From a young age, he was renowned for his oratorical brilliance, and was chosen as a protégé by David Ben-Gurion, Israel's founding father. He began his political career in the late 1940s, holding several diplomatic and military positions during and directly after the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. His first high-level government position was as Deputy Director-General of Defense in 1952 which he attained at the age of 28, and Director-General from 1953 until 1959. In 1956, he took part in the historic negotiations on the Protocol of Sèvres described by British Prime Minister Anthony Eden as the "highest form of statesmanship". In 1963, he held negotiations with U.S. President John F. Kennedy, which resulted in the sale of Hawk anti-aircraft missiles to Israel, the first sale of U.S. military equipment to Israel. Peres represented Mapai, Rafi, the Alignment, Labor and Kadima in the Knesset, and led Alignment and Labor.
Peres first succeeded Yitzhak Rabin as Acting Prime Minister briefly during 1977, before becoming Prime Minister from 1984 to 1986. As Foreign Minister under Prime Minister Rabin, Peres engineered the 1994 Israel–Jordan peace treaty, and won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize together with Rabin and Yasser Arafat for the Oslo Accords peace talks with the Palestinian leadership. In 1996, he founded the Peres Center for Peace, which has the aim of "promot lasting peace and advancement in the Middle East by fostering tolerance, economic and technological development, cooperation and well-being." After suffering a stroke, Peres died on September 28, 2016 near Tel Aviv.
Peres was a polyglot, speaking Polish, French, English, Russian, Yiddish, and Hebrew, although he never lost his Polish accent when speaking in Hebrew. In his private life, he was a poet and songwriter, writing stanzas during cabinet meetings, with some of his poems later being recorded as songs in albums. As a result of his deep literary interests, he could quote from Hebrew prophets, French literature, and Chinese philosophy with equal ease.
Shimon Peres was born Szymon Perski, on August 2, 1923, in Wiszniew, Poland (now Vishnyeva, Belarus), to Yitzhak (1896–1962) and Sara (1905–1969 née Meltzer) Perski. The family spoke Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian at home, and Peres learned Polish at school. He then learned to speak English and French. His father was a wealthy timber merchant, later branching out into other commodities; his mother was a librarian. Peres had a younger brother, Gershon, and was a first cousin of American film star Lauren Bacall (born Betty Joan Perske).
Peres told Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson that he had been born as a result of a blessing his parents had received from a chassidic rebbe and that he was proud of it. Peres' grandfather, Rabbi Zvi Meltzer, a grandson of Rabbi Chaim Volozhin, had a great impact on his life. In an interview, Peres said: "As a child, I grew up in my grandfather's home. … I was educated by him. … My grandfather taught me Talmud. It was not as easy as it sounds. My home was not an observant one. My parents were not Orthodox but I was Haredi. At one point, I heard my parents listening to the radio on the Sabbath and I smashed it." When he was a child, Peres was taken by his father to Radun' to receive a blessing from Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (known as "the Chofetz Chaim"). As a child, Peres would later say, "I did not dream of becoming president of Israel. My dream as a boy was to be a shepherd or a poet of stars." He inherited his love of French literature from his maternal grandfather.