Former Israeli prime minister and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shimon Peres would have been honored by the tributes paid to him Thursday night at the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center.
Hundreds of South Floridians, representing differing political parties, religions and cultural backgrounds, gathered to honor Peres, who died last month in Israel at age 93. The Greater Miami Jewish Federation, Consulate General of Israel in Miami and the Rabbinical Association of Greater Miami organized the tribute.
“I never met someone that was like him,” said Rafael Kravec, president of the Peres Center for Peace USA and a friend of Peres for 40 years. “[He] was concerned about the survival of Jewish people, but was always thinking that people around the world should get along together.”
Peres, a founding member of Israel and the country’s ninth president, was a major architect of the 1993 Oslo Accords. The Accords set a framework for Palestinian self-government and earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, along with Yitzhak Rabin, then the Israeli prime minister, and Yasser Arafat, then chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
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Peres visited Miami several times over the years. Last year, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation honored him at its Main Event, its top fundraiser. Jacob Solomon, the Jewish Federation’s president, presented Peres a silver menorah inscribed with the Talmudic quote, “One person’s candle is a light for many.”
“This community feels such a connection to Israel,” U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, said Thursday night. “Israel is a local issue here.”
For Miami Beach resident Marc Levin, attending Peres’ memorial was like saying goodbye to a hero. He now describes himself as a passionate Zionist.
“He was an exquisite and elegant man of peace,” he said. “Hearing him emotionally touched me.”
Greater Miami Jewish Federation Board Chair Amy Dean said Peres will be greatly missed, but his legacy must live on.
“He sought peace from strength,” she said. “This is the end of something and it’s our obligation to carry forward what he worked for.”
For Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a Republican, a memorial like Thursday’s is a helpful reminder of the humanity in the world.
“With all the uncertainty we have in the world today … this is a welcome and positive distraction.”
At the Federation’s event last year, Peres received a standing ovation from the more than 1,000 people who attended. He said was hopeful that peace in the Middle East would come in his lifetime., although he acknowledged his days were getting short.
“At any rate,” he told the crowd, “I believe it will come in your lifetime.”