ funeral at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem. They had to ride buses under tight security from a military cemetery in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But once she arrived at the funeral, it was “very small, intimate,” she recalled.

“I thought I would be standing in a crowd with a ton of people, looking at a jumbo screen,” said Katzman, who grew up attending Central Reform Congregation and graduated from Boston University.

She was struck by seeing former President Bill Clinton “very visibly moved and emotional.”

During a eulogy, Clinton said, “Critics often claimed that (Peres) was a naïve, overly-optimistic dreamer. They were only wrong about the naïve part.”

Katzman, who is volunteering at a south Tel Aviv nursery school for children of asylum seekers, said that Peres’ idealism was a theme throughout the speeches. 

There was significant talk, Katzman said, about how Peres was “ahead of his time and also a remnant of the past, at a time when idealism was really a part of Israel.”