I am weeping as I write to you, because a dear friend of mine…a giant of a man…a heroic defender of Israel…and a wonderful friend and help to the work of the Jerusalem Prayer Team…President Shimon Peres has died. He was a giant whose life spanned the entire history of the modern state of Israel from the miracle rebirth of the nation in 1948 until now. His loss leaves a void that can never be truly filled.
“He was a giant whose life spanned the entire history of the modern state of Israel from the miracle rebirth of the nation in 1948 until now. His loss leaves a void that can never be truly filled.”
In August of 1923 in what is now Vishnyeva, Belarus (the same town where my mother’s grandparents lived) Shimon Peres, whose birth name was Szymon Perski, was born into a Jewish family. The family was well to do, but because they were Jewish they faced continued threats of persecution and violence. In the early 1930s, Peres’ father made the difficult but critical decision to move the family to Israel. It proved to be literally a life-and-death choice as every single one of the members of the extended family who remained behind perished in the Holocaust.
Peres grew up in an Israel controlled by the British Empire. But even before the Second World War the land was not at peace. There were continued attacks on Jewish homes and settlements by Arab paramilitary groups. The British often turned a blind eye to these in an effort to placate their allies in the region. Peres was arrested by British forces in 1944 while leading an expedition into the Negev Desert and spent time in jail.
After the end of the Second World War the struggle for the rebirth of Israel took on a new urgency. The Holocaust made the need for a safe homeland unmistakable, but there were many obstacles. Peres worked closely with David Ben-Gurion who would become Israel’s first prime minister, during the period leading up to Israel’s independence in 1948. He had responsibility for acquiring arms and personnel for the fledgling Israeli military forces. Following the War for Independence, Peres became the youngest man ever to serve as Director General of Israel’s Defense Department.
He went on to become a fixture in Israel’s political life, serving his nation in one capacity or another for fifty-five years. Peres remains the only person ever to have served as both Prime Minister and President of Israel. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and repeatedly recognized and honored by world leaders for his commitment to peace.
But I knew him not just as a great political leader and a man of enormous integrity, but as a man with a clear vision. When President Peres agreed to serve as the Chairman of the Board of the Friends of Zion Heritage Center it was an invaluable asset to our ministry, opening so many doors and giving us an amazing level of credibility both inside Israel and around the world.
But it was more than that. It was an expression of President Peres’ genuine and heartfelt commitment to reaching out to bring people together. He truly was a man of peace and vision. His funeral will be held on Friday and I plan to be there as your representative. Please pray for his family and for the entire nation of Israel as they mourn this great loss.