The End of an Era
U.S. President James Madison served alongside Presidents George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson and signed the Declaration of Independence. He was known as the “Father of the Constitution,” and his death in 1836 marked the end of a unique generation of men who built the foundations of the United States of America, defended its values, and dreamed of a bright future for the republic.
As the last living Founding Father, Madison embodied the heart, spirit, and vision of America in its purest form. He and the other founders risked everything, even their lives, for the freedom so often taken for granted today.
Israel recently experienced its own Madison moment. History will remember September 28, 2016, as the day the Jewish state lost its last Founding Father. His death means the end of an era of unique Israeli men and women who built, defended, and dreamed into existence the State of Israel.
Born in Belarus, Shimon Peres immigrated to British-controlled Palestine from Poland in 1934. Even at a young age, he embodied the values of Zionism, fully aware of how important it was for the Jewish people to have a homeland of their own in their God-given Promised Land. His passion for a future Jewish state was so evident that David Ben-Gurion, who became Israel’s first prime minister, sought to make Peres his protégé.
Peres served Israel during the 1948 War of Independence both diplomatically and militarily. As director general, he oversaw the first of Israel’s arms deals with America under President John F. Kennedy’s administration and was influential in creating Israel’s nuclear weapons program.
He signed the strategic peace pact with Jordan in 1994 and won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work as Israel’s foreign minister during the Oslo peace accords. He also served as Israel’s prime minister and stood in as interim prime minister after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin—one of Israel’s darkest moments. Peres’s final position in the Israeli government was as its ninth president.
One of the things that made Peres great was his ability to see past the worst in Israel’s enemies and see the best in Israel’s people—even when they were under intense pressure. Peres tapped into his nation’s potential, calling on Israelis to rise above their circumstances in the Middle East and to invest their energy in innovation and peace.
He was an optimistic leader and dreamer who saw peace even in the midst of turmoil. In 1996 The Peres Center for Peace opened its doors with the focus on furthering Peres’s vision of peace in the Middle East through economic cooperation and development. He believed people-to-people interaction, intertwined with purpose, tore down the walls of animosity.
Peres’s passing, at 93 years of age, marks a monumental transition in Israel’s history—a shift from those who struggled to birth the Jewish state to a generation of Israelis who have no direct connection to Israel’s founding. For several years Shimon Peres was the link between then and now for the Israeli people. Although Israelis won’t have Peres’s physical presence with them any longer, they will have his lasting legacy of advocating for a Zionism that sees beyond the borders of Israel.
Peres leaves behind a type of optimistic Zionism that looks toward tomorrow without being chained by the events of yesterday. We mourn the loss of such a titan in Israel’s history but are confident that the people of Israel embody many of his greatest strengths. He sincerely wanted peace. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you’” (Ps. 122:6).