On Tuesday night, former Israeli prime minister and president Shimon Peres (z”l) passed away. Peres was born in Poland and immigrated to Palestine at age 11 before settling in Tel Aviv. He began his political career at the side of Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, at age 24. From there, he held various positions as a member of twelve cabinets, served as prime minister on three separate occasions and later in life became the 9th president (largely a ceremonial role) in Israel’s history.
On Wednesday, the Jewish Federation sent a statement sharing our sadness on Mr. Peres’ passing. Several community members wrote me back and shared their own personal stories and connections with Mr. Peres. If you have anything to share, please do.
I, too, had the privilege of meeting Shimon Peres on many occasions. In every interaction he was personable, engaged, and quite friendly. He was also very funny– check out his hilarious job search video following his term as president. Moreover, he may be the most eloquent Israeli speaker in English I have ever heard.
In March 2003 a teen/children’s movie came out called,Agent Cody Banks, a “spy action thriller” that follows the adventures of a 15 year-old who has to finish his chores, avoid getting grounded, and save the world by going undercover for the CIA as a James Bond type superspy.
While traveling on El Al Airlines to Israel in June 2003, they showed the movie on the plane. In the movie they talked about nanotechnology (something I had never heard of – remember this was 2003) and had these invented creatures called nanobots. Well, when my small group had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Peres over breakfast at the hotel, he shared his dreams for peace, as well as his pride in new technologies being developed in Israel – from water irrigation to nanotechnology. He asked if anyone had heard of nanotechnology and I sheepishly raised my hand. Immediately following the breakfast, while everyone went to their hotel room to get their things for the day, he asked me to stay behind. We then engaged in a 20 minute conversation about the incredible benefits of nanotechnology – and everything I knew I learned from Agent Cody Banks.
Much has been written about Mr. Peres since his passing, and here are two of my favorite quotes from him:
"My greatest mistake is that my dreams were too small."
“You're only as great as the cause you serve.”
Eric Fingerhut, President of Hillel International wrote,“Shimon Peres taught us so much by his example. He taught us what it means to live a life committed to the Jewish people and the building of the State of Israel. He taught us that defending Israel and searching for peace are not contradictions, but rather are two sides of the same coin. He taught us that every career has moments of achievement and moments of disappointment, but that you cannot allow the disappointments to embitter you or cause you to lose your confidence in your capacity to lead. He taught us that there is a time for partisanship and debate, and a time for unity and locking arms. He taught us that growing old truly can be a path to wisdom, and that we should all wish to be judged, and to judge others, by the totality of our lives.”
May Shimon Peres' memory be for a blessing and his efforts for peace become a reality.
My initial intent this week was to share my thoughts on the New Year for our Jewish community. But so much happened this past week that I will wait until next Friday to write. I will also include thoughts on Dr. Ellen Eisenberg’s new book, The Jewish Oregon Story 1950-2010.
On Wednesday night, Ambassador Dennis Ross spoke to Jewish Federation donors at the Cornerstone Event and shared personal reflections on Shimon Peres (z”l), as well as gave an informative and interesting backdrop to the past and present in the Middle East. (He did the same with 70 students from Lewis and Clark earlier in the day.) Amb. Ross was outstanding in explaining how administrations from Truman to Obama viewed the Middle East, the nuances of the region, and the challenges facing the next administration.
As I shared last week, we are now in our 100 Days of Impact for our community’s campaign. I am proud to inform you that in our official first week of the 2017 Campaign, we have raised $1.6 million. In addition, for a 5th year our community has an incredible $200,000 matching challenge grant for all increases of 10% or more. In the past, the donor has asked to be anonymous, but I am pleased to announce that Scott (a Portland native) and Elena Shleifer, who live in New York City, are the generous donors of this grant. In the past four years they have already donated $600,000 in matching funds to strengthen Jewish life in Portland. Our community is so grateful. Help us maximize the opportunity again!
In case you missed it, please check out a meaningful video message from the Jewish Federation’s Chairman of the Board, Ed Tonkin.
Mazel tov to our community’s Ilene Safyan, one of three winners in The Forward’s 2016 Soundtrack of Our Spiritcontest, a reader-inspired digital project to find the best new voices in Jewish music. Make sure you listen to her beautiful rendition of Hashkivenu.
The High Holidays start on Sunday night. Click here for a listing of the various High Holiday services throughout Portland. I encourage everyone to find their own synagogue, space and community in which to observe the holidays.
My entire family wishes each and every one a healthy, happy, and very sweet New Year in 5777. L’shanah tovah tikateyvu v’tekhateymu -- “May you be written and sealed for a Good Year.”