This is the second blog post in a series of three, wherein I am highlighting Israel for the month of March. Read the first blog, “Israel Makes Me a Proud Angelena (3-Part Series)” by clicking here.
The Honor, The Anticipation
I was one of the guests whom were honored to have been invited to sit and listen to President Shimon Peres speak at the Beverly Hills Hilton in the International Ballroom, on Thursday, March 8, 2012, two days after I watched Hazman Havarod (Gay Days), directed by Yair Qedar.
Since I knew security would be a bit much (i.e. secret service), I traveled lightly (only brought the essentials - lip balm, wallet, a small note pad and pen, keys and phone) and arrived 15 minutes before they said the check-in line would open at 5:30 PM PST. It paid off, because the check-in was actually quite organized, the secret service line was quick and I was fortunate to be done in a blink of an eye to save myself and three late-arriving friends seats two rows back from where we were able to sit outside of the VIP section. During my hour and a half wait before the program, I met the people next to me - we chatted about our professions, where we were from, how we got invited - you know, the normal schmoozing that goes on at an event like this.
Again, I was thankful to the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles for another personal invitation to engage Israel for the second time in a week in such a diverse Jewish setting. The time between getting checked-in and the start of the program seemed long because of my anticipation of the insightful, poignant things that I would hear from President Peres on that historic evening. However, it was not the first time I had had a brush with the President; in fact, the last time was in Israel, not even a full year before.
Third Annual Presidential Conference 2011
In 2011, I attended the 3rd Annual Israeli Presidential Conference in Jerusalem, hosted by President Shimon Peres by way of my participation in that year’s ROI Global Summit of Young Jewish Innovators*. There were a multitude of fascinating sessions to attend, and being an innovator, you know I actively made my experience as unique as possible.
For example, I participated in a “Flash Mob of Consciousness” in solidarity with a project called Here’s My Chance (Israel Conversation Project). On my layover in Philly on the way to Israel, I’d met a couple of gentlemen heading to Israel for another innovator’s summit, and we clicked immediately and decided to work together in just a few minutes (and only minutes before it was time to board for Tel Aviv). At the Presidential Conference, President Shimon Peres addressed attendees one of the days of the convening, and I helped kick off this flash mob with my personal pledge to support LGBTQ Human Rights with President Peres in the backdrop of my silent, statemented stance. I’d also been invited to sit in a small, exclusive social media session with him during the Conference, but with jet-lag, I decided to sleep in my hostel instead, with a thought that I would run into him again next year. A lofty goal, considering he was almost 90 years old, for pete’s sake. I guess you can’t blame me for dreaming big.
So, you can imagine how humbled I was to get the chance to be in the audience as journalist Campbell Brown asked President Shimon Peres pertinent questions about his “vision for a strong Israel, a strong American Jewish community and peace in the Middle East.” Especially because this trip may, in fact, have been the last time President Shimon Peres would visit the United States ever again…
“Be Jewish. Don’t give up.”
Actor Jason Alexander (and his beautiful hair) opened the evening with a hilarious welcoming address after a lovely youth choir comprised of local Jewish day schools lead us beautifully in the United States and Israeli Nation Anthems. They sounded so wonderful. I felt so filled up I am almost cried as I sang both Anthems with my fellow attendees. After we sat back down in our seats to listen to the rest of the opening by special guest, Mr. Alexander, he mentioned that on his recent trip to Israel he asked President Shimon Peres about how he stays so focused and positive when building a peaceful world, especially with all the muck one goes through in the process. He relayed to us that President Peres told Jason Alexander:
It was this insight that sparked the rest of the evening’s quotables that gave me pride as an Angelena for us hosting the President in such good fashion. It also reminded me that my Hebrew name, which translates basically to, “I will sing/speak of good things” is so powerful and I should constantly stay grounded in being an optimist, no matter what.
You can Google and read all the different accounts and commentaries of the event, but I thought it would be more powerful to let the evening speak for itself. I leave you with all of the quotes I frantically jotted in my notepad from the evening - witty, insightful, and tangible quotes that really nudged my soul. It was these quotes, the majority of which were delivered by President Peres, that put a perspective in my psyche and a pride in my step. Israel and Israelis have a way of doing that for me, I’ve come to realize.
Many of these quotes gave me such pride in being Jewish, too, that it was no surprise to hear that President Obama will award Israeli President Shimon Peres with the Presidential Medal of Freedom this summer. Hearing a visionary like Pres. Peres speak illuminated me with a feeling that I control my destiny; that it is up to me, to us, to create the freedom in the world that we all deserve that includes coexistence, peace and the teaching of values to - and learning from - our children. More importantly, that it doesn’t matter where you start from as long as you get started and never ever give up.
Food For Thought
- “Nice to have you in town, sir!” (Jason Alexander to Mayor Villaraigosa)
- “You personify all that is good of Israel, the Jewish People and Humanity.” (Council General of Israel, David Siegel, to President Shimon Peres)
- “There can’t be any peace without security… and I’m proud to say L.A. stands with Israel.” (Mayor Villaraigosa)
- “Peres is truly a Prince of Peace.” (Mayor Villaraigosa)
- “Be Jewish. Don’t give up.” (Shimon’s grandfather who was highlighted in the tribute video for President Peres. Shimon’s grandfather couldn’t board their train to Palestine from Poland in the early 1930s because of illness. Those were his last words to his grandson. He was to die at the hands of Nazi Germans invading Poland shortly thereafter.)
- “There are those who live and those who live to make a difference.” (David Ben Gurion to a 20-something year-old Shimon Peres, who thought of Ben Gurion as his hero.)
The following are quotes by President Peres. I must say that what I found the most inspiring were his references to children and how to engage them, especially the youth in my demographic via Facebook. He is like the V’ahavta personified, if that makes sense. I was also sparked by his references to education and risk-taking, as an innovator and entrepreneur who values these principles at the core of my being.
President Shimon Peres - Be My Friend For Peace (Noy Alooshe Remix Video)
- “Peace is not a political choice. It is a basic, historic and moral choice.”
- “I lived in hope and I shall die in hope.”
- “I don’t think we have to make it a public debate ahead of time.” (Peres answering a question by Campbell Brown regarding what will happen if Prime Minister Netanyahu moves forward unilaterally without the US in dealing with Iran.)
- “It became great by giving, not just by taking… by helping others. They are the Guardians of Civilization.” (Peres on the United States and its early rise to power)
- “The problem of the Middle East isn’t political, it’s poverty. It’s really serious.”
- “Since we can not change the world, we have to change our minds.”
- “…not just the technology, the science, but the day we realized we had nothing. The nothingness made us great.” (Peres on Israel)
- “A true Jew can never be satisfied. Once a Jew is satisfied, he is no longer Jewish.” (Peres on what he felt the greatest gift Jews have given to the world - dissatisfaction.)
- “Work hard, think hard, take risks and be nonconforming.”
- “Iran is not the [enemy]. The Iranian government is the threat to Israel, the United States and the Iranian People.”
- “The women are a majority. That’s a silent protest in the Middle East.”
- “If you have difficulty, it is not the excuse to give up your dream.”
- “Don’t try to be a leader, be ahead.”
- “In the next decade, we’ll [shift] from the right to be equal to the equal right to be different.”
- “In order to learn more, you’ll have to work less.”
- “Economy is global. Science is individual. And science is unpredictable.”
- “Educate our children to not remember so much, but dream more… dreams are more important than memories.”
- “They think a short SMS is better than a long speech. You gotta speak their language.” (Peres on his new FB viral video and why he did it - to engage the youth.)
- “The Jewish People used to be the People of the Book… now they are the People of the Facebook.”
- “We all face enough weaknesses, we don’t have to write a biography about them… speak of the great things about a [person].” (On his biography of Ben Gurion.)
- “If you want to be great, serve a great cause.”
Part three of this series continues tomorrow (click here) as I highlight films from the forthcoming 26th Annual Israel Film Festival in Los Angeles, March 15-29, 2012. Thank you for your readership.
*The ROI Community is a global network of Jewish innovators created by Lynn Schusterman. ROI members connect and create to transform Jewish life.