A year ago Shimon Peres, President of Israel, passed away after an incredibly long career of pubic service. Here's what I posted on Facebook on September 28, 2016...
Today the Jewish People lost a giant in Shimon Peres, z"l, the last of Israel's founding leaders. At 93, he not only witnessed the extraordinary moments of our history in the last almost-century, but also took part in them, led them, and achieved the kinds of dreams that for two thousand years the Jewish People hoped, prayed, and worked for.
Twice prime minister, recently president, Peres rose from Ben Gurion's inner circle in the 1940s and 50s to earn the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to achieve peace with the Palestinians in 1994. From his contentious politics to his frenemy relationship with Yitzhak Rabin to his extraordinary popularity as president, Peres' constant presence has been a living link with our past, from the lows of the Holocaust to the highs of Independence, from the dark days of war to the triumphs of peace.
Peres embodied many of the contradictions necessary in what Israelis often call their "normal abnormal country." He led the effort to acquire nuclear weapons and he also pursued peace negotiations, even in secrety, with Israel's neighbors. He helped organize the Israel Defense Forces, but also believed that economic development for, and cultural diplomacy with, the Palestinians would bring Israel lasting security. Even in his 80s and 90s, Peres embraced technological innovation and social media like no other Israeli leader (his Facebook friend request video is masterful). In Israel he often represented the divisiveness of left and right; abroad, especially in America, he represented the best of Jewish aspirations for the Zionist project in the Jewish homeland.
He helped bring about the kind of nation that Israel is today -- strong, prosperous, vibrant, and democratic, while under constant threat amidst an unstable Middle East. He had his missteps and bad decisions, his petty political fights and his wrongheaded policies. But in his later years he transcended those mistakes to show us what shared society can look like, what a Jewish state can do, and what the Zionist dream has still to achieve.
A certain unmooring occurs when a nation loses the last of its founding leaders. Suddenly society is without that last tether to the past, without a living pillar to exemplify. It finds itself alone with its future. No one is left to encourage forward progress or wag the finger of reprobation. So what will Israel become now that the last of its founders is gone? Peres would no doubt find that question at least a little amusing: how lucky we are that Israel has survived long enough to even ask!
"Yesterday a dream, today a commitment," Peres said about the signing of peace accords with the Palestinians in 1993. Shimon Peres now belongs to the dreams and achievements of yesterday. Today we, the Jewish People, have to ask ourselves to which parts of his legacy are we prepared to commit.
In the Jewish tradition we attach the honorific z"l after the name of someone who has died. Zichronoh livrakha. Of blessed memory. It's a reminder to us, the living, that this person meant something to us. I've seen Shimon Peres in person twice in my life. Both times he looked not like the mortal man he was, or even the leader of Israel he was, but like the last living symbol of our people fulfilling a two thousand year-old dream that doesn't die.