Home > Timeline > 2013 > Grapevine: Honoring two great leaders

President Peres, escorted by Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler and senior adviser Yoram Dori, displayed keen interest in the photographs.

President Shimon Peres and Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler Photo: Nathan Roi.

President Shimon Peres and Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler

President Shimon Peres and Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler

Veterinarian Yoni Peres, the youngest of the three offspring of President Shimon Peres and his late wife, Sonia, is not as well-known to the general public as his older siblings, Zvia Walden and Chemi Peres. But this week he represented his family at Jerusalem’s First Station complex for the opening on Wednesday of a photo exhibition originally mounted in the birthplaces of Shimon Peres, in honor of his 90th birthday, and Menachem Begin, on the 100th anniversary of his birth. President Peres himself visited the exhibition on Thursday.

President Peres, escorted by Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler and senior adviser Yoram Dori, displayed keen interest in the photographs.

“It’s a very exciting and educational exhibit,” he said.

The photos range through seven generations of the Peres family and three generations of the Begin family. Yoni Peres said it gave him goosebumps to see this visual evidence of his family’s roots. The exhibition, organized by Limmud FSU – a program aimed at bringing informal Jewish education to Russian-speaking Jews in different parts of the world, but primarily in the former Soviet Union – almost instantly attracted tourists at the First Station, an attraction that is extremely popular with Jerusalem residents and visitors alike.

Chesler said it was unthinkable not to bring an exhibition honoring two great men who had such a profound influence on the destiny of the nation, to the nation’s capital.

Limmud FSU steering committee chairman Matthew Bronfman, who had attended the original openings, described going to the Former Soviet Union for the purpose as “an incredible journey.” He also voiced “great pride” in the effect Limmud has had on Russian-speaking Jews.

Herzl Makov, director of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, said that together, Peres and Begin represent the story of the Jewish people in the 20th century, starting in two small shtetls and ending in Jerusalem. Despite their political differences, both Begin and Peres are role models for future generations, said Makov.

Yoni Peres made a similar comment, saying the exhibition shows two sides of the political map, and said it was appropriate to be shown in Jerusalem – where Jews and Arabs, religious and secular live in peace.

Despite their differences, he said, speaking of his father and Begin, both had one goal – to live in peace with their neighbors, and to minimize friction as much as possible.

“Combining these two political figures is a wonderful idea,” he said.

Prize-winning Gesher actress Helena Yarolova, who is a member of the Limmud international steering committee, said looking at the exhibition made her feel like family, as she – like Peres and Begin – came to Israel from a place that was part of the former Soviet Union. “We are joined together by a fine thread,” she said, noting that “Israel is our home, but we must not forget where we came from.”

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat also derived a sense of family from the exhibition, commenting that Peres and Begin both come across not only as political leaders but as family men. “They came here and became leaders of our country, and we owe them a lot,” he said. In fact, Barkat found the history in the photographs so intriguing that it prompted him to google the background and learn more.

There are several photographs depicting Peres and Begin together, when Begin was prime minister and Peres the leader of the opposition. There is also a picture of the president’s birth certificate, in which the nationality of both his parents is listed as Jewish.

Impressive as the exhibition is, it contains one glaring omission. In a photograph taken at Camp David in 1978, when Begin was concentrating on a chess game with Zbigniew Brzezinski, then the US national security adviser, the person dominating the photograph and sitting alongside Begin was the late Simcha Dinitz, who was then Israel’s ambassador to the US – but his name is not mentioned in the caption.