Earlier this year I had a unique opportunity to sit down with Shimon Peres, in his apartment in Tel Aviv with four colleagues for an informal discussion. I was in Israel was a quick three-day trip which included a two-day meeting and one day packed full of meetings of which this was one. I will say traveling that far and back in three days is extremely taxing, but this meeting was an absolutely unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
While sipping white wine, he reminisced about his time with former Presidents Carter, Reagan, and Clinton. We talked about contemporary issues, current events, and world leaders such as Obama, Putin, Syria, and the upcoming American elections. His insight was unparalleled and his memory unfailing.
Peres’ passing on Sept. 28 at age 93 symbolizes the end of an era. He is one of the last remaining members of the founding generation of the State of Israel and is seen by many in Israel, and abroad, as a moral compass and elder statesman representing our loftiest ambitions. Over a career spanning more than seven decades, Peres has held almost every senior political office in Israel, including three terms as prime minister, foreign minister, finance minister, and president. Importantly, Peres is viewed as a source of strength and promise in a world increasingly hostile toward Israel and Jews.
Sitting with Peres for an extended period of time was a remarkable experience. His lasting message was not morose or depressing, but filled with optimism and hope. Perhaps, above all else, Peres will best be remembered as a peacemaker and as someone who constantly strove for peace. He received the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the Oslo Accords, and has devoted much of his later career to the Peres Center for Peace, which he founded to foster peace between Israel and its neighbors. Recently, in 2012, President Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom which is given to those “for especially meritorious contribution to (1) the security or national interests of the United States, or (2) world peace, or (3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” The Nobel Prize, Presidential Medal of Freedom, and many other awards and accolades speak to the extraordinary impact he has had on the world.
I feel blessed to have had this opportunity to engage, in this with way, with Shimon Peres. His death is a loss to not only the Jewish people and Israel, but to all of humanity.
His final thoughts to our small group assembled on his couch was to never gratuitously attack our opponents and always be willing to find their humanity. He followed that up by saying that we should be careful about the words we use and not give into impulses toward crudeness and personal attacks.
I think those are wise words, especially for today.
Jacob Millner is a Senior Policy Analyst and the Midwest Director for The Israel Project.