No Room for Small Dreams: Courage, Imag­i­na­tion, and the Mak­ing of Mod­ern Israel

Shi­mon Peres

  • Review
By – August 2, 2017

Since he was elect­ed to Israel’s Knes­set in 1959, Shi­mon Peres served in twelve dif­fer­ent capac­i­ties, some of them — includ­ing prime min­is­ter — more than once. His final posi­tion was as the country’s ninth pres­i­dent. His term end­ed in 2014, and he died two years lat­er at the age of ninety-three.

It was a long life, through which ran two main themes — the pur­suit of his dreams, no mat­ter how out­sized they seemed to oth­ers, and his opti­mistic view, which pre­vailed even through bleak sit­u­a­tions. While Daniel Burn­ham instruct­ed Make no lit­tle plans,” the Peres vari­a­tion was Dream no small dreams.”

Peres was born in a shtetl in Poland, and when he was eleven, his fam­i­ly moved to Manda­to­ry Pales­tine. He quick­ly adapt­ed, deter­mined to ful­fill his Zion­ist dream by becom­ing a kib­butznik and work­ing the land. But pol­i­tics inter­vened ear­ly on, in the per­son of David Ben-Guri­on, who became a men­tor to Peres.

He did join a kib­butz, and he char­ac­ter­izes the time he spent there as some of the hap­pi­est days of my life,” enhanced by his 1945 mar­riage to Sonia Gel­man. His kib­butz days soon end­ed, as Ben-Guri­on tapped him, along with Moshe Dayan, as new young lead­ers who were com­mit­ted to his vision, poli­cies, and pol­i­tics, and who could trans­mit these to the next gen­er­a­tion. Peres, too, real­ized that it was lead­er­ship, not agri­cul­ture, to which he aspired.

Iron­i­cal­ly, the man who, in his lat­er years, would be known (and fre­quent­ly scorned) as a dove, began his polit­i­cal jour­ney from the oppo­site direc­tion — as a pro­cur­er of arms for the soon-to-be-declared state, which was faced with an arms embar­go and had too few weapons to defend itself from the expect­ed attacks. Peres’s own view, how­ev­er, is that there was no irony in this. He didn’t change; the sit­u­a­tion did. The goal was always peace, but at that time, war was the only way towards its achieve­ment. When nego­ti­a­tions seemed pos­si­ble, he embraced them.

After the War of Inde­pen­dence came the build­ing of the IDF and, along with it, the cre­ation of the new state’s own air­craft indus­try, notwith­stand­ing the pover­ty in the coun­try. But most auda­cious of all at that time was the begin­ning of Israel’s attain­ment of nuclear capa­bil­i­ty. It was nec­es­sary, Peres argued, as a deter­rent. The French agreed to assist.

Still to come were the Six-Day War, the Yom Kip­pur War, the Entebbe res­cue, the Oslo accords, the Nobel Peace Prize, and the tech­nol­o­gy rev­o­lu­tion that has rede­fined Israel as the start-up nation.” With all this, the list is far from exhausted.

The life of Shi­mon Peres spans the full panoply of mod­ern Israel. It is his­to­ry as mem­oir, albeit from a sin­gle, per­son­al per­spec­tive — that of one of the found­ing gen­er­a­tion who saw him­self as often mis­un­der­stood, den­i­grat­ed, and mis­trust­ed. At the same time, Peres express­es no bit­ter­ness, only sat­is­fac­tion and pride in how and why he pur­sued his dreams. This book is a reminder of those who were, indi­vid­u­al­ly and col­lec­tive­ly, larg­er than life.

Gila Wertheimer is Asso­ciate Edi­tor of the Chica­go Jew­ish Star. She is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist who has been review­ing books for 35 years.

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