Shimon Peres’ life remains an enigma for many, but those who knew him well would describe him as a staunch Zionist and builder of Israel’s military might.
After Peres’ death last year, Michael Bar-Zohar released a special edition of his book “Phoenix: Shimon Peres and the Secret History of Israel,” which recounts Peres’ struggles, triumphs and defeats in his personal and political lives.
Bar-Zohar takes readers on a journey that starts with Peres as a young immigrant and continues through his days working alongside David Ben-Gurion while striving to build up Israel’s military. As readers plow through the chapters, they will receive a behind-the-scenes look at a man who reshaped Israeli history and diplomacy.
As a child, Peres grew up in a mostly Jewish community and spent his time learning from the Torah. Although he was considered gifted by his teachers and excelled in school, he was also often bullied as a know-it-all. Nevertheless, he enjoyed delving into philosophical arguments with his friends and considered himself well versed in Russian literature from Dostoevsky to Tolstoy.
Peres’ world was turned upside down when he saw a photo of two Jews murdered by gentiles outside his community. The image horrified Peres, who had lived in a bubble regarding hatred of Jews.
As pogroms spread through Europe, Peres’ father decided to make aliyah, promising to call for Peres’ mother as soon as he could provide for the family. Three years passed before Peres embarked on his own journey to Israel and said his goodbye to his grandparents, who would die in the Holocaust.
He recalled the last phrase he heard from his grandfather: “Always remain Jewish.”
Upon arriving in Israel, Peres was sent to a kibbutz, where he learned what it took to be an Israeli. He also began getting into political debates with classmates and used his knowledge to rally youths to embark on secret trip to Masada, discuss the dangers of communism and assume leadership roles, which helped elevate his stature within the kibbutz.
Not long after, Peres moved to Tel Aviv and began working for Ben-Gurion in the Haganah, tasked with purchasing weapons for Israel’s defense. Thus, Peres was on the path to serving as prime minister twice, as president, and as a promoter of peace who also advocated Israel’s right to defend itself.
Bar-Zohar has captured Israel’s history through Peres’ lens of hope, fear and faith in the Jewish state.