Nechama Rivlin, Wife of Israeli President, Dies at 73

Israel's first lady Nechama Rivlin, who had suffered from a lung condition for the past several years, underwent a lung transplant in March

Reuven and Nechama Rivlin.
Haim Zach/GPO

Nechama Rivlin, the wife of President Reuven Rivlin, died on Tuesday at the age of 73.

Mrs. Rivlin, who had suffered from a pulmonary illness for a number of years, underwent a lung transplant in March. She passed away at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva a day before her 74th birthday.

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The president announced that the funeral will be held on Wednesday in Jerusalem. The public is invited to pay their respects at the Jerusalem Theater from 2 P.M. and funeral services will be held at G'dolei HaUma, the section of the Mount Herzl cemetery reserved for leaders of the nation, at 6 P.M..

In a statement, President Rivlin thanked the hospital's staff for the "dedicated, sensitive and professional treatment" that they provided his wife over the past three months.

Nechama Rivlin.
Michal Fattal
President Rivlin and first lady Nechama during a state visit in India, 2016.
Mark Neyman/GPO

He also thanked Israelis for their messages of support, which "gave the president and the entire family strength and support that was indescribably powerful," the statement said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he and his wife, Sara, express their condolences on Nechama Rivlin's death. "We have all prayed for her health during the recent period, when she fought heroically for her life," he added.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said: "I share President Reuven Rivlin's grief with the passing of his dear wife, Nechama. May her memory be blessed."

Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay said that all Israelis feel the pain of Nechama Rivlin's passing. "I send an embrace and condolences to the president and his family. Nechama's humility and love for her fellow human being will always be with us," he tweeted.

Hadash-Ta’al Chairman Ayman Odeh expressed his sorrow on the passing of the First Lady, whom he described as “a dear woman who loved her fellow human beings. Condolences to President Rivlin and to his whole family.”

The Arab Regional Councils released a statement extending their condolences to President Rivlin. In an official statement the councils said that the decision to extend official condolences was made jointly by the heads of all the Arab Regional Councils in Israel. The statement added that "President Rivlin is a voice of sanity in a public domain that is radicalizing against the Arab population."

Born on a moshav

Nechama and Reuven Rivlin with Barack and Michelle Obama, 2015.
Kobi Gideon / GPO
U.S. first lady Melania Trump holds the hand of Nechama Rivlin, at Rivlin's residence in Jerusalem, 2017.
Noam Moskovitz/Reuters

Mrs. Rivlin was born in 1945 on Moshav Herut to Mendy and Drora Kayla Shulman, who were among the founders of the collective farming community. In an article published by Haaretz in 2016, she wrote that because of her mother, who had come to Mandatory Palestine from Ukraine and lost her entire family in the Holocaust, "I look in admiration at the female pioneers who came to Palestine-the Land of Israel in order to build a country here, which was a far-off dream when they arrived."

Her father died of illness when he was 45 and Nechama was five, and her mother was left to care for the farm, with its orchard, cattle and chickens. "I remember her working hard and fighting like a lioness for the right to work the land, despite the objective difficulties entailed in choosing such a demanding way of life. She never sank into debt – no small feat in a cooperative farming settlement," she wrote.

Nechama Rivlin completed a bachelor's degree in biotechnology and zoology from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and was certified to teach natural sciences. For years she worked as secretary at the Institute of Life Sciences at the university, and met her husband in Jerusalem.

The two married in 1970. She was his second wife, and he had a child from his first marriage. It was her first marriage, and they had three children together, and became grandparents.

Mr. Rivlin's career in politics as Knesset member, cabinet minister, speaker of the Knesset and finally president put Nechama Rivlin in the public eye since the late 1980s. She stood out for her modesty and lack of pretense, and was known for her messages of reconciliation and peace.

The general public perceived her as the polar opposite of Sara Netanyahu, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife. Nechama Rivlin customarily shopped herself in the market, distanced herself from politics and avoided stating her position on topics relating to her husband's work. "People loved me a great deal. I don't know why," she told Kan 88 public radio last year. "They're always giving me compliments."

Mrs. Rivlin's personal interests included the environment and youth at risk. She also loved art, dogs and cooking and from time to time would write Facebook posts about her husband. The last was on March 15, about a visit to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Nechama Rivlin suffered from fibrosis, a respiratory disease that causes scar tissue to grow in the lungs and that increasingly impairs their functioning. She was required to take a number of medications and needed a portable oxygen machine to get around.

"He knows that it's hard for me, but I prefer to overcome. I don't want to make him sad, I don't want to be a burden," she told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper in reference to her husband. "I would rather be strong. When [I've been] with him, I've done everything I could not to break down. Throughout he has made me feel like a heroine, and that's what matters."

Jonathan Lis, Jack Khoury and Noa Landau contributed to this report.