Jan 21 (KATAKAMI / HAARETZ) — Thousands of people, including state dignitaries and friends, attended the funeral of Sonia Peres, the wife of President Shimon Peres, in Ben Shemen on Friday, a day after she passed away in her sleep at the age of 87.
Many key Israeli political figures attended the funeral, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, and vice premier Silvan Shalom.
Sonia Peres was entitled to the privilege of being laid to rest in the section of Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl Cemetery reserved for national leaders, however, the president’s late wife preferred to be buried at the cemetery near the Beit Shemen youth village where she met her husband.
In his eulogy, the president described his late wife of 65 years as a paragon of modesty and sincerity, “she had her own path and never strayed. This path was characterized by both the wisdom of the heart and the wisdom of her fellow man.”
“I loved her at first sight. She is the love of my life. And that love will remain in my heart until my eyes shall close,” Peres said. “I learned from her more than I could ever teach her.”
“Her number one tenet was be yourself, without façade, without hypocrisy, without asking for anything in return,” Peres said, emphasizing his wife’s life-long devotion to philanthropy.
“Her first tenet – be yourself, without a shred of forgery, without a shred of hypocrisy, without asking for anything in return,” Peres said, emphasizing his wife’s life-long devotion to philanthropy.
“No matter what, it was the downtrodden and the weak who she believed were the most deserving of attention. She loved the country. Never wanted to be lifted above the people, always wanted to be part of it,” the president said, adding that most of her work was done far from the public eye.
Peres said that Sonia raised the couple’s children using the same standard she had for herself: “Always speak the truth, don’t ask for anything.”
Concluding, the president said: “This is a very difficult time for me, and I cannot say all that is in my heart. But I am so proud that God gave me an opportunity to live with this woman…. To me, she was what a human being was supposed to be.”
Born in the Ukraine in 1923, Peres made Aliyah to Israel with her family at the age of four. They moved to the Israel youth village of Ben Shemen where she met her husband.
During World War Two, Peres volunteered to serve in the British army and fight against the Germans. When she returned to Israel after the war in 1945, she and the future president were wed.
The couple was married for 67 years.
Sonia Peres rarely appeared in the public eye, preferring to play a backstage role in her husband’s six-decade political career, a decision which sometimes drew scathing criticism.
There were those, for instance, that saw a correlation between Peres’ inconspicuousness and the Labor Party’s election downfall in 1981, with some saying that the party would have won had she stood at her husband’s side.
Referring to that period, Shimon Peres biographer Michael Bar-Zohar wrote that “Sonia’s absence from Shimon’s side caused him severe political damage,” adding that her “charming personality would have undoubtedly added another dimension to her husband, and instead of the slightly sad, lonely man, many would have seen a loving and warm couple.”
One of Sonia Peres’ last public appearances was in April 1990, when she attended the somewhat awkward occasion of the swearing in of the government then constructed by her husband. She sat in the VIP section, looking on as the Haredi factions sabotaged the cabinet’s formation, leading to the meeting’s eventual dispersal.
When asked once why she chose to stay away from the public eye, Peres said:” I married a dairy farmer.”
Peres is survived by her husband, their three children Tzvia, Yonatan, and Hemi, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.