Meeting Shimon Peres

July 9, 2013 by  
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Incoming UIA WA Chairperson, Melanie Greenfeld, reports on her recent visit to Israel where she was invited to attend the Keren Hayesod World Conference and the Presidential Conference in Jerusalem…

From Melanie Greenfeld, Perth:

Melanie Greenfeld

Melanie Greenfeld

Over the past four years our Perth UIA message has been, “we share the pride – we share the responsibility.” This was encapsulated by my recent experience in Israel. On the eve of the Presidential Conference, a gala event was held to celebrate President Shimon Peres’ 90th birthday and it began with a warm and enthusiastic opening speech by Tony Blair. He described Peres as a man known around the world as a person of “passion and compassion” who has a “deep and abiding love of Israel and of humanity.” This was followed by a stage filled with young children singing to Peres, and many more musical performances, punctuated by recorded birthday messages from leaders around the world. The President’s children and grandchildren spoke of his eternal optimism, a sentiment echoed in a moving speech by Bill Clinton, who added, “Everyone who has known you has been showered in the grace of your service and friendship.” PM Benjamin Netanyahu stated that Peres has “devoted his life to build Israel and to build peace.”

A highlight of the evening was a performance by Barbra Streisand who sang a moving adaptation of Avinu Malkeinu, earning her a standing ovation. She followed this with a stirring rendition of People from her hit movie ‘Funny Girl.’

The evening ended with Shimon Peres’ address. He spoke of his revered grandfather, Rabbi Tzvi Melzer, who was murdered by the Nazis. “He taught me the Talmud during the day, and Tolstoy at night. He shaped my life as a child.” Peres talked about Israel’s achievements, which “did not happen overnight. It was a long journey that came at an unbearable price. We have known seven wars. We endured them all by virtue of our sons and daughters, by virtue of our soldiers, and by virtue of the parents who raised them. We built a vibrant democracy and a diverse society. We made Israel a global hub for hi-tech, science and creativity. We turned a refusing land into an inspiring oasis.”

The Presidential Conference attracted leading international and Israeli speakers in the fields of politics, economics, psychology, commerce, science and leadership. As a psychologist, I was particularly interested to hear a talk by Israeli Professor Daniel Kahneman, recognised as one of the world’s most influential people in the field of psychology. Charismatic presentations were given by Israeli Finance Minister, Yair Lapid, and Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel. They both spoke of the need to embrace change and of Israel’s expertise in entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation. There was an impressive exhibition of Israel’s cutting-edge brain research and studies being conducted that will enable improved treatment of the many different brain diseases, from Alzheimer’s to schizophrenia.

There were sessions with some famous celebrities, most notably Robert de Niro and Sharon Stone, who had flown into Israel with family members to attend the event.

Meeting Shimon Peres was the highlight of my trip and his soft-spoken manner and gentleness of spirit will remain with me forever. Regardless of one’s political views, Peres should be appreciated as someone who has brought immeasurable positive regard to Israel. Bill Clinton referred to him as his “personal friend and a global treasure.” Notably, Clinton’s generosity in returning the entire fee that he was paid for his attendance, to the Peres Academic Centre, was a fitting gesture.

Participating in the Keren Hayesod conference was also an uplifting experience as I met workers and donors from throughout Europe, South America and South Africa who are passionate about Israel and working as partners towards ensuring Jewish continuity. When we work in our isolated Perth community, we often lose sight of our ‘global family’. We discussed issues relating to communal challenges, such as fundraising, engaging the younger generation and promoting Jewish education. The conference ended with a dinner to honour Frank Lowy AC, whose involvement spans half a century. He received the distinguished Nadiv Award. Frank spoke of the philosophy of his parents who, in their modest circumstances, practised the Jewish tradition of sharing and collective responsibility. He expressed the message that “by giving us a way to participate and meet our obligations to each other, Keren Hayesod enriches our lives and brings us closer together.”

During the conference,  Bev Michaelis and Judy Stromer from Sydney, were presented with Keren Hayesod International Women’s Division Awards of Excellence. These awards recognise outstanding women and the contributions they have made to the goals of Keren Hayesod Women’s Division worldwide through their devoted service.

I have returned from this wonderful week in Israel with a positive and hopeful outlook for the future of this remarkable country. Having ‘shared in the pride,’ I have also been inspired to continue to participate in  ‘the responsibility’ of working to assist with the well-being of Israel and its people. There are many in our Australian community who are dedicated to this common goal and it may be wise for us to strive to emulate some of the admirable attributes of Shimon Peres – his vision, enthusiasm, passion, persistence,  and, of course, his optimism.


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