Peres’ memorial services in two major centres
Johannesburg’s memorial service for Shimon Peres was a poorly-attended event while Cape Town Jewry came out in droves. Unfortunately, the short notice and an evening of big planned events like matric dances, school plays and other community affairs in both Johannesburg and Cape Town, drew many who would otherwise have attended the service.
In Cape Town the keynote speaker was Rowan Polovin, chairman of the SAZF Cape Council, while in Johannesburg, SAZF National Chairman Ben Swartz delivered a eulogy at King David Linksfield.
Among the distinguished guests in Johannesburg were rabbis, Israel’s Deputy Ambassador Ayelet Black, Tokyo Sexwale, and Prince Dlamini of the Swazi Royal Household. Conspicuous in their absence, however, were the community and one person who attended estimated that there were fewer than 100 present.
In his eulogy, Swartz said he found it “surreal” that just seven months ago, “almost to the day”, SA Jewry had hosted and paid tribute to Shimon Peres.
RIGHT: Cape Town’s keynote speaker was Rowan Polovin, chairman of the SA Zionist Federation Cape Council
In Cape Town it was a completely different picture. Julie Berman, executive director of the SAZF Cape Council, told Jewish Report that close to 300 people had turned out at the Gardens Shul, despite the fact that “at least three other big communal events” were taking place on the same night.
Polovin delivered the eulogy before other community leaders spoke. Then Rabbi Greg Alexander lit a memorial candle. The event was held under the joint auspices of the SAZF, the SAJBD and the UJC (United Jewish Campaign).
Polovin said that a giant of the world political stage has passed, but his immense legacy continues to live on. He said Peres was an essential thread intricately woven into the fabric of the State of Israel. He oversaw the rebirth and survival of the Jewish state and the subsequent regeneration of the Jewish people.
Talking about tributes from global leaders and from Jews in Israel and around the world, Polovin said: “What would ‘Israel’s ambassador to the world’ make of all this? And how can we, as individuals, and as a community, continue to live and grow his legacy?”
He said “peace and positivity are the two most important qualities synonymous with Peres that we should embrace, and take forward with us into the future”.
In 1993 Peres was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for working to seal peace accords in the region.
“Israel,” Peres had said, “used to be a question mark, but now we are a strong country.” Peres had devoted his life to removing this question mark by pursuing peace while tenaciously defending his country.”
In Johannesburg, Swartz said that despite Peres’ relatively fragile state, and the fact that he was fully aware of the possible political implications of his travelling to South Africa, Peres had “made it known that it was his responsibility to travel to South Africa to be with us and to strengthen and encourage us – those were his very words when he spoke in Johannesburg.”
Any ordinary human being at his age, said Swartz, would have certainly chosen not to make the trip – but this decision to travel, “represented the very essence of the man”.
Polovin said that when Peres was in South Africa in February, he reiterated his belief that no conflict was incapable of being resolved by peaceful negotiation, and he invoked the inspirational example set by his fellow Nobel laureate, Nelson Mandela, with whom he enjoyed a warm personal relationship.
Throughout his life, Peres channelled his sense of restlessness and “discontent” into positive action and drive. “Optimists and pessimists die the exact same death, but they live very different lives,” Peres had said.
Peres, Polovin pointed out, is also one of the visionaries who set the stage for Israel to become the “Startup Nation”, by helping to transform its economy from socialism towards a free market system, fuelled by an entrepreneurial spirit and technological advancement.