Sunday, August 16, 2009

Happy Birthday, Shimon Peres!

Today, Shimon Peres turns 86. Although he has taken to marking the event on the corresponding Hebrew date, which this year fell a couple of weeks ago, Israeli musicians are marking it today with the release of a new CD in which Peres' poetry has been put to music. Some of Israel's most popular singers are participating, including Matti Caspi, Izhar Cohen, Ninet Tayeb, Ofira Gluska, Arik Sinai, Miri Mesika, Arkadi Duchin, Mazi Cohen and Shlomo Gronich. Read more about it in this Jerusalem Post article and in the Forward. If Peres completes his seven-year term, he will indeed hold the record for the world's oldest ever head of state.

I'm listening to the concert right now, in fact, on Israel radio's Reshet Gimel, a station that I listen to on streaming audio all the time. It has lots of the old nostalgic melodies from Israel's formative years, the "Beautiful Land of Israel" genre of songs, especially in the wee hours of the morning there, which is prime time back here, when I typically listen. If you are listening to Israeli radio at exactly 11 PM Eastern Time, BTW, you will hear the familiar refrain of the Sh'ma recited as Israelis awaken to their 6 AM news.

You know how the Sh'ma speaks of reciting these words "when you lie down and when you rise up?" Well, here's an amazing moment when I am hearing these words as I am about to lie down to sleep, and half a world away, this same Sh'ma is being heard by those just arising to greet the new day.

Tonight, Peres concluded his brief remarks thanking everyone with a poetic reference to the Sh'ma.

Peres' life is an open book, but here's one of the most comprehensive interviews that I've found, where he describes in detail what it has meant to him to bear witness to Israel's founding and growth. Here's what he said about his arrival:

When I came to Israel, my first sensation was the blue sky. I never saw a sky as blue as that. Then, I didn't see many rivers, which surprised me again. I didn't see many forests. But on the other hand, all the writings, whether in the streets or in the paper, was in the Hebrew language. That was like entering -- again -- a new world. I saw Israeli policemen. And we came. My father, who emigrated before us a couple of years to prepare our coming, was living in Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv was totally white and summery and lovely. They called at that time, "Tel Aviv is a small Paris." I have never been to Paris, so I was sure that Paris is even smaller than Tel Aviv. And when I got bar mitzvah'd -- 13 years old -- my parents bought me a bicycle, and I would -- touring the streets of Tel Aviv to see if they were building a building, if they planted a new tree. I felt as though it would be my estate, as though it would be my life.

Happy Birthday, President Peres!

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