Below is the full transcript of remarks delivered by Israeli President Shimon Peres on the occasion of his 90th birthday.
“Dear and distinguished friends,
I am moved to see so many friends here tonight, many of which have stood by me, as I have stood by them. Together we made a long and thrilling journey. I greatly appreciate that you have chosen to celebrate the birthday of a man whose only sin was to grow a year older. I know you have come to Jerusalem from around the world and from across the country to pay tribute, with me, to our people, to the State of Israel, and to Tikun Olam. Thank you all. (Distinguished guests from abroad, excuse me while I continue in Hebrew) On this occasion, I feel grateful, because the chapters of my life are entwined with the story of the birth and the development of the State of Israel. Because I have been given the wonderful privilege to serve my country. To take part in the building of its strength. To pursue peace, our heart’s truest desire. During my decades of experience as a public servant, I have learned one primary lesson:
To be a loyal servant of your people, you must follow your moral compass, whose values are clear cut. At dusk, take stock of the errors of the day. At dawn, do not forget the night’s dreams. I have learned that a dream is only the beginning of a better tomorrow. And this is the spirit of the gathering which we open tonight. Making the dream of tomorrows – today’s agenda. From my mother Sarah, I learned the love of books. From my father Yitzhak, I learned to work hard. My parents believed that ignorance and laziness are sins. From Sonia, the love of my life, I learned the true meaning of love. In her eyes, deep love is selfless. Deep love is the total love of one’s fellow. The love of one’s life partner. One’s parents, one’s children. And to do good, as much as one can, while your good deeds remain nameless. I envied Sonia for the strength and the resilience of her modesty. Together, with great love, we built our common treasure: 3 children, 8 grandchildren, and 3 great-grandchildren. They were lucky enough to inherit her genes for the most part.
My life’s journey is a road that runs between Vishnieva, where I was born, to Israel, where I lived as a youngster, full of dreams. It is the road between my grandfather and David Ben Gurion, the two figures who have left the deepest imprint on my life to this very day. My revered grandfather, Rabbi Tzvi Melzer, a man of the Volozhin Talmudic Yeshiva. He was murdered at the hands of the Nazis. He taught me the Talmud during the day, and Tolstoy at night. He shaped my life as a child. And on the other hand, David Ben Gurion, the founder of the State of Israel, and the greatest Jew I have ever known. He taught me the importance of vision in the shaping of a desired reality. And that the moral call is the wisest of human judgments. He taught me that there is nothing more responsible than to take risks today for the sake of tomorrow’s chance. His political wisdom, his bold determination, his ability to make difficult decisions and stand by them, strong as a rock; I believe it is these traits which enabled a seemingly impossible dream to become reality, and changed forever the destiny of our people’s history.
When I was a child, Israel was a legend more than a reality. She emerged from a dream, and today she has surpassed that dream. From the depths of the Holocaust we rose to heights which reach far beyond the horizon of history. It did not happen overnight. It was a long journey which came at an unbearable price. We have known seven wars, we endured them all by virtue of our sons and daughters, by virtue of our soldiers, and by virtue of the parents who raised them. We gathered the exiles from the four corners of the earth, and became one people. We built a vibrant democracy and a diverse society. We made Israel a global hub for hi-tech, science and creativity. We turned a refusing land into an inspiring oasis.
The State of Israel is the living proof that the potential hidden within the human being is richer than the resources buried in the soil. I love this country. The scent of the figs ripening on the tree of my garden enchants me. So too the hum of the Jordan River and the silence of the Negev nights. At every encounter with citizens across the country, I am proud and moved at the sight of their valor and talent, their spirit, their faith, and their generosity. I am in love with my people who can be passionate and even short-tempered. Their language is sometimes less than diplomatic but at the same time their understanding, their creativity, their courage and the goodness of their heart, their generosity and the warmth which they exude – can melt hearts. The same Israeli who will curse a driver who unfairly overtook him on the road will willingly give up his life on the battlefield for the sake of his country or to save the life of a brother.
Our work is not yet complete. We came to the promised land and now we must make it a land of promise. Into an exemplary country, Israel is small in territory but can be great in justice. We must make it into a country where no-one goes hungry. A country in which every child has access to quality education. From the day they are born and throughout their entire life. A nation in which the majority governs but the minority always enjoys full and equal rights. A country which welcomes different opinions but rejects all forms of discrimination whether based on religion, nationality, ethnicity or gender. A society which respects the weak and is kind to the foreigner , which cares for the orphan and the widow, the old and the sick. A country of solidarity and tolerance. But a country with zero-tolerance for violence, corruption and bullying.
My dear guests,
I am the son of an ancient people. A people which has known suffering and brutality. More than any other nation. We rebelled against idolatry. We preferred to pray to one Lord, the God of justice, truth, equality and freedom. I am proud to be a member of the dissatisfied nation. Dissatisfaction drives a commitment to progress. I look at where we started and where we are today. And I think to myself: to be an optimist is so logical. It is so practical. I believe that Israel can go higher and higher, if we make the necessary decisions. We genuinely and truly strive to be a nation among nations, a nation that gives. We long for peace with our neighbors. The yesterday between us and the Palestinians is full of sadness. I believe that the Israel of tomorrow and the Palestine of tomorrow can offer our children a ray of hope. The advancement of peace will complete the march of Israel towards the fulfillment of its founding vision. An exemplary and thriving country. A country living in peace and security in its homeland and among its neighbors.
Sometimes as a child you hear a verse which stays in your heart for the rest of your life. As a child I asked my beloved grandfather, Rabbit Tzvi Meltzer, which verse one should carry in one’s heart. He recited to me the 34th verse of the Book of Psalms;
“Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it.” Let us pray together for a tomorrow of peace. I thank you all from the depths of a loving and optimistic heart.”