Nechama Rivlin, in keeping with the Hebrew meaning of her first name, was indeed a source of comfort, particularly in recent years when she became a public figure as the country’s first lady. She distilled the charm of her husband, President Reuven Rivlin, and also added to it.
This pair, crowded together on an airplane, in a sketch on the satirical television show “Eretz Nehederet” or sitting against the backdrop of the Taj Mahal, have provided a source of comfort and calm to large segments of the country’s population.
When you saw them, you could believe that not everything in Israel had been wrecked, that all was not lost. That not everyone in high office was a bully with an endless sense of entitlement, crazy pretentiousness and capricious chutzpah. That there were real people in office and not just unstable emperor types.
That’s why President Rivlin, the number one advocate of annexation of West Bank territory, found a place in Israelis’ hearts, including the hearts of left-wingers who are unsympathetic to the right wing and its messianic visions. Because everyone is happy first of all to encounter a real human being, someone who, above all, by nature means well.
Every public appearance that Nechama Rivlin made was a little treat. Although I didn’t know her personally, I would smile every time she would emerge, as one would on seeing the picture of a child or a favorite, funny aunt. There is also that unforgettable photo taken during U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel, in which Nechama Rivlin is seen with her oxygen pump in one hand and her other hand grasped by an attractive Melania Trump who is looking warmly and admiringly at the Israeli first lady.
It provides perhaps the most moving distillation of her public persona. In this photo and from Mrs. Rivlin’s entire image, one was able to witness life’s simplest and strongest raw material: A good laugh at a joke, grabbing a falafel and eating it on one’s feet, confronting a medical crisis, getting old, a couple’s longstanding love that is comfortable and accepting of one another, that is made up of integrity and compassion.
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Her charm was that she didn’t look like an official representative and didn’t try to, instead remaining like that neighbor lady whom you could leave a spare key with and who would also give you dinner and advice on your love life.
Israel is so desperate for more people like her as it groans under the weight of a destructive political bulldozer willing to tear down its democracy bit by bit. It needs people who will shine light and warmth or will simply be nice, who won’t always carry a knife and be imbued with hate and paranoia.
This is why Israelis in their masses have embraced Nechama and Ruvi Rivlin. This is why today Israelis are saddened, because more than the pleasure that they derived in witnessing this couple – who in fact were a real pleasure to witness – Israelis are afraid of the image of themselves that they see in the mirror.