Reuven Rivlin, the newly elected Israeli president waves to well-wishers
Reuven Rivlin, the newly elected Israeli president waves to well-wishers after visiting the Western Wall, in Jerusalem, June 10, 2014. Photo by Reuters
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A Philadelphia real-estate lawyer has a personal reason to be excited about Reuven Rivlin’s recent win to become the next Israeli president to follow Shimon Peres.

Fred Strober, president of the American Jewish Committee’s Philadelphia and South Jersey regions as well as a former president of Reform congregation Rodeph Shalom in Center City, is Rivlin’s first cousin.

“I’m very excited for him and the people of Israel and Jews around the world,” said Strober, a real estate lawyer.

Rivlin, a Likud stalwart who beat out Hatnua Party member Meir Sheetrit in a close Knesset vote-off for the largely ceremonial position on Tuesday, has been a member of Knesset since 1988 and served twice as its speaker.

But his local cousin is even more impressed with Rivlin’s record as a family man.
“He comes from such a rich and wonderful family who are so committed to Israel,” Strober said, adding that Rivlin is “very well-loved by the family.”

Strober recalled how Rivlin fast-tracked his son, Zeke Strober, and fellow students through security at the Knesset to give them a private tour, and another time when Rivlin gave his parents (Rivlin’s aunt and uncle) a personalized tour of Israel during a visit.

“There’s no family member he won’t go out of the way for,” Strober emphasized.
Strober recounts that when he was visiting Israel as a 25-year-old during the Yom Kippur holiday in 1973, he received a phone call from Rivlin’s army reserves unit requesting that his cousin be pulled out of synagogue to join the fighting in what later became known as the Yom Kippur War.

While seen by many as politically open to different viewpoints, Rivlin’s presidential campaign was met with lukewarm reactions from the non-Orthodox American Jewish community, which some say that he has ostracized.

He referred to Reform Judaism as “idol worship” in 1989, after visiting Temple Emanu-El, a Reform synagogue in Westfield, New Jersey. In 2007, during a run for president that he eventually lost to Peres, Rivlin would not confirm whether he would refer to Reform rabbis by their title if he were elected.

“I respect any person chosen to lead his or her community, and God forbid I invalidate him because he is from one stream or another,” he said recently. “The President’s Office represents all streams and denominations in society. The job of the president is to bridge conflicts, not create conflicts.”

Strober said he believes that his cousin will use his new office to encourage plurality in all aspects of Judaism and Israel.

“He’s really going to emphasize democratic values,” Strober said. “I’m very proud.”

Republished by permission of the Jewish Exponent