The State of Israel is mourning the death of First Lady Nechama Rivlin.
President Reuven Rivlin in a poignant eulogy at Mount Herzl cemetery yesterday said his late wife had “fought like a lion” and described her as “the mother of Israel”
One of the country’s most popular public figures passed away at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva near Tel Aviv on Tuesday, a day before her 74th birthday, from complications following a lung transplantation in March.
Israelis were able to pay respect as her coffin lay in state at Jerusalem Theater on Wednesday afternoon.
President Rivlin thanked those who attended and recited Kaddish beside his wife’s coffin.
“You were more Jerusalemite than the Rivlin’s,” said President Rivlin at the funeral service, referring to his family being in Jerusalem for five generations. “You would water and foster everything you knew that was good. Everyone here loves you.”
He added, “To you my beloved Nechama, my lover, it is so hard for me to be bidding you farewell. “Thank you my Nechamele for your love, your humour, your warm heart, I was the spouse, I was the spouse of the wife of the president.”
“No water will ever be able to extinguish my love for you, rest in peace,” he concluded.
Rivlin’s daughter Anat recalled her mother’s strength despite health issues over the past 10 years.
“She was so strong, I don’t know how she did,” Anat said, adding, “She said that being in the President’s residence, she can actually touch and teach people and help people.”
Rabbi Benny Lau, Cantor Shai Abramson, Rona Kenan and Alon Eder participated in the service broadcast live online.
In an official statement on Tuesday, the Rivlin family thanked those concerned about Nechama’s welfare in light of her deteriorating health in recent months, expressed gratitude to hospital staff for their “devoted, sensitive and professional treatment, night and day, with open hearts and shining faces”.
They also thanked the family of kidney donor, 19-year-old Yair Yechezkel Halabali, who died in Eilat for “their inspiring dignity and the wonderful thing they did.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led tributes from the nation.
“We have all been praying for her recovery these past weeks, as she was bravely fighting for her life,” he said. “We send our condolences to the president, his family and to the entire country.”
“We recall with great fondness our visit together, and it was clear that you and I share the great blessing of having had an extraordinary partner for our journey through life,” wrote former US President Batak Obama in a hand-written letter.
IDF Chief of staff Aviv Kochavi recounted Mrs Rivlin’s frequent visits to military bases, where she looked out for the welfare of troops.
“We all share in the great sorrow of my friend, President Rivlin and his family,” said Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein. “With her personality and her kindness, Nechama touched everyone she met.”
MK Gideon Sa’ar added, “My heart is with my friend, President Rivlin, for whom Nechama was a friend, a lover, a partner and a rock.”
Opposition leader Blue and White Chairman Benny Gantz expressed condolences, noting Nechama was respected by Israel’s society for her kindness.
He added, “Nechama was a wonderful, kind woman, who was respected by the entire country.”
Isaac Herzog, Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman, said “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”.
Amir Balaban, Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, remembered Nechama as a true lover of nature who was involved in nature projects.
“Nechama was the very epitome of the ‘eshet chayil,’ the woman of valour immortalised in Jewish tradition, we mourn together with the Rivlin family and the whole nation of Israel,” said World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder. “We will always remember her with admiration and fondness. She was a gracious hostess to innumerable delegations from around the world, both Jewish and not, bringing the best face of Israel forward with love and compassion.”
Gad Ariely, WJC-Israel, commented, “Nechama will always be remembered for her extraordinary humility and hospitality but also for her patriotism as a matriarch of the nation.”
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis led tributes from the United Kingdom.
“Nechama 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,” he said.
Former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, said that he and his wife Elaine were deeply saddened to hear of her passing, adding, “Our thoughts and prayers are with President Rivlin and his family at this difficult time.”
Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl said, “Our thoughts are with President Rivlin and the family at this sad time, The Jewish Leadership Council tweeted “deepest condolences” to the Rivlin family.
Born June 4, 1945 on Moshav Herut, co-founded by her parents, Mendi and Drora Shulman, who immigrated from the Ukraine, Nechama studied botany and genetics at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, working as a researcher at the university in the departments of zoology, ecology and genetics before retiring in 2007.
A popular first lady, she focused on numerous areas including the arts, environment and children with special needs.
An advocate for women and volunteer with the Israel Prison Service, she was remembered by the Israel Women’s Network as a model of feminine leadership.
The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel said her feminism was quiet but forceful.
She is survived by President Rivlin, who she married in 1971, three children and seven grandchildren.
By David Saffer