TEL AVIV — Lighting candles and strumming guitars, a few dozen Labor activists held a “peace circle” in memory of former president Shimon Peres in Rabin Square on Thursday, September 29, to honor his approach to politics and negotiations, organizers said.
“Peres was more than just a leader. He was the one who gave meaning to works like ‘peace,’ ‘agreement,’ and ‘negotiations,’ when no one else in the government was saying those words,” said activist Elad Shpindel, 24, of Rehovot.
“Now that he’s gone, we want to stay optimistic as he did, not to give in to the ways of violence and racism or the way the government is acting today,” he added. “We feel it’s important to show to ourselves and the world that the departure of one of our central leader doesn’t mean we’re giving up. We’re going to continue in his path.”
Activists sat in a circle, lit candles, and shared their thoughts and impressions of Peres. Many had met him throughout the years over the course of their activism.
“Shimon Peres was our leader, our mentor, our model, he’s the person that you try to be like him and behave like him,” said Hilla Drechler, 32, the director of the young adults department in the municipality of Holon. “All the respect that he had for young people, for things like innovation and creativity and all of those buzzwords today, he really believed in them.”
Drechler said the activists were looking for a more dynamic way to honor his memory.
“Standing next to his coffin is important, but this felt more like the right way for us, to sit in a circle and talk,” she said. “It’s like a symbol of Peres, but also it shows that people still believe in this way of sitting together and talking about peace and believing in it.”
The sparse crowd at Rabin Square was a far cry from the estimated 45,000 people who streamed to the plaza outside the Knesset to file past Pere’s coffin and pay their last respects Thursday.
While Rabin Square was particularly resonant for Peres — who was there on the night then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, forever enshrining it as a place of national mourning — on Thursday there was more of an intimate feel.
Drechler hypothesized that because Peres’s death did not catch people by surprise, there was less of a need for the national feeling of solidarity that often accompanies massive rallies in Rabin Square, notably the annual commemoration of Rabin.
“I think if they decide to do a big event to mark 30 days [the end of one of the mourning periods in Judaism], all sorts of people will come here, the way they came to Jerusalem today,” he said.
“The biggest thing is more than Peres the person, it’s the agenda,” said Shaked Hasson, 27, of Tel Aviv. “There’s a group of people who are no longer with us, and he was one of the last ones. His belief in peace and human beings was something we have to remember and take with us and not leave it with him, because he lived for us, the young generation.”