A new year without Shimon Peres


I feel orphaned.

I first met Shimon Peres after entering politics, when he invited me to the President's residence. It was amazing to sit and talk with one of Israel's founding fathers, and I was honored to have many more conversations with him in the years since. Though we had an ongoing and unresolved political debate, we shared much in common, including a deep passion for education, innovation and the future of Israel.

It is hard to imagine starting a new year in Israel without Peres, who was an architect of much of our country.
Peres dedicated his life to Israel, and his biography is intertwined with the history of the state. Even after celebrating his 90th birthday this passion continued to drive him to think of ways better the future of Israel, the Jewish People and the world.

For example, after becoming the Minister of Education, I shared with Peres our main goal of drastically improving mathematics and sciences, after a decade of decline in these fields. Within a moment he volunteered to lead the national math campaign, with a glint in his eye and an obvious joy to take part in yet another national project.

Peres was a great man and a proud Jew, one of the few people I can say I truly admire. Sitting with him was like breathing history. He always had stories – from the pre-state days with Ben-Gurion and the successful Entebbe operation and rescue of Israeli hostages. But these stories from the past served a larger purpose. He used them to show that dreaming was a good thing, and that nothing was impossible. Peres knew that establishing and building a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, against all odds, was the biggest startup of his generation.

This is why, when Peres would talk about a vision for technological collaboration with Arab states around us, or saving the world through Israeli medical developments, I couldn't dismiss the ideas as impossible, however improbable they seemed. I couldn't reject them, because Peres had taken part in seemingly impossible projects before.

Peres understood that for Israel to succeed it had to think differently and to achieve what others thought could never be achieved. He knew our strengths and weaknesses, and understood our minds are our best asset. Education, he constantly said, was vital for the Jewish successes over the years. He reminded us that giving children equal opportunities was our duty. He underscored the importance of building a strong Jewish identity while educating for tolerance and acceptance.
Only a few weeks ago, Peres sent me a letter – not an email, but an actual letter! – in which he recommended I read an article about different aspects of Jewish identity. It was shortly after our last meeting, which took place at an event promoting co-existence between Jewish and Arab school children.

These interactions between us demonstrate who Peres was: a proud Zionist, Jew and Israeli.

President Peres dedicated his entire adult life, and every part of his body and soul, to the nation, working tirelessly to help Israel and aid the Jewish people. Yes, we had our differences, but the goal was a common one: working so our children and grandchildren have a stronger, better Israel.

At the most personal level, I will miss my friend Peres, and will always remember him not as a dreamer, but as a man who made dreams come true.

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