A Major Life Lived

Jewish Light Editorial

In 1923:

The Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (USSR) was formed.

The failed “Beer Hall Putsch” resulted in prison time for Adolf Hitler, who dictated “Mein Kampf” to Rudolf Hess while serving his sentence. 

Time Magazine launched.

Cecil B DeMille’s first version of “The Ten Commandments” was released.

Beth Shalom Cemetery ad

And Shimon Peres was born.

The last in that list might not have been major news at the time, but in the 10th decade following, as he passed away, his impact on the world was recognized as profound indeed.

The career of Peres, a protégé of David Ben-Gurion, seems almost of impossible proportions. He was a youth delegate to the world Zionist Congress in 1946, along with the legendary military leader Moshe Dayan. He joined the Haganah (predecessor to the Israeli Defense Forces) in 1947, and when Israel became a nation, was tapped to head up the country’s naval forces.

He served twice as Israel’s prime minister and twice as an interim in the same role. He was a member of Knesset for all but three months between 1959 and 2007. And then he became the nation’s president.

This career wasn’t simply notable for its longevity, of course. He helped plan the Suez war in 1956. He worked with U.S. President John Kennedy on the first sale of American military equipment to Israel. When Defense Minister, he and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin led the planning and implementation of the amazing 1976 rescue in Entebbe, Uganda. He and  Rabin also put together the 1994 Jordan-Israel peace treaty. This once-hawkish leader came to recognize the importance and necessity of economic and multinational cooperation.

And then there were the Oslo Accords, which brought Peres, Rabin and Yasser Arafat the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. What so many hoped would be the permanent solution to Israeli-Palestinian strife turned out to be a short-lived success, and created some of the constructs that remain today, such as the establishment of the then-interim Palestinian Authority.

Along the way, Peres was also a major proponent of Israel’s development in the technology sector, with strong advocacy for nanotechnology and brain research, the latter not surprising, as he was himself a polyglot who spoke six languages. He was one of those given credit for Israel’s development and reputation as the “Start Up Nation,” as detailed in Dan Senor and Saul Singer’s classic book. Even this year, months before his passing, he helped lead the creation of the Israel innovation center, located in the Arab area of Ajami, Jaffa.

Peres remained integral to Israeli public life almost to the end of his life. He became president in 2007, serving in the position for seven years and acting as a singular ambassador for Israel’s interests. He was honored on a variety of occasions for his contributions to statesmanship, including receipt of an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II and recognition from Bedouin leadership in Israel. 

This life, this distinguished and remarkable life, was emblematic of Israel itself. From war commander to the leadership of an incipient nation to the broker of peace and beyond, Peres’ life is coextensive with, and practically a microcosm of, the history of the nation.

Israel, and for that matter Israeli relations with the United States and the world, could not be what it is today without the existence of this singular force. We may have lost his presence, but his impact in this world will be felt for decades, if not centuries, to come.