Opinion

Israel's First Daughter Explains Why She Emerged From Anonymity to Meet the Trumps

Anat Rivlin, daughter of Israeli president Rivlin, on finding common ground with Melania and Ivanka Trump

Anat Rivlin and Ivanka Trump at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, May 22, 2017.
Mark Neiman / GPO

What will I talk about with her?

The thoughts run through my head, threatening to make my eyeballs turn over. And, from another direction, my heart is pounding as though it’s looking for a way out of my body.

I don’t think I’ll go in.

But they want me to go in.

One of the women on my father’s staff smiles and says, “Just put your fears aside – sometimes you have to do what the state asks you to do.” And someone else adds, “You have to understand – this is how we create the best ties between countries! Get her personal details – you’ll be friends.”

Anat Rivlina and Ivanka Trump at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, May 22, 2017.
Mark Neiman / GPO

But what will I talk to her about?

You’re both mothers of small children and hold full-time jobs.

(Come on! There’s no way I’ll talk to her about that; with all due respect, we’re in 2017.)

Okay. She worked with her father on the campaign. Ask her what it was like to work with her father.

(She won’t understand what I want from her!)

Talk to her about Israel. Ask her where she’s already visited.

(Okay, that’s a direction.)

Talk to her about what your father always says: that the only way to create trust between people is by getting to know them deeply. To know the “other.” To understand his faith, his motivations.

(A direction, for being a nudnik.)

But I have nothing to wear.

So many times in the past two years I’ve been asked why I haven't joined my father in this or that meeting with an influential person. I’m usually evasive and answer that I was busy, instead of confessing the truth: that I wasn’t invited. And really, why should I be there? I don’t have an official position, and if I show up my father will get uptight, at least that’s what I think. And if there’s one thing I can’t abide, it’s seeing my father get stressed out.

One way or the other, over the years, I’ve taught myself that between being afraid I’d miss an important event and the need to remain anonymous – it’s easier for me to keep my distance from media events.

But this past Monday, I arrived at the President’s Residence. I wasn’t totally focused. I wondered whether I’d be able to see the motorcade arriving if I stood on the balcony from which we watch my father reviewing the outstanding Israel Defense Forces soldiers on Independence Day. Would I even be allowed to stand on the balcony? Wouldn’t want to be felled by a sniper.

I was helping my mother comb her hair when Harel Tubi, director general of the President’s Residence, called. “Ivanka’s coming, too. Why not meet her? It’ll be excellent.”

But what are we going to talk about?

The American president finished signing the guest book, and someone gestured to me to go into the bureau with them. I walked quickly along the corridor in order to avoid the tangle of people, and was the first to enter. I turned around for a moment to see who was behind me. Trump was walking there, a few steps ahead of everyone, so that it looked to me as though he was walking alone. You know how someone always looks strong and in charge to you, makes you angry with his tough presence, and then you see him sit down to eat alone and suddenly your heart goes out to him because he’s the essence of loneliness? That’s what it was like.

I wanted to say to him, “Hi, I’m Anat, Ruvi’s daughter.” Instead, I quickened my steps into the bureau, where Rivka, my father’s chief of staff, was waiting – a familiar, always smiling face, thank God.

I didn’t hear anything, I didn’t understand anything. I only saw my mother and Melania sitting in the armchairs. Is it an armchair or a sofa? My mother always gets angry when I mix up the two words. My father and Trump were there, too: He showed him the photographs of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul [two IDF soldiers whose bodies are being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip].

The bureau emptied of the men, and the two women remained seated where they were. Side by side. And talked.

I’ll go and sit next to them on the sofa. I’ll just sit down there. I hope it’s allowed.

I sat down. Melania looked at me and smiled. My mother said to her, “This is my daughter, Anat.” And she said, “Yaaah, it’s great that you joined us.” I think I did what my mother always does in situations like this: I got up and gave her a kiss. I’m not sure I’m not making this up, not because my memory is that bad, but because that woman enchanted me, or maybe because we all sat there totally unexperienced and tried to do what we know how to do best.

Since November 2016, when her husband was elected president, I’ve heard things said about Melania: that the role was forced on her, that she’s not cut out for being dragged in his wake to all kinds of places, that it’s no paradise.

I was taken by just one detail of her biography – that she’s not American-born. She immigrated to America. And immigrants carry sadness and longing with them. There’s a kind of thin curtain around them, which I’ve been able to spot ever since I saw it around my grandmother, who, even when she established a Jewish community in the land she loved, eternally harbored a memory of another place, of a remote playground, of a childhood bed, of home.

But people, bless them, like to tell themselves juicy stories, don’t allow themselves time to adjust, don’t care that barely half a year has gone by since November 8.

And then the door opened and Ivanka entered.

She sat down next to me. We all introduced ourselves. And started to talk.

They: Israel looks amazing from the plane. Everything is yellow and desert-like, and suddenly spectacular chunks of green burst out.

In my head I run through the route of their flight from the airport to Jerusalem, and my guess is that the green chunks they saw were the Jewish National Fund forests on the way to Jerusalem.

We: You can travel through every type of landscape along the length of little Israel.

Me to Ivanka: You really should travel around in Israel. You’ll go wild over the beauty and the people.

She: I’ve already been to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is amazing. Where do you live?

Me: In Tel Aviv. But I grew up in Jerusalem.

They ask my mother questions about her public role.

We elaborate.

Ivanka: What kind of activity do you do with disabled children?

My mother: Since I’ve held a state position, I have had the opportunity to raise consciousness about weak people who need to be strengthened. I think that a community that doesn’t look after its weak members has no future.

At one point my mother gives Melania three copies of a children's book by David Grossman and Michal Rovner, for Barron. Melania opens the copy in Arabic, sees the artwork and immediately says happily, “It’s a mother and her son.”

Me to Ivanka: What was it like working with your father in the campaign?

She: Politics is a tough game.

Me: My father says that from the moment you enter politics, anything else you try will be boring.

She: He’s probably right.

Melania: Do you have a garden?

My mother: There’s an amazing yard here and we created a small community garden in it. With herbs and flowers.

Melania related that Ivanka also grows vegetables in her garden and that Barron helps her and her children to collect them in a basket. They both laugh. And my mother told them that she tends the garden with the aid of children from different schools in Jerusalem, who at first stay in their separate groups but gradually mingle, so that the children become friends. We talked about the sense of “otherness” that develops between people from different backgrounds. Ivanka said that that’s something that’s happening now in America, too.

I hear my father’s voice from the other side of the wall. Like an hourglass that’s running out toward the end of our meeting. Here, we’ll have tea. Try the chocolate.

Melania to Ivanka: Do you know that she has nine grandchildren?

They applaud my mother.

Okay, I’ll ask Ivanka for a calling card and we’ll become friends. I don’t ask. We’re called to leave.

I stood next to Ivanka at the end of the corridor and said to her in Hebrew, “Where are we supposed to go, do you have any idea?” Catching myself, I said to her in English, “I was talking to you in Hebrew like you were one of my friends.” She laughed and replied, “I’m your friend, but I don’t speak Hebrew.”

Someone came over to bring her to sit next to her partner, and someone gestured to me to sit behind my mother.

Melania was already sitting there, next to her. She turned around to me, smiling. What an incredible smile, I thought. And then she gave me a wink.