I remember the day I met Shimon Peres.
1999. I was a newly minted BA working as a bottom of the totem pole reporter at Bloomberg News in New York. I would periodically check the lists of guests of Charlie Rose’s talk show to see if any cool celebrities were going to be in the building. In which case, I’d lurk outside the studio waiting for them to come out. One day, the Orthodox employees were all abuzz. Charlie Rose was slated to interview Shimon Peres that afternoon. Shimon Peres was going to be in the building. Did I want to go meet him?
No. Why would I want to meet Shimon Peres? The person who brokered the “disastrous” Oslo Accords, a pact that I so deeply opposed. And which of course I, at age 22, completely understood.
You see, like some college-age kids today, I had yet to learn the meaning of the word nuance. And certainly, with my day school education and summers at a Modern Orthodox Zionist camp, I did not actually begin to understand the complexities of the Arab-Israeli conflict. But I believed that I knew more and knew better than someone who had been in politics for 50 years. So no, I was not giving Shimon Peres the time of day.
But as the day wore on, I wore down. He’s still Shimon Peres, I thought, and I have a chance to meet him. But if he tries to shake my hand, I won’t shake it. I will look him in the eye and say, “I won’t shake the hand that shook Arafat’s hand.” In fact, I’ll go meet him just so I can say, ““I won’t shake the hand that shook Arafat’s hand.” That’s right, I was going to stick it Shimon Peres. Because back then, I just knew everything.
So I waited in the hallway with some of the other frum employees, and then, all of the sudden, from the studio, out came Shimon Peres. SHIMON PERES! He was standing right there in front of me. And I was star struck. It was Shimon Peres, with deep lines carved into his face from decades of service. Shimon Peres, who had literally lived what I had studied. Shimon Peres, history standing in front of me, looking at me. Shimon Peres, a man deserving of respect. Shimon Peres, a statesman.
He extended his hand.
I shook it.
I still don’t agree with most of Shimon Peres’ politics, but I have learned to understand them better. I have realized that like most issues, Israeli politics and the Arab-Israeli conflict are far from black and white. I would like to think that as a result of truly listening to the other side, my own views are more thought out and nuanced.
And Shimon Peres was, as I thankfully recognized that day, a deeply respectable man and a true statesman. An individual with the strength of character that is too often missing in politicians today. I feel honored to have met him. His presence will be missed.