Word on the Street: An antidote to despair

Jeremy Ben-Ami Image
Jeremy Ben-Ami
on September 29, 2016

On Sunday, we welcome Rosh Hashana and the High Holiday season and begin a period of intense reflection. With the death of Shimon Peres, this year it is also a time of mourning.

Peres and his legacy mean much to Israelis, world Jewry and people everywhere inspired by his pursuit of peace and his lifetime of incredible achievement.

The last of Israel’s founding statesmen, he was a link to the miracle of Israel’s creation and its early struggle to survive. As an architect of the Oslo Accords and a champion of the two-state solution, he was a light pointing the way to peace with the Palestinians — and a better future.

For J Street and the pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy movement, Peres was the embodiment of the principles on which we base our work. An idealist, but not an ideologue, he married ideals to pragmatic action in his quest to achieve peace and security for his country and his people.

During the High Holidays, we reflect on highs and lows of the year that was — achievements we are proud of, times we fell short, people we wronged, growth that we experienced.

We humbly recognize that no one’s slate is entirely clean, perfect or consistent. That is as true for an icon and hero like Peres as it is for us individually.

The man of security, who was the father of Israel’s nuclear program and presided over difficult military operations in Lebanon became the man of peace who led the way to Oslo and the White House Lawn.

The man who gave initial approval to the earliest settlements in the West Bank later championed a Palestinian state on that same land. At times unpopular and highly criticized as a politician, he ultimately became a beloved icon and hero of his country.

For some commentators, Peres’ death closes a chapter in Israel’s history and symbolizes the death of the dream of peace with the Palestinians.

Naysayers look around and see few leaders of his stature and vision, capable of his passionate risk-taking and creativity. They see Israeli-Palestinian relations at a low ebb and little progress toward solutions.

Their negativity could not be farther from Peres’ own approach to life, or the lessons he sought to convey. He was always changing, always striving, always optimistic. Even in his nineties, even in his final months, he never gave up — always focusing far more on the future than the past.

He was a living embodiment of the founding ethos of Israel and Zionism: that independence in Israel gives the Jewish people the power to shape our people’s destiny.

That is the spirit that Jewish tradition asks us to embrace on the High Holidays. We accept that we aren’t perfect and that not everything is within our control. And we are charged with making the best of ourselves and doing our part to repair the world with the tools we are given.

We right old wrongs and apologize for mistakes. We look ahead to the new year and resolve to be better, to try harder, to change and to grow.

At J Street, we know we are fighting a difficult, uphill battle. We have to overcome not only the challenges and obstacles of a contentious issue, but also the pessimism and despair of those who say, “Why bother? Haven’t we tried enough already? Isn’t it too late?”

Shimon Peres’ legacy is the perfect antidote to this despair, the perfect source of resolve in difficult times.

What he stood for and fought for lives on. We will pick up the baton and redouble our efforts to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace with its neighbors. We will take responsibility for building the world we want to see.

We will look at what he accomplished, the incredible distances traveled and the heights he scaled, and know that if each of us can find within just a little bit of his spark, creativity and optimism, there is nothing that we cannot accomplish.

On behalf of the entire J Street family, I wish all of you a happy, healthy and sweet New Year and a meaningful High Holiday season to all who celebrate.