Shimon Peres – Pursuer of Peace

We think about Shimon Peres as he recovers from his stroke. He is a model of being true to one’s convictions: “In spite of our differences, we can build peace, not just negotiate peace.”

Jewish tradition is full of contradictions.

On the one hand, we are instructed to “be like the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace.” (Pirke Avot – Ethics of the Fathers – 1:12).

Yet, at the same time, we see in this week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei (literally, “When you go out”) a call to violence and war. “When you go out against your enemies, and the Eternal your God delivers them into your power and you take some of them captive.” (Deuteronomy 21:10).

How can we, as a people, be both “seekers of peace” and called to “violence and war” simultaneously?

Our Jewish tradition understands that one must always strive for peace, one must always actively pursue peace, but at the same time, unfortunately, bloodshed and war are a human condition which must be mitigated against. Evil must be eradicated, and at times, war cannot be avoided.

In recent Jewish and Israeli history, one person who seems to understand this dichotomy best is Shimon Peres, life-long Israeli statesman and “pursuer of peace.” I think of Shimon Peres now, not just because of the message of this weeks Torah portion, but because our thoughts are with him and his family after he suffered from a major stroke a few days ago.

He was born in Belarus in 1923 and immigrated to Israel at the age of 11. Peres was raised within the Labor-Zionist youth movement, embodying the deep belief that a Jewish State was key for the existence of the Jewish people.

And so, following Israel’s Independence in 1948, Peres was willing to fight for its very existence. First he became head of the Israeli Naval services and when he was 29 years old, he became the Director General of the Ministry of Defense. For Peres, war was a necessary evil. All of his family members who remained in Europe perished in the Holocaust.

Peres was so committed to the State of Israel that his entire professional life was one of service: he was first elected to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in 1959 and served continuously until 2007 (except for a very short break at one point). He served as Prime Minister of Israel twice, Interim Prime Minister and was elected as President of Israel in 2007, eventually retiring in 2014 – at the age of 91.shimon-peres

While Peres was willing to fight for Israel’s safety, security and right to exist, he also felt the moral imperative to actively pursue peace to the fullest extent possible.

He taught us by his word and deeds what it means to reach out to one’s enemies and make them your friends: he initiated dialogue and contact with Jordan’s King Hussein long before Israel and Jordan ever had diplomatic relations; he knew that it was crucial to work towards a peaceful relationship with the Palestinians – even when times seemed difficult.

Thus, he was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 with Yitzchak Rabin and Yasser Arafat for the work they did together, even though tensions still exist. His work for peace earned him many international awards and prizes.

I met President Peres a few times, during times of quiet and calm in Israel, during the days of strife and terror attacks. What impressed me most, was that this former military hero, never gave up hope that peace was possible. That two people’s living on one land in harmony could be a reality.

To that end, in 1996, he created the Peres Center of Peace. It is one of Israel’s leading organizations to promote peace building between Israel and its neighbors as well as between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. The Peres Center of Peace focuses on three core areas:

  • Medicine and Healthcare
  • Peace Education (through sports, the arts and technology)
  • Business and the Environment.

Peres said: “In spite of our differences, we can build peace, not just negotiate peace. We can create the proper environment , and not just become victims of the existing environment.”

You can read more about the good and important work they do here: The Peres Center for Peace.

Shimon Peres is a man who lived his life true to his convictions: willing to fight and engage in warfare when absolutely necessary, and even more willing to engage in the difficult pursuit of making peace, because this is more important than anything else.

We keep him and his family in our thoughts as he continues on his journey for healing and wholeness. His courage, conviction, strength and fortitude are models for us all.



“For the sake of Zion, I will not remain silent.” Remembering Yitzchak Rabin.

Yesterday marked the 19th anniversary of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin’s assassination. Rabin’s legacy is legendary: a military hero, who served twice as Prime Minister of Israel, Nobel Peace Price Winner and leader extraordinaire.

He understood, as was stated by his dear friend Shimon Peres at this week’s 19th Annual Memorial Rally held in support of bringing about a peace agreement, that it was better to have a “cold peace than a hot war.” Rabin signed the Peace Treaty with Jordan’s King Hussein in 1994. That same year, he won the Nobel Peace Prize, along with then-Israeli-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO Chairman, Yasser Arafat. (Side note: a second Memorial Rally will be held on Saturday evening on the theme of “Tolerance”. The speaker will be Israeli President Reuven Rivlin who is fighting against the growing racism and intolerance in the State of Israel).

The prophet Isaiah said: “For the sake of Zion, I will not remain silent. For the sake of Jerusalem, I will not rest.” (Isaiah 62:1) Rabin fought tirelessly on behalf of his beloved Zion. He worked endlessly to ensure that all peoples in Jerusalem and her surrounding neighbors could live in peace and harmony.

Yitzchak Rabin
Yitzchak Rabin

Even 19 years later, his tragic murder leaves us with many questions: would we be any closer to peace now if he were still alive? Would he have been able to act as a stabilizing influence on a region with a growing sense of fundamentalism? Would the disasterous events of this past summer’s war in Gaza and the continuous acts of terror still be taking place?

The two terrorist attacks in Jerusalem this past week leave us feeling shaky and uncertain. How do we secure Israel and her people while finding our way toward a just and lasting peace at the same time?

Shimon Peres has inherited Yitzhak Rabin’s mantle. He too speaks the language of the prophet Isaiah. Like Rabin, he neither remains silent nor rests. (Read the text of Peres’ speech at the 19th Memorial Rally here:)

But this not enough. If Rabin’s legacy is to be an enduring one, if Rabin’s murder is not to be in vain, we too must not remain silent. We too must find a way to speak out for a peaceful and just solution. We too must work tirelessly until the terror is no more, the guns are silent and “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4)

If God Would Go On a Sick Leave: A Poem of Peace

By Rabbi Zoë Klein

Nowhere is there more prayer.
The Nuns at the Holy Sepulchre.
The faithful at Al Aqsa Mosque.
The worshippers at the Wall.
The call to prayer at dawn and dusk
Warbling from the citadels.
The church bells,
The Persian trills,
The passion spilled over texts
From every major/minor religious sect.

Nowhere is there more prayer than Jerusalem,
Thanks be to God, Hamdilala, Baruch Hashem.
And yet,
I’m starting to think that it’s You and not them,
God, what’s the point of prayer?

If there’s nowhere where
There’s more prayer,
And terror reigns
Then, Who’s to blame?

If suddenly, without a whisper goodbye,
Jesus, Allah, Adonai,
The three men they admire most
All took the last train for the coast,

And the Moslems got up from their knees
And the Christians put down their rosaries
And the Jews stayed their hands from kissing
Their mezuzahs,
And everyone looked up,
And realized something’s missing…

God is missing.
Stop the praying! No One’s there,
They’d arrange a party to search everywhere.
They’d look for God
But there’d be no Presence
In Holy Books or stars and crescents
Or steeples and crosses.
People’d be at a loss,
Is He ever coming back?

They’d be so distraught,
Their searching for naught,
There’d be nothing on high
So they’d turn to on low,
There’d be nothing above
So they’d turn to below,
And they’d finally see there,
In the face of the other,
A semblance of sister,
The eyes of a brother,
They’d turn and they’d lean
Upon one another.

You see, every group can’t believe that they’re the ones chosen,
Every group can’t believe that the Holy Land’s owed them,
Sometimes faith in You, God,
Builds insurmountable walls,
And everyone falls.
Everyone falls.

How wise are the secularists for whom the dead aren’t martyred
But, quite plainly, murdered…

This might sound like an absurd,
ungodly thing to say,
A truly heretical supplication to pray,
(I say this only out of the deepest respect)
But if for a few days, God, You’d just give it a rest,
If You’d take a sick leave and just go away
And let Israel work this out without You in the way,

God, for that kind of peace,
You’re a small price to pay.
(Rabbi Zoë Klein)