By Alina Dain Sharon/Israel Hayom/JNS.org
The state of Israel, as well as dignitaries and Jewish groups around the world, came together on Sept. 30 for the funeral service of former Israeli President Shimon Peres, who passed away on Sept. 28 two weeks after suffering a massive stroke. He was 93 years old.
Peres' coffin was taken to Mount Herzl on Friday morning, arriving at the national cemetery at 8:30 a.m.
The official state service was held at 9:30 a.m., with some 5,000 people in attendance.
President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, author Amos Oz, and the late president's three children, Tsvia, Yoni and Chemi spoke at the service. U.S. President Barack Obama was the last to pay tribute to the late Israeli president.
"He would have wanted us to thank you for your friendship to him, but even more for your friendship to our people. ... [He said] the role of leaders today is to serve their people, and there is no greater privilege than that. He saw in all of you leaders, friends and partners in his quest for peace," said Chemi Peres, the son of the late president, at the funeral service.
Israel's ninth president was rushed to Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer on Sept. 13 after suffering a massive stroke that led to bleeding in his brain.
Tests performed over the past two weeks prompted doctors to give Peres a "cautiously optimistic" prognosis. On Tuesday, however, his condition took a dramatic turn for the worse. He passed away around 2 a.m. on Sep. 28.
Longest political career in Israel's history
Born Szymon Perski on Aug. 2, 1923 in Vishneva, Poland, Peres immigrated with his family to then-British Palestine in 1934. In 1945, he married Sonia Gelman. In 1947, he joined the Hagana paramilitary organization, which would later become the IDF. In 1953, at just 29, he was named director general of the Defense Ministry, becoming the youngest person to ever hold the position. He was first elected to the Knesset in 1959, and would become the longest-serving Knesset member in Israeli history, including as prime minister from 1984 to 1986.
In 1992, Peres was appointed foreign minister, allowing him to participate in secret negotiations that would lead to the 1993 Oslo Accords and earn Peres, along with former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat, the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize.
After Rabin’s assassination in 1995, Peres again served as prime minister and defense minister for several months until the 1996 elections. That same year, he formed the Peres Center for Peace to promote a better understanding between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as Israeli Arabs.
Peres continued to serve in the Knesset in the late 1990s and in the 2000s. He later announced he was leaving Labor to support then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his new Kadima party. In 2007, Peres was elected Israel's ninth president.
In 2008, Peres was ordained Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George by Queen Elizabeth II. In June 2012, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from U.S. President Barack Obama, and in 2014, the U.S. House of Representatives awarded Peres the Congressional Gold Medal. Peres also authored 10 books.
Israeli messages of condolences
Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett ordered schools nationwide to dedicate the first hour of Wednesday's curriculum to Peres' legacy.
In a statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu eulogized Peres and said he joins "the Israeli public, the Jewish people and many worldwide, bowing my head in memory of the nation's beloved Shimon Peres.
"Shimon Peres' name will be forever etched in the Jewish people's book of revival, as one of the greatest leaders Israel has ever known, and one of the state of Israel's founding fathers. May his memory be cherished in the nation's heart.”
President Reuven Rivlin eulogized his predecessor, saying Peres was "young at heart and had an unwavering belief in the ability to achieve one's goals."
"There is not a chapter in the history of the state of Israel which Shimon did not write or play a part,” he said.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) issued a statement saying, "We bow our heads in respect for a great leader, champion of peace and beloved icon Shimon Peres. Blessed be his memory."
Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak also called Peres "a giant,” while Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon and Consul General in New York Dani Dayan called Peres a "man of hope.”
Global Jewish reactions
International Jewish groups are also issuing their own condolences.
“Israeli-Americans join millions around the world in mourning and saluting one of the most beloved, visionary, and respected Israeli leaders in history,” said the Israeli American Council in a statement.
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder also said Peres was “one of the greatest human beings I have ever known.”
Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky said in a statement that “when I was released from captivity and arrived in Israel, he was the first Israeli I saw upon landing when he came as prime minister to greet me. I will always remember him as the individual who started the Israeli chapter of my life. I have always admired his devotion to his values and vision.”
The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) President and CEO Jerry Silverman said “Shimon Peres was North American Jewry’s greatest ally, advocate and friend in Israel.”
The National Jewish Democratic Council called Peres “a lifelong leader and trailblazer for the Jewish people and the state of Israel,” while the Republican Jewish Coalition called him “a man of vision and a good friend of the United States.”
American Jewish Committee (AJC) CEO David Harris, who met with Peres many times both in Israel and the U.S., said that “Peres had extraordinary energy, boundless optimism, and future-oriented vision, not only about the possibilities of peace and coexistence in the region, but also about the exciting pathways of new technologies for the benefit of humankind—from nano-science to mapping the brain.”
A global eulogy for Israel’s founding father
Peres' funeral took place on Friday. He lay in state at the Knesset Plaza on Thursday, so the public could bid farewell to Israel's most veteran statesman. The Israeli flag flew at half-mast at government buildings as well as Israeli diplomatic missions abroad.
Dozens of world leaders attended the funeral service. Among the leaders were Obama, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Clinton, French President Francois Hollande, Britain's Prince Charles, former British Prime Minister David Cameron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, German President Joachim Gauck and many others.
In a statement before the funeral, Obama called Peres "the essence of Israel itself."
“A light has gone out, but the hope he gave us will burn forever,” Obama said. “Shimon Peres was a soldier for Israel, for the Jewish people, for justice, for peace, and for the belief that we can be true to our best selves -- to the very end of our time on earth, and in the legacy that we leave to others. For the gift of his friendship and the example of his leadership, todah rabah (thank you very much), Shimon.”
"I am sadder than words can express. This is a man who was a political giant, a statesman who will rank as one of the foremost of this era or any era, and someone I loved deeply,” said former British Prime Minister and Quartet envoy to the Middle East Tony Blair.
German President Joachim Gauck lauded Peres as a "model for peace." Russian President Vladimir Putin in a message of condolence said, “I was lucky enough to have the chance to speak with this remarkable person many times. Every time I admired his courage and patriotism, his wisdom and vision, his ability to grasp the essence of the most difficult issues.”
"In many ways, he reminded me of some other giants of the 20th century that I’ve had the honor to meet — men like Nelson Mandela; women like Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth," Obama also said during his funeral eulogy.
“Our father’s legacy has always been the future," Peres’s son, Chemi, said. "Look to tomorrow, he taught us, build Israel’s future with courage and with wisdom and always continue to strive for peace. We were privileged to have been part of his private family. But today, we sense that the entire nation of Israel and the global community mourn this great loss. We share this pain, together."