Peres' Daughter Adds Universalist Touch to Jewish Prayer at State Funeral

While reciting the prayer with her brothers, daughter Tzvia Walden inserts 'and for all humankind' to the ultra-Orthodox wording - adding a universal twist to the traditional mourning prayer.

Tsvia Walden at funeral for her father Shimon Peres. September 30, 2016.
Gil Yohanon

The daughter of former Israeli president Shimon Peres broke with Jewish tradition during his funeral Friday in Jerusalem, tweaking the age-old Jewish prayer for the dead to include a universal message.

The traditional Kaddish prayer concludes as follows: “He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel" (“Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu v’al kol-yisrael”).

Reciting the Kaddish prayer over her father’s fresh grave, Peres’s daughter, who is secular, or not religiously observant, added the following words at the end, invoking her father’s famous universalism: “And for all humankind.”

Read more on Shimon Peres:  How Shimon Peres built Israel's nuclear program | In death, Peres got one last win |  Peres pursued peace for sake of Israel's values, and Palestinians' dignity | Hawk to dove, pro-settlements to pro-peace: Shimon Peres was it all | The countless contradictions of the late and great Shimon Peres

Tsvia Walden, Chemi Peres and Yoni Peres at funeral for her father Shimon Peres. September 30, 2016.
Marc Israel Salem, Pool

In Conservative and Reform congregations, it is common to supplement the prayer with a blessing for all humanity, but the Hebrew phrase used in the Conservative and Reform renditions is “on all people of the universe” (“v’al kol anshei tevel”) – a term originating from the Bible.

But Peres' daughter, Tzvia Walden, used slightly different words – clearly crafted on her own – in delivering a similar message: "on all humankind" (“v’al kol b’nei adam”).

Walden's participation in the prayer was another break with tradition. In fact her voice was the most dominant as the Kaddish was recited. In Orthodox Judaism, the most common stream practiced in Israel, women generally do not recite the Kaddish.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, executive director of the Union of Reform Judaism, said the Kaddish as recited by the Peres family, reflected their father’s pluralistic approach to Judaism, which “included all the various streams under one umbrella with equal rights.”

The additional words served as an apt expression “of Peres’s legacy and his desire and dream for peace not only for Israel but for all people of the universe,” said Jacobs, who was at the funeral.

In eulogizing her father, Walden opened with a recollection of the last year of the late president’s life, when he would often have Shabbat dinner at her home.

“He would be the first to stand up for Kiddush, holding in his hand the little booklet with the Shabbat songs, written in tiny font, deciphering the words of the songs through the thick lenses of his glasses,” she said. “He wouldn’t miss a word, belting out the songs.”

Walden, a grandmother herself, would recall how her father would try to entice her to eat when she was a child, by cutting sandwiches into interesting shapes.

“Taste it,” he would encourage her. “It’s a Burmese sandwich.” Every trick in the book was legitimate in his eyes, she said, “when it came to opening a kid’s mouth to eat.”

Although Peres wined and dined with royalty, she said, nothing compared to his wife’s home cooking.

“I remember us once sitting at a French restaurant, when he whispered to me: ‘It’s tasty, but nothing’s like your mom’s salad.’”

She joked that despite his adventurous nature and love of innovation, he had a hard time accepting her decision to change her last name when she married.

“Every time I’d come into the house, he’d say in a loud voice, ‘Sonia, look, Mrs. Walden has arrived.’ Delighted with himself just like a kid.”

“A man in love” his entire life is how she described her father. “In love with his family. In love with the people of Israel. In love with the state of Israel. In love with the days that he may see good. And in love with the future to come.”

In her farewell words, Walden noted the many days of he life she spent running after her very busy dad. “Now, with much love, listen to me,” she said. “You deserve a proper rest.”