Listening to Shimon Peres

Listening to Shimon Peres

On Sunday, the Times of Israel had a gala dinner to begin its fourth year. It was held at the legendarily glamorous Waldorf Astoria; the absolutely ludicrous cold outside made the hotel’s luxury gleam even more warmly.

The room was packed, and so was the roster of speakers. Each was impressive.

Among them was Shimon Peres, the recently retired president of Israel, who is also a former prime minister and the holder of many other positions and winner of many prizes. He was ushered to a chair on stage, and spoke in conversation with David Horovitz, the Times of Israel’s founder and editor.

Shimon Peres, it is fair to say, is old. He was born in Poland in 1923 and moved to what was then Palestine in 1934. His story and the state’s are intimately entwined.

That is why it was so moving to listen to him talk about the future. Despite all he has lived through, all the sorrow and death he’s seen, Mr. Peres still is an optimist. He could see no reason for French Jews to leave France unless they actively want to, but they should not be forced out by fear, he said. Remember, he told the crowd, that although Alfred Dreyfus was degraded and exiled, he came back, exonerated and reinstated into the French army, the plot against him unmasked by the non-Jewish writer and fighter for justice Emile Zola. “Remember,” Mr. Peres said, “that in the Dreyfus story, it was Zola who won.”

“Israel must remain a land of hope, not a land of fear,” he said. “Don’t be pessimistic. Don’t think that everything that is bad now will be bad forever.” Evil passes, he said, and that is aided by the truth that “every generation is a little better than the preceding one was.”

He had two pieces of advice for the audience: “Keep your children Jewish,” he said. “And let’s continue to construct. To build.”

Whether you think that Mr. Peres’s optimism is the fruit of his long experience or simply willful naiveté despite what he should have learned from that experience, it was hard not to be moved by it.

Whether or not we think it is likely, let’s hope that he’s right.