29 September 2016
“Where may a person like that yet be found” by Natan Yonatan
איפה ישנם עוד אנשים כמו האיש ההוא
I was four-years-old when Shimon Peres and Yitzchak Shamir came to the absorption center where my family was staying. I was asked, along with many other kids, to welcome them wearing blue and white clothing and holding Israeli flags. I was so excited about this event even though all I knew was we were welcoming two important people, who everyone around us respected and were eager to meet. Peres touched my head and smiled at me and I thought he was a nice person.
Years later, in 2009, Peres was the first president to host a formal celebration of the Sigd holyday (an Ethiopian Jewish holiday) and I had the honor of moderating that event. Before we started the event, Peres asked to meet me in-person, alone in his office. I thought he wanted me to go through the questions I prepared, but instead, he inquired about how I, and my younger generation felt about our integration in Israel. It was a deep and honest conversation, but what was most impressive to me was his optimistic outlook.
Peres asked me if I saw a promising future for our community in Israel, and he ended the conversation by saying he is positive that we will achieve a lot and will be at the forefront of many things. He went on to say that we just need to believe in ourselves and our country. This optimism was what made him such a great, well-respected leader. He famously said, “Optimists and pessimists die the same way. They just live very different lives.” Peres was a true believer and visionary, he believed in our state and he believed in our people.
A couple of years later, I was nominated to be a member of the council for higher education, with the honor of getting the nomination directly from President Peres. I was eight months pregnant at the time. Peres handed me the nomination and whispered in my ears, “I heard you have an MA.” I confirmed, “Yes, Mr. President. ” He said,” I say you should continue with a doctorate and go on to become a professor like them.” I smiled at him and we took a picture together. That was Peres, an eternal visionary, never limiting his imagination of what he or others can achieve in life; always striving toward goals ahead, looking to the next milestone. The three times in my life that I had the kavod (honor)to meet him in person, I was always left feeling inspired and enthusiastic to pursue my next aspiration.
Peres is part of generation that no longer exists, a group that was strong enough not to give up on the old vision. Even with all the changes he faced, he knew how to accommodate them to strengthen his vision. He was brave and ambitious when others would get cynical or skeptical. He viewed the world and its future as a cup half-full. He was a dreamer who never slacked on his goals and never sacrificed our expectations. May his steadfast determination and his eternal optimism be an inspiration for us all.
May his memory be a blessing.
Pnina Agenyahu is the Jewish Agency for Israel Senior Shlicha to The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.
Senior Shlicha (Emissary) for Israel Engagement
The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington
The Jewish Agency for Israel