It has been said many times already, but it is no less true for that: it is almost impossible to imagine a world without Shimon Peres.
The image we have of someone tends to be fixed when we first encounter them. For the older among us, Peres no doubt remains the wily political fox who moved from his vital behind-the-scenes role founding the IDF and ensuring Israel’s survival to the political operative who spanned decades.
For the younger, it is the beloved President, a life force in his 80s and 90s who seemed to exemplify the very spirit of Israel.
It is intriguing to think how, within Israel, he moved from the former to the latter. As a politician he was respected but never loved – never even, of course, able to persuade his fellow citizens to entrust him with the leadership of the country.
But as president he was truly adored. He played the role of father and conscience of the nation as if his previous 84 years had all been building up to this.
His influence was global. In what have been troubling times for Israel, with delegitimisation campaigns and the growing fashion for attacking Israel, Shimon Peres remained one Israeli who was listened to and respected almost everywhere. In that, for the foreseeable future, he is irreplaceable.
And yet it would be quite wrong to rebalance his life to the later years. Peres was instrumental in Israel’s security and its politics for Israel’s entire existence to date. This is his true legacy, not the end years, however glorious.
And they were glorious. One of the more banal aspects of living to 93 is that you meet an awful lot of people. And it sometimes seemed as if Shimon Peres had met everybody – or rather, that everybody had met Shimon Peres.
What is most striking, beyond the sheer number of people with their own memory of meeting him, is that for every single one that meeting was among the highlights of their life. Leave aside the statesmanship and his many singular achievements; Shimon Peres also had that rare ability to inspire those he met, whether it was among a crowd listening to him speak or in a smaller, private meeting.
I was lucky enough to meet him twice. Once, in his office in Israel during the early part of the century. I remember everything he said, and the way he said it, with his unique mixture of charm, wisdom and – I can’t think of any other word for it – flirtation.
But one of the truly prized moments of my life was when in 2008, having just started as editor of the JC, I was invited to a very small dinner given in Number Ten by Gordon Brown for the visiting president. He made everyone present feel as if we were the only person he really wanted to meet, talking to me, for example – extremely knowledgably – about the internal politics of the British-Jewish community and the JC.
They say that every generation thinks that it alone has seen the true giants, in whatever field it may be. Perhaps that is sentimental and there will be another of his like. But I doubt it, don’t you?