by Trudi Klein Herstein

Upon hearing of the recent illness and subsequent death of Shimon Peres, my mind and heart has been flooded with memories of a very precious time in my life.  My memories fade as I age, and I don’t recall specific details, but I do remember the feeling, the emotion, and the sensation of being in a room with Shimon Peres.

In 1977, The UAHC (now URJ) invited 5 staff members from each of the Union Camps to go on the very first Camp Staff Trip to Israel. Those of us chosen were told we would be exposed to sites people rarely have the privilege to experience and we would have arranged visits with well-known dignitaries.

One such dignitary was Shimon Peres. I had not even heard of him, but Rabbi Alan Smith, affectionately known as “Smitty” assured all of us impressionable college-age young adults that Shimon Peres may not be well-known YET, but he was destined for greatness. In fact, Smitty predicted that Shimon Peres would soon be the Prime Minister of the State of Israel.

I had no idea what to expect from someone I supposed might be a giant among men. My memory fails me when I try to think of the details he spoke about in regards to the State of Israel. I remember the sense of awe as he entered the room and I remember we were given pre-planted questions to ask.

Mostly, I remember how quickly I was drawn to him, his easy going manner, his directness on his views; his complete passion for his cause of peace, how soft-spoken he was and how truly interested he was in each of us. He was just finishing his position as Israel’s Minister of Defense and early on in his life had been head of Israel’s Naval Services, a member of the Knesset and when we met him was Chairman of the Labor Party.

Smitty’s prediction was correct. Just a few years later Shimon Peres became Prime Minister of the State of Israel. Wow. And I had once had a sit-down with him! Later, Peres was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Yasser Arafat, a remarkable achievement.

Today, when I am inundated with negative social media, when I am bombarded daily with accounts of violence, bullying, fear-mongering in our cities, I think back to the time I met Shimon Peres. He was a warrior for peace and tolerance. Peace was his most coveted dream. His devotion and commitment to the peace process for his beloved country made him a champion. May the memory of Shimon Peres be an eternal blessing. And may all of us carry on his spirit, wisdom and strength.

“Be a hopeful, powerful human being.”   -Shimon Peres

Trudi Klein Herstein was a GFC Counselor, Unit Head, and the first Assistant Director between 1977-1986. She then served on faculty for over 25 years and on Camp Committee for many years as well. Her GFC passion is scholarship. Trudi lives in Carrollton with her husband Jerry and belongs to Shir Tikvah in Frisco.