Tag Archives: Prime Minister

Jew of the Week: Shimon Peres

A young Shimon Peres with his wife Sonia

A young Shimon Peres with his wife Sonia

Szymon Perski (1923-2016) was born in the shtetl of Vishnyeva (then part of Poland, now in Belarus) to a wealthy Russian-Jewish family. He was the great-great-grandson of the famed Rabbi Chaim Volozhin, and was greatly influenced by his own grandfather, Rabbi Zvi Meltzer. At the young age of 11, Perski’s family moved to Tel Aviv and Hebraized their last name to Peres. (Their entire extended family back in Vishnyeva would later perish in the Holocaust). After finishing his schooling, young Shimon went to live on a kibbutz working as a dairy farmer and shepherd before co-founding his own kibbutz. He was soon elected secretary of a Labor Zionist youth organization. From there, he joined the Mapai party, whose leader David Ben-Gurion took a personal interest in him. At 21, Peres was imprisoned for two weeks by the British for leading an “illegal” expedition into the Negev to scout a new place for Jewish settlement. In 1947, now married, Peres was appointed to the Haganah and put in charge of recruitment and weapons purchases. The following year, he took charge of Israel’s nascent navy. In the 50’s, while part of Israel’s delegation to the US, he studied at NYU and Harvard. At 29, he became the head of Israel’s Ministry of Defence – the youngest person to ever hold the position. He was praised for building strong military alliances with other countries (particularly France, who awarded him their highest distinction, the Legion of Honor), and securing large amounts of modern weapons that propelled Israel into a regional powerhouse. He also helped establish the crucial Dimona nuclear reactor. In 1959, Peres was elected to the Knesset. At one time or another, he served as Minister of Immigrant Absorption, Minister of Transportation, Minister of Defence, Foreign Minister, Minister of Finance, and Information Minister. In 1984, Peres was elected Israel’s prime minister, and in 2007, Israel’s president. Among his other major achievements are the 1976 Entebbe rescue operation (which he pushed through the Cabinet), the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan, and his Peres Center for Peace, which has trained over 250 Arab doctors and brought life-saving treatment to thousands of Arab children. Peres was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his work with the Oslo Accords, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2008, presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 by Barack Obama, and with the US Congressional Gold Medal in 2014. He was also the author of 11 books. Sadly, following a debilitating stroke, the last of Israel’s founding fathers passed away in his sleep early Wednesday. Dignitaries from around the world are flying in to pay their respects, including past and present heads of state of Germany, France, Canada, Australia, Mexico, and the US – many of whom Peres had guided and advised. President Obama has ordered flags in America to fly at half mast. Despite his age, Peres worked tirelessly until the very last days of his life. He had once said, “Optimists and pessimists die the same way. They just live differently. I prefer to live as an optimist.”

Words of the Week

It’s better to be controversial for the right reasons than to be popular for the wrong reasons.
– Shimon Peres

Jew of the Week: Janet Rosenberg Jagan

President of Guyana

Janet Rosenberg Jagan

Janet Rosenberg Jagan

Janet Rosenberg (1920-2009) was born in Chicago, the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants from Romania and Hungary. As a young nursing student she met a Guyanese dentist, Cheddi Jagan. The two got married less than a year later, and moved to Guyana, where Rosenberg worked as a nurse in her husband’s dental clinic. Meanwhile, the couple joined the British Guianese Labor Union and were very active in the political scene. Rosenberg founded Guyana’s Women’s Political and Economic Organization, and its Political Affairs Committee. Shortly after, she and her husband co-founded the Marxist-Leninist People’s Progressive Party (PPP), with Janet serving as its General Secretary. Soon, she was elected to the City Council of Guyana’s capital, Georgetown. From there, she moved up to the House of Assembly, and was appointed Deputy Speaker. However, for vocally opposing British colonial rule over Guyana, the Jagans were both jailed for 5 months, then kept under house arrest for another 2 years. After finally being freed, Rosenberg won back her seat in the Assembly and was appointed Minister of Labour, Health and Housing. In 1973, she was elected to the national parliament, and was re-elected three more times, making her the longest serving parliamentarian in the country’s history. In 1992, her husband became Guyana’s president, and after he passed away in 1997, Janet became the country’s prime minister and vice president. She won the national elections later that year and became president herself, making her just the third woman (and coincidentally, the third Jew) to head a nation in the Western Hemisphere. At age 79, the popular Rosenberg resigned her post due to health problems. She continued to serve in the government, and was still on the PPP’s Central Committee until shortly before her passing, at age 88. Aside from government, Rosenberg worked hard to expand the Guyanese literary world, and to make books available for Guyana’s children. She wrote several of her own books, and was the editor of the PPP’s newspaper for over 20 years. Rosenberg received Guyana’s highest honour, the Order of Excellence, along with a UNESCO award for her efforts on behalf of women’s rights.

Words of the Week

Greater is hospitality to wayfarers than receiving the Divine Presence.
– Talmud, Shevuot 35b