Sonia Peres, Wife of President Shimon Peres, Dies at 87

Sonia Peres rarely appeared in the public eye, preferring to play a backstage role in her husband's six-decade political career.

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Shimon and Sonia Peres in 1985.
Shimon and Sonia Peres in 1985.Credit: Government Press Office

The wife of President Shimon Peres, Sonia Peres, died on Thursday at the age of 87 at her northern Tel Aviv home.

Peres is survived by her husband, their three children Tzvia, Yonatan, and Hemi, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Her son-in-law and physician, Dr. Raphael Walden, told Israel Radio she died peacefully in her sleep.

The president arrived at the Peres family home Thursday afternoon. The presidential residence publicity adviser announced that the family is currently in deep mourning, and will issue another release soon.

P.m. Shimon Peres and his wife sonia travelling by helicopter to Kibbutz Alumot, south of the sea of Galilee, May 7, 1985.
Shimon Peres and his girlfriend Sonia Gelman at a Hanoar Haoved summer camp in Zichron Yaacov, August 1939.
Sonia and Shimon Peres, October 1984
Sonia Peres 1923-2011

Shortly before Peres became president in 2007, Sonya was briefly hospitalized with a heart condition, but she was not known to be ill in recent years.

Born in the Ukraine in 1923, Peres made aliyah to Israel with her family at the age of four. They moved to the Israel youth village of Ben Shemen where she met her husband.

During World War Two, Peres volunteered to serve in the British army and fight against the Germans. When she returned to Israel after the war in 1945, she and the future president were wed.

The couple was married for 67 years.

Sonia Peres rarely appeared in the public eye, preferring to play a backstage role in her husband's six-decade political career, a decision which sometimes drew scathing criticism.

There were those, for instance, that saw a connection between Peres' inconspicuousness to the Labor Party's election downfall in 1981, with some saying that the party would have von had she stood at her husband's side.

Referring to that period, Shimon Peres biographer Michael Bar-Zohar wrote that "Sonia's absence from Shimon side caused him severe political damage," adding that her "charming personality would have undoubtedly added another dimension to her husband, and instead of the slightly sad, lonely man, many would have seen a loving and warm couple."

One of Sonia Peres' last public appearances was in April 1990, when she attended the somewhat awkward occasion of the swearing in of the government then constructed by her husband. She sat at the VIP section, looking on as the Haredi factions sabotaged the cabinet's formation, leading to the meeting's eventual dispersal.

When asked at one time why she chose to stay away from the public eye, Peres said:" I married a dairy farmer."

In fact, Peres opted to stay in their Tel Aviv home when her husband moved into the presidential residence in Jerusalem in 2007. The two lived separately until her death.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Shimon Peres and expressed his condolences. "In her quiet and modest life, Sonia represented good-heartedness and turned into a symbol and example of modesty and love of man," said Netanyahu.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Thursday that "Sonia Peres was a very special woman and human being. She was the epitome of modesty, simplicity and loving kindness. Throughout the years she stayed out of the limelight and maintained her privacy, working tirelessly on behalf of those in need. All who knew her adored and admired her. May her memory be blessed."

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