Dignitaries from around the world gathered in Jerusalem today to celebrate the 90th birthday of Israeli President Shimon Peres. Bill Clinton, Sharon Stone, Tony Blair, Dr. Ruth, Robert DeNiro and Barbra Streisand (who sung the traditional song “Avinu Malkeinu”) joined thousands of well-wishers at the capital’s International Convention Center.
As expected, Peres was showered with compliments, like this one, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “Shimon, you prove that it is possible to be curious at any age and young at any age.” Clinton referred to Peres as the “world’s social Einstein.”
The centerpiece of the event was Peres’ deeply moving, honest and beautiful speech, in which he weaved his own personal history with the history of Israel:
On this occasion, I feel grateful, because the chapters of my life are entwined with the story of the birth and the development of the State of Israel. Because I have been given the wonderful privilege to serve my country. To take part in the building of its strength. To pursue peace, our heart’s truest desire.
Peres spoke considerably more about Israel than himself — and interestingly, about his relationship with David Ben Gurion:
He taught me the importance of vision in the shaping of a desired reality. And that the moral call is the wisest of human judgments. He taught me that there is nothing more responsible than to take risks today for the sake of tomorrow’s chance. His political wisdom, his bold determination, his ability to make difficult decisions and stand by them, strong as a rock; I believe it is these traits which enabled a seemingly impossible dream to become reality, and changed forever the destiny of our people’s history.
Ever the leader, Peres was not content to rehash what his country had accomplished, but looked to the future:
Our work is not yet complete. We came to the promised land and now we must make it a land of promise. Into an exemplary country, Israel is small in territory but can be great in justice…I believe that Israel can go higher and higher, if we make the necessary decisions. We genuinely and truly strive to be a nation among nations, a nation that gives. We long for peace with our neighbors. The yesterday between us and the Palestinians is full of sadness. I believe that the Israel of tomorrow and the Palestine of tomorrow can offer our children a ray of hope.
Happy birthday, Mr. President!