Nechama Rivlin, who passed away on June 4 at the age of 73—just one day before her 74th birthday—led a quiet life by the side of her much more overt husband, Reuven Rivlin, the current president of Israel.
A full-fledged sabra, she was born on June 5, 1945 at moshav Herut; her parents, Mendi and Drora Kayla Shulman, helped establish the community. Rivlin earned a degree in botany and zoology, along with a teaching diploma, from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
She became a researcher at Hebrew University in 1967. Her initial role was in the Department of Zoology; she later worked in the Department of Ecology, as well as in the Department of Genetics. She wed Reuven Rivlin in 1971.
In a column the Israeli president wrote celebrating Jerusalem Day, he said he “found the love of my life, Nechama, in Jerusalem.”
Nechama Rivlin was known to be a vocal supporter of women and children, as well as a staunch advocate of the environment and the arts.
While she retired in 2007, her husband was elected president of Israel in June of 2014. Married for nearly 50 years, they have three children: Rivka, Anat and Ran.
Rivlin suffered from pulmonary fibrosis, an interstitial lung disease, and was regularly seen in public with a portable oxygen tank. She underwent a lung transplant in March, which managed to sustain her life by several months.
In a column the Israeli president wrote on June 2 celebrating Jerusalem Day, he said he “found the love of my life, Nechama, in Jerusalem.”
With the news of her passing came words of condolence, comfort and praise from around the world.
The U.S. State Department wrote that on behalf of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the American people, “we extend our deepest condolences to President Reuven Rivlin, his family and the people of Israel on the passing of Israel’s First Lady, Nechama Rivlin. Beloved for her warmth and kindness, she touched the hearts of so many over the years. Our hearts are with all who mourn her loss during this difficult time.”
Indeed, U.S. President Donald Trump and Melania Trump bonded with the Rivlins while on their first official presidential visit to Israel, with Nechama Rivlin presenting the first lady with the book Hug, about mother-son relationships.
First lady Melania Trump of the United States and Nechama Rivlin of Israel. Credit: CUFI.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman posted on Twitter that “her strength in the face of adversity will remain an inspiration to all who knew her.” National Security Advisor John Bolton and U.S. special envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt also acknowledged Israel’s loss.
AIPAC noted that Nechama Rivlin was “an accomplished scientist, a promoter of the arts, and an advocate for the environment.”
Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom Ephraim Mirvis Nechama said Rivlin was “a lady of warmth, wisdom and humility whose loss will be mourned not just in Israel, but across the Jewish world and beyond. We extend our condolences to the president and his family. May the Almighty comfort them among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”
Dutch Ambassador to Israel Gilles Beschoor and Polish Ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski had kind words to offer, as did Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said to Israelis: “Canadians are grieving with you.”
In Israel, Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog noted that “she was involved in many social charities with love and modesty, opening the doors for Israelis and for the Jewish people. We embrace President Rivlin and family, and share their grief.”
Even leaders of more localized areas noted the profound effect that Rivlin had, particularly on women.
Congresswoman Grace Meng from the 6th District in Queens, N.Y., said “I am sad to learn about the passing of Nechama Rivlin, and I grieve with Israel as its citizens mourn her loss. She was a kind and generous person who made many contributions to Israel focusing on children, the arts and many other issues. At this difficult time, I send my deepest condolences to President Rivlin and the entire Rivlin family, as well as to the people of Israel. May her memory be a blessing.”