JERUSALEM — The youngsters of Israel enveloped U.S. President Bill Clinton with love last week.
Young people from schools all over the country crowded into the huge auditorium of Tel Aviv's Performing Arts Center and waited for more than two hours for him to appear.
"We want to tell him that the young in Israel love people like Clinton who, although they are terribly busy and terribly important, take the time to come and tell us they are on our side," one boy said.
Clinton spoke to them of the destiny of the Jewish people, of Yitzhak Rabin, and of the great period of change in which we are living. Clinton told the youths that Israel is not alone, that America stands with them and supports them.
He promised that the anti-terrorism conference in Sharm el-Sheik will not end in words alone, and reiterated Washington's commitment to fight with Israel against terrorism.
He called on the young people not to abandon hope in the face of adversity and to fight to fulfill their dream of a better future.
Clinton, who was presented by Peres as "a man who is trying to change the future from blood to hope," seemed to enchant the approximately 1,000 audience members.
"We know that overcoming adversity is the genius of the Jewish people and the history of the state of Israel," Clinton said. "No nation on earth knows [better] that the path of trial often passes through tragedy.
"No people knows better, through millennia of exile and persecution, inquisition and pogroms, and the ultimate evil of the Holocaust, that you must deny victory to oppressors, that you must flourish — indeed flourish, not just endure — against all odds."
Peres, who spoke before Clinton, was received with a storm of applause. He spoke of the joint Israel-U.S. efforts "to turn a region of hatred, fighting, suspicion, and cynicism into a region of understanding and hope."
Despite running late, Clinton answered questions from four students. He shook hands of students in two choirs and stood smiling widely for a photo opportunity.
He lingered, waving to the cheering youngsters. A sea of hands waved back, until he walked away.