When I bade farewell to my grandfather Zvi Meltzer on the Vishnyeva railway station platform in Belarus at the start of my family’s 1934 journey to Israel, he looked me straight in the eye and said: “Always remain a Jew – continue to be Jewish throughout your life and act as a Jew in all you do.” And with those words, he determined my future.
Eight years later, my grandfather’s words became his legacy. In August 1942, my grandfather – the town’s rabbi – marched at the head of the Jewish community into the Valley of Death and into the wooden Vishnyeva synagogue. Together with my grandmother Rivka and eight other family members, as well as the rest of the Vishnyeva community, he was murdered when the Nazis set the synagogue alight. My grandfather died wrapped in a talit and holding the Torah.
The words “remain a Jew” were the last words I heard from my grandfather and his face became the face of Judaism for me over the years. His legacy has accompanied me my entire life throughout my work for the State of Israel and for the Jewish people.
Judaism for me is a faith that relies on morals and values, and not on the material. The essence of that faith was written by Moses on Mount Sinai and appears on the two tablets of the Ten Commandments. It includes faith in one G-d and forsaking idolatry. This faith holds moral considerations at the top of its priorities and sees all men as created in G-d’s image.
A Jew is someone who ensures that his children and descendants remain Jewish. When my mentor David Ben-Gurion established the State of Israel, he sought to establish a moral state that respects its citizens and protects freedom and freedom of expression. BenGurion envisioned a state that would be a light unto the nations, the vision of the prophets, whose language would be Hebrew, whose land would be Israel, for a people of the world seeking to create a better world through the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam. A state whose sons would seek knowledge. A state led by the vision of peace expressed in Isaiah’s vision of “nation shall not lift up sword against nation” and with it the prophet Amos’ vision of social justice: “Thou shall not sell the righteous for silver or the pauper for shoes.
”The Israel we so love was born in innocence and courage. It was built by pioneers, fighters and dreamers – first and foremost by Ben-Gurion – who volunteered, fought and worked to establish a state worthy of their parents’ aspirations and able to meet our children’s expectations. The Jewish spirit guided the founders of the state.
The Jewish spirit beats in our hearts and guides us to seek, to innovate and to find technological solutions that will engender progress, along with advanced medications that will end suffering. That is how Israel became the “Startup Nation.” From a barren land with desert in the south and swamps in the north, our great creation stands at the forefront of global progress and technology because of our human capital, our wonderful citizens, our unparalleled creativity and Israeli chutzpah.
The Jewish people is small in numbers but is a people of the world, a people that seeks a better world through Tikkun Olam so that no one should bear the mark of Cain. As is written: “Faithfulness and truth meet; justice and well-being kiss. Truth springs up from earth; justice looks down from heaven” (Psalms 85:11-12). And so we will educate our children.
When I look at Israel’s achievements in science, culture, research and technology – reality has outdone the vision. I am proud to be Jewish and proud of the Jewish spirit in our hearts
Shimon Peres, 9th President of Israel