The funeral service for Nechama Rivlin, wife of the tenth President of the State of Israel, was held today, Wednesday, her 74th birthday, at the Great Leaders of the Nation Plot at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem. At the request of the family, and in recognition of her deep appreciation for the love and support Israeli citizens showed Nechama during her illness, the funeral was open to the general public and many of those who loved her came to pay their respects.
Among those who attended the funeral were Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Speaker of the Knesset Yuli (Yoel) Edelstein, Deputy President of the Supreme Court Judge Hanan Melcer, IDF Chief of Staff Lt-Gen Aviv Cochavi, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, acting Commissioner of Police Moti Cohen, current and former ministers and members of the Knesset, ambassadors from around the world, religious leaders from the Christian, Muslim, Druze communities in Israel, artists, writers and poets.
President Reuven Rivlin, accompanied by his children Rivi, Ran and Anat, read Kaddish, the traditional mourners’ prayer and delivered a moving eulogy for wife. Their daughter Anat Rivlin and the author Haim Be’er, a close friend of Nechama’s also delivered eulogies.
The ceremony was led by Cantor Shai Abramson and Rabbi Benny Lau, who read the following beautiful piece: “Jerusalem worked its magic on a young student from Moshav Herut in the Sharon area. All her senses were dedicated to this magical city and its people. Two years ago, Nechama wrote a short article about Psalm 122 on the website of the 929 initiative, in which she said, ‘I was not born in Jerusalem and I did not grow up here. But I have lived in Jerusalem longer than anywhere else. I came here at the age of 19, to be a student at the Hebrew University. Along the way, I built a home with Ruvi, a Jerusalemite son of Jerusalemites. Still, every time I see Jerusalem laid out before me at the entry to the city, I can feel the biblical passage ‘Our feet shall stand at thy gates, O Jerusalem’. I love to walk the streets of Jerusalem, with their heart and soul. Sometimes, I feel like the buildings tell a story. My Jerusalem is that of the hawkers at Machane Yehuda market, some of whom I know by name, of the Hebrew University, the museums, the holy places, the artists’ houses, and my home.’
Thus, Nechama became one of the jewels of Jerusalem, on the tastes of the market, the dancers at the Gerard Behar Center, the Israel Museum and the Smadar Cinema. But above all, she loved poetry and literature.”
As part of the ceremony, singer Rona Keinan performed her song ‘Mabul’ and Alon Eder sang his song ‘Ahuvati Sheli Livnat Tzavar’.
President Rivlin’s eulogy for his wife, Nechama:
“Nechama. My Nechama. Our Ima. I got up this morning. You know I could not sleep. I looked at the date, so familiar. 5th of June. Happy birthday, sweetheart. A sad birthday. A few weeks ago, in the hospital, when you were still able to say what was on your mind, and you were already worried, you asked me to bring you home. Today, Nechama, you have come home. So close to our house, here across the hill. Close to the plants you cultivated. Close to the view. Near the forest – ‘the herb store,’ you called it - collecting moss, thyme and even mushrooms. Close by are the paths and the roads we loved and walked. You were born in the days after the war, World War II. Your parents, pioneers from Ukraine, among the founders of Moshav Herut in Tel Mond, who lost their entire family in the cursed Holocaust, saw in you their hope, their comfort.
Nechama, comfort. That's what they called you. You were a village girl, a child of nature, a moshavnik, a woman of the land. When we sang at home, 'we are both from the same village,' we knew that only you came from the village in our house. You tilled, you fertilized, you watered, you milked the cows in the morning, collected the eggs from the chicken coop, and then went to school. Your father, Menachem Shulman, died when you were only five years old. And your mother, Drora (Keila), remained alone on the farm, with you and Varda, and later our brother-in-law Chaim, to help her. ‘My mother, you said, ‘worked hard, and fought like a lion for the right to work the land.’
When I met you, I sometimes thought that I had done you an injustice, that I might be too urban, too much of a Jerusalemite. I learned very quickly from you that you can uncover the earth in Jerusalem, ride horses, hoe the land, raise vegetables in season! Only in season and herbs in the garden. At the University in Jerusalem, you studied agriculture, biology and zoology, and worked at the Zoological and Biological Institute. Slowly, you grew roots in Jerusalem. You were more Jerusalemite than Jerusalemites, and more Rivlin than the Rivlins. Your Jerusalem kugel, sweet and peppery at the same time, was better than the kugel of Shaarei Chesed. And from my mother, you learned the recipe for brojinis, spicy eggplants, which were my favorite food. Then one day, after years as a child of nature, a woman of natural science, you decided to study art. Your rich soul knew no rest. The art world opened up to you. Every time we traveled overseas, you already knew where you wanted to go, which museum you cannot miss, what artwork you have to see. Sometimes you tried to save me from the boring ceremonies and the official receptions and drag me to the nearby museum, saying ‘you must see this,’ and took me and explained.
Sometimes after an exhausting day of breathing difficulties, I saw you getting dressed, getting ready to go out. Where to, Ima’le, I would ask? And the answer: there's a dance show today at Suzanne Dalal that I absolutely refuse to miss. Because even when it was hard, the art, the flowers, the movies at the Cinematheque, the exhibitions at the Museum on the Seam gave you strength. They were the essence of life for you. And most of all you loved poetry. You read books by male poets, but you were mostly interested in what women poets wrote. Sometimes you would force me to listen. You would sit me next to you when you read to me, from a newspaper clipping, or from a small book. You called me and did not give up, and thank you for not giving up. Thank you for insisting for many years, for widening my heart and deepening my soul. You taught me a love that was clear-sighted, direct and intelligent, but also a love that knew to cut corners and was compassionate. And most of all, like everything you did, like everything you said, to be real. Always real.
You never wanted to be in the limelight, but you understood that as the president's wife you had a role, and you accepted it for yourself. And yet you decided not be "the president's wife," but to sow, water and raise the things that really need such dedicated and knowledgeable care. You chose to support children with special educational needs. To always stand by women, without being a vocal feminist. To foster artists and the arts. You saw Arabs and Jews first of all as people, but there was no greater Zionist than you. And with your choices and your actions the garden of the people who loved you flourished. The whole country is full of those who love you.
How much they loved you, Nechama. How much did they ask how you were doing, and wished you well and prayed for your recovery all these months. How many people sent us messages of strength and their embraces of you. Nechama, yesterday I looked at the books you left next to the bed, some of them bookmarked, others with a popsicle stick in them. You went to sleep next to Novokov's "Lolita" and Agi Mishol's "Angel of the Room". On the shelf was "Back from Emek Refaim" by Haim Be'er, alongside Ami Rubinger's "Pishpesh Mitlabesh (the flea gets dressed)", "Tishrin" by Ayman Sicksek and Dan Tsalka's "A Thousand Hearts." And in Amos's latest book, our beloved Amos Oz, a popsicle stick shows you read it all and got to the last chapter, entitled: "The traffic lights have been changing for a long time without us." But what traffic light can change without you?
In recent months, I have been asked me what kind of a mother you are, and I answered that you are the kind of mother that for four months, her children and their spouses did not leave her side. They did not leave you alone for a moment. That is the kind of mother you were, the kind of grandmother. Rivi and Tomer, Anat and Gadi, Ran and Einat, thank you for being there for Ima. Matan, Ziv, Shay, Karni, Maya, Daniela and Yahav, Savta loved you forever, and she will continue to love you, even from above. Thank you all for being my family. And thank you to all the citizens through whose eyes and words and presence the light of our Nechama is shining again and again, like a thousand suns.
And to you, Nechama, my wife, my love, I find it difficult to believe that these are words of farewell. I am sure I will look for you at night, and in the days too. Thank you Nechama, for love, for your partnership, for family, for being always with me, for the supportive hand and the listening heart, for the humor and the sharp thought, and for giving me the privilege to be the husband of the president's wife. ‘Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away.’ Rest in peace.”
Haim Be’er’s eulogy for Nechama Rivlin:
“Ruvi, Ran, Anat, Rivi, Varda, grandsons and granddaughters, and all Israel who are mourning the passing of a unique woman - noble, authentic, precious. A woman who since yesterday has been crowned with crowns of honor.
On her fresh grave, I would like to lay, as it were, a few wildflowers that she loved so much - a few fragments of memories of our acquaintance and friendship, memories whose common denominator is a love of Hebrew, a love of literature, a love of culture and art.
On 10 June 2014, Ruvi was elected president. Four days later, his first public appearance was in Tel Aviv. He and Nechama left Jerusalem on Saturday night and went to Rabin Square, where Hebrew Book Week was taking place. They chose to honor Hebrew books, Hebrew writers, Hebrew readers, their true electorate.
"Wait for the president-elect and his wife at the Am Oved booth," the spokeswoman told me. Ruvi, as usual, hugged the authors, talked with the readers, leafed through the books, and Nehama, Nechama was behind the scenes, the imaginary scenes. She stood and had a spirited and deep conversation with one of the hidden heroes of the literary world, the editor Avraham Yavin. She was deeply interested in the intimate details of book production. She asked him what the editor really did with the writer's manuscript, what the typesetter and proofreader really did. And I saw how this critical and wise man was charmed by the soon-to-be First Lady. At one point, he asked her with pointed irony how she would fit into her new role. Then she turned to him and said, ‘you know me, now I'll have to learn to shut up, to be silent – me, who has so much to say.’ It was impossible not to love this straight-talking woman, who did not have the capacity to be fake. ‘You know what,’ she said, ‘at least I have the books, the exhibitions and the lectures.’
Nechama was a ‘frequent flyer’ of the literary world, a ‘heavy user’ of culture. The editors of the radio literature programs can attest to the WhatsApp messages she sent them after she and the president listened to their programs. She would slip into literary evenings, appear in art exhibitions, correspond with poets and poets on their books. Once I was surprised to see Nechama in the elevator of the Science Museum in Jerusalem. She was alone. "What are you doing here?" I asked her. ‘I heard there is an excellent exhibition here and interesting activities for the children, and I decided to come,’ she said.
She kept on discussing how she could use the platform of Beit HaNasi to promote, assist, support and help writers and poets. And it should be noted, she did not ask ‘how will leave my mark,’ but ‘how will I be among those who help?’ The opportunity came when the Custodian General, Sigal Yaakobi, approached her and told her about the estate of Dr. Gardner Simon. That was the beginning of the process which eventually became the crowning glory of her activities as a patron of Hebrew culture. She roped me in from the beginning. We held long, serious and responsible discussions. Together, we drew up the rules of the prize. We chose judges, discussed all aspects of the prize with the dedicated staff of Beit HaNasi. She was not only first among equals, but also modest and secret. ‘Invisible, but present everywhere’ as Natan Alterman said about Shaul Avigur. In the end, the prize was announced, lots of books arrived and we, the judges, began to read them and without our knowledge it became clear that Nechama herself was reading all the books and was well versed in every detail. Then the big moment came. The panel of judges met in the private wing of Beit HaNasi, surrounded by the paintings of Israeli artists she chose to decorate the walls of the Residence.
We sat and discussed. "Where is Nechama?" I asked her loyal assistants: "Nechama will join you only after you decide, not a minute earlier." When a candidate was chosen, Nehama entered the room as if she were floating on air. She listened to the judges and found a way to raise more money and increase the prize from one to three winners. At the same time, she also told us that she was a candidate for transplant, and that anxiety and hope mingled with her voice.
On 19 December 2018, a Wednesday just like now, just after six, as it is now, the awards ceremony took place at Beit HaNasi. At the end of the evening, as Nechama got up to speak, she had trouble walking. The microphones and loudspeakers made her breath resonate in the hall. She talked about her love for poetry, how she read poems every day. The atmosphere was electric. Everyone knew that he was witness to the mystery of a woman's soul for whom honesty and love were the building blocks of her personality. When she finished speaking, everyone stood up for a long, long time, cheering and applauded her. She was among people like her. But she was embarrassed. She did not believe she really was loved. ‘Everybody loves you,’ I told her, and touched her shaking shoulder, ‘really, everyone loves you.’ She gave me a skeptical look. ‘Do you think so? she asked. "Yes, Nechama, we all love you.’ And we reaffirm this here today.
To your memory, Nehama, I will read a poem by the poet Sabina Messeg:
The soul is a nun. And from time to time she needs a cell to be herself in so strongly when things are not going well outside. The soul is meant to go on vacation and not to be scared by anyone. There are only two seasons a year: together and alone.
May peace be upon you, Nechama”