School remembers Peres for heart, poetry, devotion to peace



INSPIRING: Israeli President Shimon Peres, z”l, died Sept. 27 at the age of 93. He was remembered at Shalhevet for building Israel’s defense while pursuing peace agreements. “Peace in the Middle East was the goal of his life,” said Hebrew teacher Ms. Mickey Rabinov.

By Jacob Feitelberg, Outside New Editor

Shimon Peres, who died last Tuesday, tried to be a unifier – even in Los Angeles.

In March 2012, Israel’s elder statesman and then-president spoke at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Singing the American and Israeli national anthems at the event were the combined choirs of three area Jewish high schools: Milken, New Community Jewish and Shalhevet.

Standing at attention in the front row were President Peres, then-Consul General David Siegel and then-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Shalhevet alumna Rachel Spronz ’15 was one of three students who presented flowers to President Peres as he walked onto the stage.

“Getting chosen to be one of the few that got to deliver flowers to Shimon Peres was incredible, but meeting him was even greater,” said Rachel, now a sophomore at the University of Maryland, in an interview.

“He had a huge smile on his face, and graciously gave me a kiss on my cheek as I handed him the flowers.  What a gift to the world he was.”

When Shimon Peres, former Prime Minister, President, and Knesset member of the State of Israel, died Sept. 27 at the age of 93, it seemed everyone at Shalhevet was moved and had something to say.

Dean of Students Mr. Jason Feld, who teaches Modern Middle East, described Peres’ successes.

“His most important accomplishments were the work that he did for the Israeli defense,” said Mr. Feld. “He was instrumental in founding the Israeli navy, Israeli aircraft industries — which is the foundation of the Israeli Air Force — and helped build Israel’s nuclear deterrence capability.”

Mr Peres was Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s foreign minister during the 1990s when the Oslo Accords were signed by Peres, Rabin, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

“Peace in the Middle East was the goal of his life,” said Hebrew Department chair Ms. Mickey Rabinov. “I feel so sorry [that he will not see it.”

Many Shalhevet teachers looked up to him both for his politics and for his poetry and songs.

Hebrew Teacher Mrs. Shlomit Abrams said that every year she teaches on of his poems, “Beta Yisrael Eyes,” which describes an Ethiopian-Israeli girl.

“I never saw a man that so many people, very important people, loved so much,” said Mrs. Abrams.

Leaders from all over the world including, President Barak Obama, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, attended his funeral, which was broadcast live via internet early Thursday morning Los Angeles time.

“He was a bright man, in terms of the ways he could express himself,” said Hebrew Teacher Mrs. Michal Davis. “What I really enjoy is to read interviews with him, and every time I am astonished by the way he is able to convey his opinion. It is like no other.”

During his presidency in 2007, Peres addressed the Turkish parliament to express his optimism for a lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis. This made him the first Israeli foreign minister to address the parliament of a Muslim country.

But he was not always a unifier.

“I did not always agree with his political views, but he had a lot of integrity,” said Mrs. Davis.

Mrs. Davis is not alone. Peres was very active in trying to push a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, many Israelis in Israel did not agree with him, which is evident by the fact that he lost some many times when he ran for Prime Minister.

Mr. Feld was living in Israel when the Oslo Accords were signed.

“Residents of Jerusalem caught a lot of the brunt of the terrorist activity that came along with the Oslo Peace Accords,” said Mr. Feld. “At the time, I didn’t appreciate the steps that he was taking towards reconciliation with the Palestinians. In retrospect, I can begin to appreciate his vision.”

Peres was involved with Knesset for 47 years either as Prime Minister, President, foreign minister, or as a regular representative for the Labor Party.

“[We can learn ] how to be a dedicated Jew and how to care very much about the State of Israel even if we don’t live there,” said Mrs. Davis. “He gave his heart and soul to the State of Israel. Beginning as a founder and all along his life he kept going until the end. He never gave up. We should learn [from him] to never give up for fighting for the State of Israel.”

Mrs. Rabinov said she would remember Peres for his positivity.

“He never used the words ‘it can’t happen’ or ‘I can’t do it,’ ” said Mrs. Rabinov. “He was loyal to Israel and to what he believed in. He was a hard worker all his life.”

Mrs. Rabinov also described how even after Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli extremist who opposed the Oslo Accords, Peres continued to called for peace in the region.

“What I think is important especially for Shalhevet students to recognize what an individual can accomplish and can contribute to the Jewish people and to do so in a way that really has a positive and lasting influence on the globe,” said Mr. Feld. “If you were to ask Shimon Peres in his life he would explain that he would just wake up every day and try to do what’s best for the Jewish people. I think that is an important message and lesson for us to take to heart.”

This story won a Quill & Scroll National Award in profile writing.