Bay Area leaders remember Peres as man of culture

Bay Area leaders gathered on Nov. 1 at San Francisco Congregation Emanu-El to remember former Israeli President Shimon Peres, longtime Israeli political leader and peace activist, who died Sept. 28 in Tel Aviv at 93.

Roselyne Swig speaks at Emanu-El memorial flanked by Rabbis Jonathan and Beth Singer. photo/maya lekach

The ceremony, sponsored by the congregation along with the S.F-based and East Bay Jewish Federations, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Israeli Consulate, began with the singing of the American and Israeli national anthems, underscoring Peres’ strong connections to diaspora life, and to San Francisco in particular.

After a memorial candlelighting, local luminaries reflected on the late leader’s contributions to Israeli prosperity, Middle East peace and, most recently, technology as the hope for the future.

Through his seven decades of service to the country he loved, Peres was Israel’s foreign minister, president and prime minister twice. He was the key mover behind the 1993 Oslo Accord, which earned him a Nobel Peace Prize. But it was his personality, wit, vim and vigor that many of the speakers recalled.

“Peres was comfortable dealing with politicians, but he was also comfortable in museums and concert halls,” said Eran Kaplan, professor of Israel studies at San Francisco State University. “He was a man of culture who loved science as much as art, politics as much as agriculture.”

“I always felt a special calm as I listened to him and observed his demeanor,” recalled Bay Area philanthropist Roselyne Swig. “We learned by following his lead.”

San Francisco-based Israeli Consul General Andy David said he was lucky enough to spend time with the elder statesman every year.

“Peres often said,” David told the crowd of about 50, “that ‘Israel is the most dramatic country in the world … when I leave I am bored.’ ”

While initially a strong military leader, and always dedicated to preserving the safety and security of the Jewish state, Peres’ later years were dedicated to Middle East peace, the purpose of the Peres Center for Peace he founded two decades ago in Tel Aviv.

Peres never stopped pursuing his many interests, rooted in the Zionist work ethic. “To do, and to do peace,” said Kaplan, “is the legacy that he would like us all to keep.”