It is with deep sorrow that the Boards of Governors and Overseers, administration, faculty, staff, students, and alumni of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion mourn the death of Shimon Peres, z”l, our dear friend and noble hero of Israel. The State of Israel and the global Jewish people have lost a visionary leader, the last of the founding generation of Israel’s leaders who won and secured the creation, freedom, and enduring security of the Jewish State. Passionate in his quest for peace, he came to symbolize Israel’s infinite resilience and capacity for hope.
HUC-JIR honored him as Vice Premier and Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1988 with an honorary doctorate, in recognition of his vital role as the “articulate spokesman for our people in its determination to be ‘a light among the nations’ in the search for peace, his promotion and development of its scientific, technological, and defense requirements, and his idealism and practical sense as an exemplary servant of our people.”
Our institution honored him as President of Israel with our highest award, the Dr. Bernard Heller Prize, for “his wise statecraft and moral leadership of the homeland of the Jewish people for over sixty years.” Ruth O. Freedlander, Trustee of the Dr. Bernard Heller Foundation, presented the 2008 Heller Prize to President Peres in Jerusalem. In accepting the Heller Prize, President Peres praised Reform Judaism for “its double-edged ability to be fully a part of the modern world while at the same time remaining faithful to the foundation of the Torah.” Advocating for the partnership of scientific and intellectual endeavor, he added that “the moral code of the Ten Commandments is essential to existence and to being in the forefront of innovation.”
This past June, Shimon Peres congratulated HUC-JIR for the dedication of the Taube Family Campus on our Jerusalem campus, praising HUC-JIR’s “ability to receive more students, visitors, and pilgrims to this historic landmark campus and for sustaining the next generations and guaranteeing their commitment to the Jewish people and Israel while bringing wholeness and peace to the city of Peace, Jerusalem.”
The life and career of Shimon Peres reflected and profoundly influenced the development of the State of Israel. He immigrated to Eretz-Israel from Poland as a child in 1934, joining the Haganah in 1947 and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) during the War of Independence. Beginning in the 1950s, he initiated and established crucial ties with France that enabled the IDF to equip itself until after the Six Day War, introduced Israel’s electronic and aircraft industries, and innovated Israel’s nuclear reactor.
He served in virtually every senior governmental leadership role during the course of over six illustrious decades, including as Israel’s President, Prime Minister three times, Minister of Defense, Foreign Minister, Minister of Interior, and Minister of Transport and Communications. He worked closely with Israel’s great leaders, including David Ben-Gurion, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Yitzhak Shamir, and Ariel Sharon.
Peres pursued the quest for peace with the Palestinians as an architect of the Oslo Accords, the landmark Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement signed on the White House Lawn in 1993, and shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Rabin and Yasser Arafat. After Prime Minister Rabin’s assassination in 1995, as Acting Prime Minister he served as an indispensable voice of stability for the grieving nation. He continued to devote his work to the cause of peace and was beloved as Israel’s elder statesman and agent on behalf of unity.
The entire HUC-JIR community expresses heartfelt condolences to his children, Tsvia Walden, who received an honorary doctorate from HUC-JIR in 2011, Yoni Peres, and Chemi Peres, and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. May his memory endure as a source of blessing for the State of Israel and the Jewish people worldwide.