5 min read
If you don’t know who Shimon Peres is – you should. President of Israel. Also Prime Minister of Israel… twice. Plus:
- Nobel Peace Prize winner
- Knighthood from Queen Elizabeth
- Medal of Freedom from President Obama
- Awarded the title of Sheikh by Bedouin dignitaries for his work to achieve Middle East peace.
But what I want to know is… how does 92 year old Shimon Peres get all the girls?
A Bisl (Little) Backstory….
I had never been to Israel and frankly had no great desire to go there. I don’t know why. I had been to the Middle East before and loved it. The place reeks of history, culture, spirituality and absolutely the best appetizers.
Catholics love to go to the Vatican. Why did Israel hold no attraction for me? Maybe it felt like too much work. I had always hated Hebrew school…
I really didn’t know. But it didn’t matter because I went. It was one of those opportunities that appear so suddenly you take it as a sign. Or a commandment.
The Israeli Ministry of Tourism, along with producers with whom I had worked, were planning to shoot a TV special there, with Israel’s then president, Shimon Peres.
They first wanted to do a scout – a preliminary reconnoitering of the holy land. They’d fly me over, give me a tour guide and driver; I’d stay at great hotels and I could scout the country as I pleased. It all just fell into my lap. Like I had won the super bonus round on ‘Jeopardy - Tel Aviv Edition’.
But… I had to bring a suit. We were going to have a sit down meeting with President Shimon Peres. More on Mr. Peres in a moment, but first I had to figure out this suit business.
Bringing a suit on any sort of production trip always has complications. You want to pack practical with the usual utility/safari type pants and shirts, and you want to pack light. But if you’re meeting someone important you have to pack a suit for that particular sit down.
Even if the meeting is just for an hour.
It’s like all your other working clothes have to defer to your jacket and tie. In fact, I even have a special garment bag that fits into the front of my suitcase to hold my dress outfit - away and separate from my regular clothes. I call this the first class section of my suitcase.
See, in Suitcase World, the work-a-day blue collar clothes that do all the heavy lifting get pushed aside to make room for the suits… just like in the real world. My Samsonite is a metaphor for life.
On the other hand, if it wasn’t for this suit, the trip most likely would not be happening. So I guess one shouldn’t underestimate the power of pressed gabardine.
And of course, it will be exciting to meet President Peres – one of the guiding forces of Israel. He was there right at the beginning with David Ben-Gurion. At 29 he became the Director General of the Ministry of Defense;
twice he was elected Israel’s Prime Minister and he secretly negotiated with Yasser Arafat to form the Oslo Peace Accords. It will be like meeting a living piece of history.
So I’ll bring a suit.
To The Skies
That’s what El Al means in Hebrew. They flew me on El Al Airlines, the only commercial airline in the world with an on-board missile defense system. The meals and service were quite good as well. Good food, good service, good air defense system… the airline of the future.
My tour guide and driver were sweet and helpful – they guided me through Ben-Gurion Airport to our car. We were just minutes going down the highway when I got my first Israeli surprise. Up ahead was a sign indicating the way to Ramallah.
Ramallah? I had heard it mentioned in the news. But wasn’t that in the West Bank? The Palestinian West Bank? I just landed in the heart of Israel and minutes out of the airport, we were already passing the West Bank?
My guide was amused at my American sense of geography. She informed me some Palestinian towns are less than 10 miles from Tel Aviv – just minutes away.
Jesus, the Holy Land was the size of Santa Monica….
Farm Fresh Everything
Ever since this visit, when I think of Israel, the images that come to mind are also ones I can taste. At my beautiful hotel in Jerusalem there were tables of assorted creamy fresh cheeses and bowls of the most colorful vegetables I’d ever seen.
This was a surprise on several levels. I never associated Israel with delicious cuisine but I was wrong. Also, growing up and especially at family meals with my grandparents, Jewish produce usually meant canned mixed vegetables, which I’d ignore, or an afterthought of sad corn “Niblets”, which I’d nibble but only because I felt sorry for them.
But dining in my hotel, this Israeli cornucopia now doing a Hora in my mouth was a revelation. In the days to come Israel would provide many more.
The Holy Land is exciting and mystical – another surprise for cynical me. As I walked the streets of Jerusalem filled with Jews, Arabs, tourists and Christian Pilgrims, it was easy to see and feel how much of our collective history rose from this place.
Tel Aviv and Haifa were no different. Israel is small but precious. The land was fertile with centuries of prayers and dreams. If you stopped for a minute and quietly took in the place, you could feel it.
Pioneers from everywhere arrived here in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s bringing more dreams.
Now their children and grandchildren were sharing in that life. But things were chang
It Was Campaign Season
And posters for the upcoming Prime Minister’s election were appearing everywhere. Posters for Bibi Netanyahu. Posters for Tzipi Livni.
Bibi is sort of their Ronald Reagan; Ms. Livni is maybe a mix of Obama and Hilary. She believes in a two state solution with the Palestinians. Bibi… not so much.
But it was time for me and my associates to meet one of the founders of Israel and the author of that now beleaguered two state solution.
It was also time to break out the suit. And head over to Beit HaNassi, the official residence of the President of Israel. There we would meet the last living link to the original vision of Israel, Shimon Peres.
I didn’t know what to expect… I grew up seeing his image on TV and in the papers. A leading figure in Israel, he oversaw their nuclear program, the raid on Entebbe, negotiated relentlessly with Yasser Arafat and now enjoyed an 86 per cent approval rating as Israel’s elder statesman.
Known as an eternal optimist – not easy in this part of the world – he has always been dapper in finely tailored suits, unusual for an Israel leader.
As I met Shimon Peres, I looked at his stylish suit and then quickly down at my own. It didn’t even come close.
Let me jump back a few seconds. We are waiting in an anteroom to meet the President, when a very attractive young woman walks up to usher us in to his office.
Entering the room, I immediately take in the man himself, elegant, smiling, and then many shelves of awards, plaques, medals and other assorted world-class tchochkies.
But also… positioned almost strategically around the room stood several pretty, young women. Who were they? Press? Family? Assistants? I didn’t have time to ponder as the meeting began.
The idea of this sit down was a little bit of a mystery. We weren’t sure what the agenda was – maybe a sort of ‘get to know you meet’ prior to the shooting of our TV project? Perhaps President Peres wanted to speak philosophically about what he wanted included in the upcoming special….
I dunno. I was seated, adjusting my tie, trying to appear statesman-like, or something. Or at best, not say anything dumb.
Mr. Peres then starting speaking to us in a quiet voice with a thick accent, part Hebrew, part Polish. He spoke smoothly with the confidence born of conversing with just about every world leader in the last sixty years.
Did he talk philosophy, politics, the future of Israel and humanity? Not really. It was more fun than that. A lot more fun – actually. He told stories about his time with Ben-Gurion and what a character Ben-Gurion was.
Two Jews Walk Into a Bar….
The founder of Israel habitually joked about when Jews got together they always ended up arguing about something. Or if you brought two Jews together you’d end up with three political parties.
Peres laughed, thoroughly enjoying these remembrances and we did as well. It was like sitting around the kitchen table of history. He served us those tasty appetizers and we all noshed.
As the President shared these anecdotes, I glanced at the young women in the room. They were smiling, gazing at him, appreciating the warmth and optimism the elder statesman effused. The women appeared relaxed and familiar with the office. They were clearly his staff. All female.
What was it about all these young ladies running the office of the President that felt so… futuristic? There were clearly dashes here of ‘Charlie’s Angles’ but with a portend of Justin Trudeau.
Later, I did some research and learned that Peres for many years has only hired female assistants. Usually youthful and attractive.
And there was this quote from the New York Times,
“I have always had women around me. Women have a clear-cut advantage in their ability to read people, and I trust their eye a lot more… I never boycotted men, but I found women with remarkable managerial talent.”
Maybe these ‘Shimon’s Angels’ were part of his secret to success. And his longevity – political and otherwise. He clearly appreciated them and they looked as though they felt the same.
But for all his success and achievements, Shimon Peres has also lost many elections. For years the standard Israeli joke was, ‘How do you know when Shimon Peres is headed for defeat? – When he announces he is running.’
Yet here he was, in his ninth decade, the most popular leader in Israel, not only surviving but thriving, surrounded by admiring women.
Watching him delight in his life’s many stories gave me hope.
He had lost and he had won, but after so many years, here he stood, buoyant with energy, good spirits and undiminished optimism.
And that, I think, is how Shimon Peres gets all the girls.
“Optimists and pessimists die the same way.
They just live differently.
I prefer to live as an optimist.”