January 20, 2011
A fading picture of a fading lady…
Came back on my bike at around 2 from tennis. Ambulances, police, cameras, around the house opposite, where we used to live before moving here. There are interesting people living there, but the only one who could attract such attention would be Sonya Peres, wife of the President.
‘Something up with Sonya?’ I asked someone. ‘She just died’, he replied.
‘Sh..!’ was my initial response. “I didn’t get to interview her”.
(Not a nice initial reaction – my apologies. May she Rest in Peace. My deepest sympathies to family and friends).
Sonya died today of a heart attack – in her sleep, they say. She was 88. Married Shimon in 1945, but they had been estranged for some years. One of the saddest events was her non-show at his presidential inauguration. By then, their ‘life’s differences’ had become too great. He once referred to her as his ‘dairy farmer’. Many in the country, especially the Labour Party supporters, blamed their political failures on the fact that he did not have a ‘loving wife at his side’
Our neighbourly friendship started 27 years ago, when we arrived in Israel and moved into the apartment 4 floors below the Peres’s.
We’d meet in the lift, the supermarket downstairs, etc. We’d meet Shimon, of course. And talk to him. But he was always surrounded by security, whereas Sonya, who actually made a publically unpopular decision to stay out of Shimon’s political limelight, was easier to approach.
One day, she asked me about some work being done at our home. New kitchen, including Corian counter-tops etc. She came round to have coffee and view the work, installed by Aviva’s brother.
She also needed new kitchen. Could Moshe come and give a quote? Not only did he, he gave her a great price – the publicity would be useful.
When she told Shimon, he still refused to spend the money. They ended getting cheap marble…
Otherwise, I greatly admire the guy.
Last time I met Sonya, I asked her for an interview. ‘Whenever you want’, she smiled.
So here I go:
Q. Your maiden name was Gellman, but almost 2 years ago, you officially changed your name to Sonya Gal. Why?
A. Sorry, I can’t tell you that.
Q. Was it a new friend?
A. (An initial frown; then a smile). Don’t even go there.
Q. If not politics, what was the love of your life?
A (Big smile). First, my 2 great-grandchildren, then my 8 grandchildren, and finally, my 3 children – and all their partners – and not necessarily in that order.
Q. So, a family woman?
A. Absolutely. Although Shimchy, I’m sorry, Shimon, was right when he referred to me as a dairy farmer. I was much happier away from the city, in the fields, with the smell of the farm nearby.
Q. You have regrets?
A. Of course I have regrets. We all have. And mine are obvious. I know what you’re asking, so let’s get that out the way. Shimchy, I’m sorry, Shimon and I had a wonderful marriage. Just look at the beautiful people we have produced. There was always love. But our interests were different. I could never really enter his world of politics. It was not an environment where I could relax. I cracked my jaw several times, holding my diplomatic smile, while hundreds would shake my hand off.
Q. When was the last time you spoke to Shimchy, I’m sorry, I mean Shimon?
A. Oh come on, Stephen, another subject. Just know that we never stopped communicating. We were friends, good friends.
Q. Favourite colour.
A. Black – but different shades of black.
Q. What do you mean?
A. You’ve never noticed the different blacks around? Oh, next subject..And anyway, I’m in a bit of a hurry. They’re coming to pick me up.
Q. Where are you going?
A. Now to get cleaned up. Then to Ben Shemen, the village where Shimchy, I mean Shimon and I met. They’re going to bury me there.
Q. I’m sorry. I won’t take more of your time. Thank-you for this.
A. I did promise you. By the way, if you post a picture of me, let it be when I was a little younger.
Q. It shall be my pleasure. Thank-you, and bye-bye.