Space is at a premium in the offices of Israel’s President, and so when I began as Foreign Media Advisor there in 2014, I was honoured to set up my desk in a small room leading to the spokesperson’s office.
I couldn’t help notice however, that just behind me was an elevator door. Even though, I was startled when mechanisms began to whirl and the elevator door slid open. There stood the President’s wife, Mrs. Nechama Rivlin. A warm smile upon her face. A smile I would be fortunate to see countless times in my three and half years serving President Rivlin and the office of Israel’s head of state.
It was a smile children from across Israel saw, when Nechama, an educator and researcher of zoology and botanical studies, welcomed them to the community garden she established in the grounds of the President’s Residence.
She sat with the children from different schools – religious, secular, Arabs, Jews – all together as they planted different flowers of the Holy Land, and spoke with them about the importance of caring for the environment.
It was a smile that families from across Israel saw, as she championed organisations and charities promoting the well being of Israelis with disabilities or chronic illness – as she herself faced her own long term illness with courage and dignity.
And it was a smile the whole world saw as, alongside her doting husband, she welcomed dignitaries from around the globe.
She helped create the warm, congenial atmosphere for which the President’s Residence is remembered by the ministers, leaders, and heads of state who have visited from around the world.
None could forget the image of Nechama hand in hand with First Lady of the United States, Melania Trump, as they walked the red carpet together in May, 2017.
But sadly, Nechama Rivlin, the wife of Israel’s tenth president, Reuven Rivlin, passed away on Tuesday after a long battle with lung disease.
Nechama will be remembered as a warm, jovial, approachable and highly relatable – very much a beloved grandmother figure.
Born on Kibbutz Herut, to immigrants from the Ukraine who helped build new communities in the Land of Israel, she never forgot her close connection to the land, the nature, and the history of Israel, but worked tirelessly for the sake of its future. Nechama, like her warm smile, will be very sorely missed by all.
- Jason Pearlman is former international media adviser to President Reuven Rivlin