At start of shiva, Peres family invites all Israelis to pay respects

Hundreds visit former president’s next of kin on first night of traditional week of mourning at Jaffa’s Peres Center for Peace

Chemi Peres, son of former Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres, pauses in front of his father's coffin after speaking during his funeral on September 30, 2016, at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl national cemetery. (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)
Chemi Peres, son of former Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres, pauses in front of his father's coffin after speaking during his funeral on September 30, 2016, at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl national cemetery. (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)

The family of former president Shimon Peres, who was laid to rest Friday in a state funeral attended by dozens of world leaders, began the Jewish mourning tradition of shiva on Saturday evening.

The family invited all Israelis wishing to pay their respects to visit them at Jaffa’s Peres Center for Peace in the coming days.

Hundreds arrived to do so at the end of the Sabbath.

Peres’s son Chemi told those in attendance that since his passing “we are submerged in deep grief, and feel that this grief is not only ours but all of Israel’s.”

“The love and support we have received from the citizens of Israel and from world leaders envelops us and eases the great pain,” he said.

The center was adorned with many pictures from Peres’s life. Visitors were invited to walk around and explore the former president’s work. Many approached the family to speak with them,

Attendees included US Ambassador Dan Shapiro and Supreme Court Chief Justice Miriam Naor, former members of the Knesset and former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo.

Shapiro told Ynet news he “had the privilege of meeting with Peres as ambassador” many times and felt the two had a personal connection. “He always gave me good advice on personal and diplomatic matters. He was always interested in my wife and kids. This loss has affected me personally.”

View of the Peres Center for Peace, in Jaffa, on September 28, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
View of the Peres Center for Peace, in Jaffa, on September 28, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni said he and Peres had met on numerous occasions to discuss political issues. “He had a lot of credit in the country, and as a Haredi person I can say he has credit with the Haredi public.”

But many visitors were not public officials, simply regulars Israelis who came to pay their respects.

Aliza Rubin told Walla News she was “a fan of his life’s work. His [belief] in peace, his persistence, his determination to achieve his goals.”

Sarit Mizrahi from Holon told Ynet she “very much appreciated the man and his work over the years. I met him in the 80s during the student strike at Ben Gurion University. He met with us and I told him of the students’ struggles. He was always attentive. Peres was a great man.”

Nail Zoabi, an Israeli Arab from northern Israel, said he was ashamed of Israel’s Arab leadership for refusing to attend Peres’s funeral.

US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro, December 9, 2014. (Matty Stern/US Embassy)
US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro, December 9, 2014. (Matty Stern/US Embassy)

“It was important for me to come here and say that we Arabs and Jews take part in the mourning. The Joint (Arab) List did him a great injustice. I think their action was inhumane and does not represent us, and I am ashamed of what they did.”

Peres was laid to rest Friday by dozens of world leaders who praised the former president and prime minister for pursuing peace with an indefatigable spirit and optimism, even though his vision of a “new Middle East” was never fulfilled.

At a high-powered funeral befitting the globe-trotting Peres, speakers including US President Barack Obama recalled a seven-decade political career that personified the history of Israel by building its military while also pushing it toward peace.

“He knew better than the cynic that if you look out over the arc of history, human beings should be filled not with fear but with hope,” Obama told the mourners, made up of delegations from 70 countries — an assembly of dignitaries unlikely to be seen in Israel again.

“We gather here today with the knowledge that Shimon never saw his dream of peace fulfilled,” he added. “The region is going through a chaotic time. Threats are forever present. And yet, he did not stop dreaming and he did not stop working.”

Peres, who shared a Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 with former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, died Wednesday at age 93.

Among the mourners were French President Francois Hollande, Britain’s Prince Charles, German President Joachim Gauck and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Despite the stalemate in peace talks, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sat in the front row alongside other world leaders. Representatives from Egypt and Jordan also were present.

The ceremony was Israel’s largest gathering of international dignitaries since Rabin’s funeral, and was one of the most complicated logistical and security operations ever undertaken. It required closing the main highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and deploying thousands of security forces.

Former Israeli president Shimon Peres seen at an event marking 40 years since Operation Entebbe, held at Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv. Seven passengers, who were then aged 3-16 and held hostage on the flight, attended the event, on June 27, 2016. (Ben Kelmer/FLASH90)
Former Israeli president Shimon Peres seen at an event marking 40 years since Operation Entebbe, held at Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv, on June 27, 2016. (Ben Kelmer/Flash90)

Obama described the unlikely friendship he forged with Peres, given their vastly different backgrounds, and he likened him to South Africa’s Nelson Mandela.

“It was so surprising to see the two of us, where we had started, talking together in the White House, meeting here in Israel,” Obama said. “I think both of us understood that we were here only because in some way we reflected the magnificent story of our nations.”

He ended his comments by saying in Hebrew, “Toda rabah haver yakar,” — “Thank you so much, dear friend.”

Bill Clinton was president when Peres negotiated an interim peace accord with the Palestinians in 1993. In his remarks Friday, he said Peres “started life as Israel’s brightest student, became its best teacher and ended up its biggest dreamer.”

Peres led Israel through some of its most defining moments: creating what is believed to be a nuclear arsenal in the 1950s; disentangling its troops from Lebanon and rescuing its economy from triple-digit inflation in the 1980s; and guiding a skeptical nation into peace talks with the Palestinians in the 1990s.

A protegé of David Ben Gurion, Israel’s founding father and first prime minister, Peres served in parliament for nearly half a century, held every major Cabinet post, including defense, finance and foreign affairs, and served three brief stints as prime minister. He was the country’s elder statesman as its ceremonial president between 2007 and 2014.

He also created his non-governmental Peres Center for Peace, which raised funds and ran programs for cooperation and development projects involving Israel, the Palestinians and Arab nations. He was a proponent of Israeli technology and innovation, and gained international recognition for preaching peace and coexistence.

US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Shimon Peres's funeral on Mount Herzl. September 30, 2016 (screen capture/GPO livestream)
US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Shimon Peres’s funeral on Mount Herzl. September 30, 2016 (screen capture/GPO livestream)

With his passing, Israel lost its final link to its founding generation, giving the funeral a sense of the end of an era.

“I was fortunate to look up to you as a partner in the building of the State of Israel from its very foundations,” said Reuven Rivlin, his successor as president. “You strived until your final breaths to reach the pinnacle of the Zionist dream: an independent, sovereign state, existing in peace with our neighbors.”

Netanyahu said he was a fierce political rival of Peres, Israel’s leading dove, and that the two had vastly different world views.

But he said that never got in the way of a strong personal relationship built since 1976, when Peres, as defense minister, ordered a hostage rescue mission in Entebbe, Uganda, in which Netanyahu’s older brother, Yoni, was killed.

“I loved you. We all loved you. Farewell, Shimon. Dear man. Great leader,” an emotional Netanyahu said.

Thousands of mourners viewed Peres’ casket Thursday outside the parliament building. Early Friday, an honor guard escorted the flag-draped casket, along with Peres’ family, on the short route to the cemetery.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (C) sits alongside European Council President Donald Tusk (L) and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl national cemetery during the funeral of former Israeli president Shimon Peres on September 30, 2016. (AFP/Pool/Abir Sultan)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (C) sits alongside European Council President Donald Tusk (L) and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl national cemetery during the funeral of former Israeli president Shimon Peres on September 30, 2016. (AFP/Pool/Abir Sultan)

Following the eulogies, eight members of an honor guard carried the casket to the gravesite. Netanyahu and Obama chatted along the way, also speaking to Peres’s family.

The coffin was lowered into a plot alongside two other prime ministers, Rabin and Yitzhak Shamir.

Soldiers passed bags of dirt to cover the casket, and a military cantor recited the prayer for the dead. Then it was covered in wreaths.

Peres’s daughter, Tsvia Walden, recounted her father’s boundless energy, his persistent pursuit of peace and his refusal to retire, even his in 90s.

“My father, you were a lover of life, who sprung like a lion at daybreak to fulfill his mission,” she said. “For so long, I tried to catch up with you. But now, heed my loving words. You have earned a well-deserved rest.”

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