The passing of Shimon Peres beckons us to reflect on what his giant legacy means for us as Jews and Zionists. The last of Israel’s founding leaders, a protégé of David Ben Gurion, Peres was witness to the seven decades of the history of the modern State of Israel, with all of it highs and lows. It’s virtually impossible to identify a significant moment in Israel’s history that Peres did not influence or participate in, or a leadership position that he did not assume. In his seven years as Israel’s President, the last formal position he held before retirement, he served the nation with grace and dignity. He was instrumental in strengthening Israel’s economy and military defenses, including creating a crucial alliance with France that paved the way for Israel to develop nuclear technology.
Perhaps the most enduring aspect of the legacy of Shimon Peres is his commitment to peace. It was he who influenced a reluctant Yitzchak Rabin z”l to agree to the Oslo Accords that led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority and opened the door to peace. Peres never wavered from his passionate belief that Israel’s most promising future, and the best incarnation of the Jewish State, lie in a peaceful relationship with the Arab world. He balanced his idealism with a realistic view of the world, being tough and cautious when necessary to ensure Israel’s safety and security. He shared his optimistic vision for an Israel at peace with her neighbors in eloquent words throughout his career.
Peres was also an avid supporter of the Masorti Movement in Israel. He articulated his vision for an Israeli society that is tolerant, and supported the cause of religious pluralism as a manifestation of Israel as a democracy. He believed that religious and secular communities should seek to live together in a spirit of mutual respect and tolerance. He believed that each group in the Jewish world, and in Israel in particular, should be able to live their way of life, for, as he said, “democracy in our time is not only the right to be equal, but also the equal right to be different.” Some years ago, when speaking at a Masorti event, he said: “Different streams exist in Judaism, which has room for conservative and liberal viewpoints, for those who abide by the 613 commandments and those who say ‘Sh’ma Israel.”
Shimon Peres was surely a supporter of the idea that the Kotel, the Western Wall, should be a place where all Jews can come to pray, to celebrate and to express themselves. The idea that different streams of Judaism should live side by side in peace and tolerance was as reflection of his larger vision of peace for the Middle East and for the world. He surely supported the recent agreement among members of the Israeli government to transform the Kotel plaza into a space that acknowledges the legitimacy of not only Orthodox Jews but the non-Orthodox as well. That plan, so promising and encouraging, has been scuttled by pressure being put on the government by the ultra-Orthodox parties in the Knesset who reject non-Orthodox groups as being illegitimate expressions of Judaism.
Now it’s time for Jews around the world who believe in pluralism and religious tolerance to send a message to Prime Minister Netanyahu that the plan must be revived. You don’t have to be a citizen of Israel to make your voice heard. Here’s what you can and should do:
- Visit masorti.org to learn about the issue of the Kotel plan and the Masorti Movement.
- Then, click here to add your name to the KOTEL CAMPAIGN. There is a pre-formatted message to Prime Minister Netanyahu, as well as an opportunity to add your own note. Your voice and your support will make a difference.
As we enter the New Year, we are called on to contemplate a vision of a world of peace, tolerance and mutual respect. These are values that Shimon Peres z”l lived for. And they are values that should be modeled by the Jewish people worldwide. The campaign to make the Kotel a place of mutual respect and tolerance is an ideal place to start.