A Day to Remember

Shimon Peres celebrated his 87th birthday this week but the exact date of his birth remains a mystery.

President Shimon Peres celebrated his 87th birthday this week, at the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv. The event was scheduled in accordance with the president's busy calendar and not necessarily to accord with the date he was born. Peres was indeed born - there is no doubt about that - and insofar as is known, it was in August of 1923. The exact date, however, is a mystery. On the Knesset website, we learn that Peres was born on August 2, the 20th of the Hebrew month of Av, and that is perfectly possible. On the official Foreign Ministry site, it says Peres was born on August 21, with no mention of a Hebrew date.

Peres biographer Michael Bar-Zohar has written, in his 2006 life of the president, that Peres was born on August 15, and in parentheses he notes, Av 20. But in 1923, August 15 coincided with the Hebrew date of Elul 3. Peres has cooperated with other biographers, so it is also possible to check his birth date in Matti Golan's 1982 book - where we are told he was born on August 1.

Tzipi Livni and Shimon Peres
Tal Cohen

These days, one checks such things on one of many Internet sites, such as Famous, where it says Peres was born on August 16. Although one expect to find an authoritative date on the site of the Nobel Prize committee (Peres won the Peace Prize in 1994 ), all they say there is that he was born in 1923. There is of course yet another possibility, and that is to go into the website of the President's Residence, the official site of Israel's presidents. But that site is currently under construction.

Israel Radio's show "Noontime Diary" contacted the President's Residence this week in the hope of unraveling the mystery, and received the following official explanation: The president celebrates his birthday according to the Hebrew date, Av 20, 5683 - that is, August 2, 1923, but at the time of his birth they were not yet strict in Ukraine about recording the Hebrew date of birth.

Excuse the pettiness, but the president was born in Wiszniewo, which at that time was in Poland and is now in the Republic of Belarus, not Ukraine.

In some other month, in which the heat isn't frying the brain as it is this August, it would have been possible at this point to go into a profound discussion on the meaning of the mystery surrounding Peres' birth date, at which point something might come to mind that may well have influenced the course of history: Perhaps Peres was a frustrated child, one who suffered from a lack of love. For if he was born in August, almost certainly they never had a birthday party for him at kindergarten or in school, because his birthday fell during summer vacation.

Can one find here the seeds of Shimon Peres' lifetime quest for love? Perhaps, but if so, it would also be necessary to examine other people born in August, such as Bill Clinton and Fidel Castro, Madonna, Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanski.

August, which owes its last two days to Julius Caesar (until the year 45 B.C.E. it had only 29 days ), is the first month of fighting in World War I, so here we have an opportunity to read one of the most beautiful opening paragraphs to a history book ever written. Barbara Tuchman's "The Guns of August" begins like this: "So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII that the crowd, waiting in hushed and blackclad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, jeweled orders flashing in the sun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens - four dowager and three regnant - and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history's clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again."