SOUTH FLORIDA JEWISH JOURNAL
Ceremony remembers, honors Peres
Hundreds of people gathered at Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center to honor and remember the late Shimon Peres in a moving community memorial service.
Peres, the Israeli statesman and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, died last month at the age of 93. He was the last surviving leader of Israel's founding generation and served as president and prime minister of the Jewish state.
The memorial service in Aventura on Oct. 13, hosted by the Greater Miami Jewish Federation and its Jewish Community Relations Council in partnership with the Consulate General of Israel to Florida and Puerto Rico and the Rabbinical Association of Greater Miami, featured remarks by local leaders and emotional musical performances.
Amy Dean, the GMJF's board chair, said about the service's turnout: "I think it says very positive things about the community's support for Israel because we had a wonderful turnout despite the fact that we rescheduled it [due to the threat of Hurricane Matthew the week before] for the day after Yom Kippur so clearly the community was interested and supportive."
Lior Haiat, the local Israeli consul general, also praised the community's support for the event.
"It's an amazing community whose connection to Israel is on a day to day basis and they feel that Shimon Peres was their president the same as our president. I'm so fortunate to be in this community and serve."
Shelley Niceley Groff, chair of the JCRC of the Federation, said the local community has a deep love for Peres.
"We had a long-standing 26-year relationship with him that began with our Mega Mission in 1990 and he was here in Miami in 2015 [for the GMJF's Main Event] where we honored him and he spoke to more than 1,000 people of our community. We had a close relationship with him and we have a deep love for him. We miss him, we will miss him and we will always treasure the relationship that our community had with him."
Rafael Kravec, Peres' friend for 40 years and president of American Friends of the Peres Institute for Peace who was one of the event's speakers, said in an interview that he was not surprised by the turnout and community's support.
"I feel that Shimon Peres represents the best that Israel has to offer."
During the presentations, Rabbi Jonathan Berkun of ATJC told the audience that one of the reasons they were standing on holy ground was due to the fact that, at that very podium on a Shabbat morning on Oct. 19, 1996, Peres stood there and spoke to the congregation and to the community at large.
"One of the things Peres spoke about that morning 20 years ago was that the answer to Israel's problems and also the world's problems is peace," Berkun said.
In his remarks, Haiat thanked Peres for his service to Israel, including his peace efforts.
The service also featured remarks by politicians U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Weston) and Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos López-Cantera, a Republican.
Wasserman Schultz told the audience that she was "really emotional."
"It's not often in life that we have an opportunity to honor someone of significance like Shimon Peres and also someone who left the kind of mark on the world that he did," she remarked.
In an interview, Wasserman Schultz described the love that South Floridians carry in their hearts for Israel as "personal and local."
"Honoring President Peres and his life and his legacy here will help us carry on that legacy and make sure it continues to burn brightly," she continued.
López-Cantera expressed his pride in standing with Israel and celebrating Peres' life and efforts to the audience.
"It's a humbling and honoring experience, especially knowing that he spoke in the very same spot nearly 20 years ago to the day," he said in an interview. "To stand in the spot of a man who made such an impact not only in Israel but the entire world is a tremendous honor."
The services also featured remarks form Christian faith leaders.
Pastor Mario Bramnick, president of Hispanic Israel Leadership Coalition, remarked: "The visionary statesman is gone, but the nation of Israel that he dreamt about, which he fought for, and which he was a part in creating, lives on. Now it is alive, it is vibrant and it is a beacon of democracy to the nations of the world."