The ever-optimistic President Shimon Peres touted peace on Tuesday evening, as he spoke at a celebration of his 90th birthday which kicked off the annual President’s Conference.
“I greatly appreciate that you have chosen to celebrate the birthday of a man whose only sin was to grow a year older,” Peres said. He added that his grandfather and Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion were the two figures who have left the deepest imprint on his life.
“My revered grandfather, Rabbi Tzvi Melzer, a man of the Volozhin Talmudic Yeshiva,” said Peres. “He was murdered at the hands of the Nazis. He taught me the Talmud during the day, and Tolstoy at night. He shaped my life as a child. And on the other hand, David Ben Gurion, the founder of the State of Israel, and the greatest Jew I have ever known. He taught me the importance of vision in the shaping of a desired reality. And that the moral call is the wisest of human judgments. He taught me that there is nothing more responsible than to take risks today for the sake of tomorrow's chance. His political wisdom, his bold determination, his ability to make difficult decisions and stand by them, strong as a rock; I believe it is these traits which enabled a seemingly impossible dream to become reality, and changed forever the destiny of our people's history.”
Peres said, “The State of Israel is the living proof that the potential hidden within the human being is richer than the resources buried in the soil,” but added, “Our work is not yet complete. We came to the Promised Land and now we must make it a land of promise. Into an exemplary country, Israel is small in territory but can be great in justice. We must make it into a country where no-one goes hungry. A country in which every child has access to quality education. From the day they are born and throughout their entire life. A nation in which the majority governs but the minority always enjoys full and equal rights.
“A country which welcomes different opinions but rejects all forms of discrimination whether based on religion, nationality, ethnicity or gender. A society which respects the weak and is kind to the foreigner , which cares for the orphan and the widow, the old and the sick. A country of solidarity and tolerance. But a country with zero-tolerance for violence, corruption and bullying.”
Peres said that Israelis “long for peace with our neighbors. The yesterday between us and the Palestinians is full of sadness. I believe that the Israel of tomorrow and the Palestine of tomorrow can offer our children a ray of hope. The advancement of peace will complete the march of Israel towards the fulfillment of its founding vision. An exemplary and thriving country. A country living in peace and security in its homeland and among its neighbors.
“Sometimes as a child you hear a verse which stays in your heart for the rest of your life,” said the President. “As a child I asked my beloved grandfather, Rabbit Tzvi Meltzer, which verse one should carry in one's heart. He recited to me the 34th verse of the Book of Psalms;
"Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it.
“Let us pray together for a tomorrow of peace. I thank you all from the depths of a loving and optimistic heart.”
Heads of state, public figures, and celebrities gathered on Tuesday evening in Jerusalem to mark Peres’s 90th birthday.
The lavish celebration was attended by, among others, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, former U.S. president Bill Clinton and former British prime minister Tony Blair.
"Shimon, you prove that it is possible to be curious at any age and young at any age," said Prime Minister Netanyahu during opening remarks of the ceremony.
"Shimon Peres has devoted to his life to building Israel and building peace. A strong Israel creates the conditions for peace,” the prime minister said.
The President’s Conference, Facing Tomorrow 2013, will continue until Thursday at Jerusalem's International Convention Center. The conference is organized in partnership with Hebrew University. More than 5,000 participants are expected to attend.