Ron Weiser was fortunate to be at the gala bash for Shimon Peres. Here is his report:
Last night time stood still, politics were put aside and people from all walks of life in both Israel and from overseas came to celebrate the 90th birthday of President Shimon Peres.
But it was much more than that, it was a celebration of his life and the life of the State of Israel.
There is no person in Israel who can bring such a wide variety of people from all over the world to Israel and who understand that when paying tribute to Peres’ life they are also paying tribute to Israel herself.
It was an amazing birthday party, very professionally done and a fantastic opening to the now annual President’s Conference called “Tomorrow” – a true extravaganza.
As the hall began to fill with some 4,000 people, one could hear the Americans in the audience talking about “bragging rights” as one leading US philanthropost explained to me – who managed to get a ticket to get in and who sat where??!!
A personal highlight for me was meeting Norman Issa who was one of the hundreds of non Jews who came to celebrate the President’s birthday. Norman is the star of one of my favourite Israeli TV shows – Avoda Aravit – Arab Labour. The series is the best form of comedy – extremely funny, but dealing with serious issues. Norman is an Israeli Arab from Jaffa in a show produced by a kippa wearing Israeli Jew – yes, that is how it goes in Israel! Each episode highlights in a hilarious way, the situation faced by Israeli Arabs living in the Jewish State.
Back to the main game – There were heads of State from Albania to Rwanda.
Leaders in high tech, in banking, in philosophy, thinkers and dreamers.
Hollywood stars such as Sharon Stone who said that she had married 2 Jews and was therefore “Jew-ish” and that she had also come to celebrate her son’s bar mitzvah at the Kottel.
Robert De Niro was a little puzzled – he understood Peres’ birthday to be actually a couple of months away still, as they almost share a birthdate in August and he wondered why Israel was celebrating the birthday early.
His conclusion – that this defined Israeli optimism – confident that celebrating early was not really an issue for a young man of 89.
De Niro explained that he had brought his 17 year old son with him to meet Peres personally so that this young man could be inspired about his and humanity’s future.
Ex British PM Tony Blair opened proceedings with his usual eloquence, the very impressive and very high tech stage carried Israeli artists, school children, Peres’ children and grandchildren, a comedianne, dancers, singers such as Shlomo Artzi all in a live spectacular.
Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke warmly and with great praise about Shimon Peres and his lifelong dedication to Israel and the Jewish People.
Then via video link tributes were paid by world leaders such as Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, Ban Ki Moon and Barack Obama.
Some of the live highlights included:
– The story of an Arab baby from Hebron who was born with a congenital heart problem.
The Peres Centre organised for him to be taken to an Israeli hospital where we saw on video how his life was saved in the operating theatre.
And then, in a moment of high drama, the boy now 10 years old, walked out on stage and thanked President Peres in Arabic for the life saving work done by the Peres Centre
– Ex US President Clinton brought the house down with some great comedic lines such as:
“Shimon Peres is the only living Israeli from the time of King David”
And “Shimon and I made a deal, I would come here to speak at his 90th and he agreed to come and speak at my 80th and 90th and to then give the eulogy at my funeral”
Clinton continued more seriously about the life and times of Shimon Peres and the true meaning of the word “Statesman”.
Wondering what could top that…….Barbra Streisand came on stage and stole the show singing Avinu Malkeinu.
And finally the man himself – a very young 90 (well almost) – Shimon Peres spoke about the future, about the importance of moving forward, of innovation and of his hopes and dreams for “Tomorrow”.
What is very hard to appreciate in Australia, with the constant pessimism that surrounds many of the people who lack balance and context when they speak of Israel in negative terms, is the truly amazing optimism about Israel’s future that is a constant theme of both Jews and non Jews alike at this Conference.
And of the clear respect that speaker after speaker, from all points around the globe and from so many different backgrounds, express about Israel’s moral fibre and passion and creativity and positive contributions to a constantly changing world.
Perhaps in some ways, despite all of his many earlier achievements, this Conference and what it represents about and for Israel, is one of his best.
Happy Birthday Mr President.