Photo: Alex Kolomoisky
Nechama Rivlin
Photo: Alex Kolomoisky

Nechama Rivlin, wife of Israel's president, dies at 73

First lady underwent lung transplant in March after suffering from pulmonary fibrosis for many years; family thanks people of Israel for care and concern, asks for privacy to mourn; funeral to take place Wednesday afternoon in Jerusalem

Nechama Rivlin, the wife of President Reuven Rivlin, died Tuesday at the age of 73, a day before her 74th birthday.  



A statement from the family Tuesday said: "The Rivlin family wishes to thank the people of Israel and religious leaders who have continued to be concerned about Nechama's welfare, who have sent letters and children's drawings to the hospital and the President's Residence and who have prayed for her recovery every day, every hour."


Reuven and Nechama Rivlin during a trip to Vietnam (Photo: Itamar Eichner)
Reuven and Nechama Rivlin during a trip to Vietnam (Photo: Itamar Eichner)


The family also expressed their gratitude to "the staff of the Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva for their devoted, sensitive and professional treatment during the past few months, night and day, with open hearts and shining faces."


They also asked for "the general public and the media to allow the family to gather in mourning at this time and to refrain from contacting family members directly."


The funeral is set to take place on Wednesday afternoon in Jerusalem.


Mrs. Rivlin was a popular first lady who focused on the arts, the environment and children with special needs, and was a trusted adviser to her husband.



Nechama Rivlin and her grandchildren (Photo: Anat Rivlin)
Nechama Rivlin and her grandchildren (Photo: Anat Rivlin)


Nechama Rivlin was born on June 4, 1945 on Moshav Herut, a farming community in central Israel co-founded by her parents, Mendi and Drora Shulman, who immigrated from Ukraine. She enrolled at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1964 studying botany and genetics, and began working there as a researcher three years later.


She then worked as a scientific secretary at the university's Institute of Life Sciences.


In 1970 she met her husband at a party. They were married a year later, and had three children, Rikva, Anat and Ran. 


A young Nechama Rivlin
A young Nechama Rivlin


In September 2016, during a presidential visit to Kiev, Ukraine, Mrs. Rivlin found it difficult to hold back tears as her husband, in the Kiev parliament, read aloud the names of her family members who had perished on Ukrainian soil.


After his speech, she said: "To hear my mother's name was a difficult moment for me, the tears were choking me. After a few minutes, I collected myself and listened to the speech with pride. I, Nechama, daughter of Drora Mintz, wife of the president of the State of Israel, was on Ukrainian soil and saw victory in this moment."


The first lady retired in 2007, and then became seriously ill with pulmonary fibrosis. As the disease worsened, she was forced to use an oxygen tank to help her breathe.


Mrs. Rivlin was careful to keep herself out of the media spotlight since her husband's election as a Likud MK in 1988, and she was not significantly involved in his political life.


At the height of the 2014 presidential race, she wrote on her husband's Facebook page: "Rubi, my beloved and my friend, I did not marry the president, so whatever happens, you will always be my lover and my friend." The post was extremely popular, with some crediting it with swaying some lawmakers in Rivlin's favor during their vote for president.


After her husband's election, Nechama wanted to remain in their own home in Jerusalem, but it was not possible.


At a remembrance service for Ariel Sharon (Photo: Gadi Kablo)
At a remembrance service for Ariel Sharon (Photo: Gadi Kablo)


In March, she underwent a lung transplant at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva, receiving the organ of 19-year-old Yair Yechezkel Halabali, who died in Eilat days earlier. Nine days after the transplant, she underwent another surgical procedure to support the transplant.


In their message Tuesday, the Rivlin family expressed their gratitude to the Halabli family, "for their inspiring dignity and the wonderful thing they did."


Yair Yechezkel Halabali
Yair Yechezkel Halabali


The president did not leave his wife's bedside during her stay in hospital. In great pain, Mrs. Rivlin had to learn to breathe again.


During her rehabilitation, her medical team created the illusion of her still being attached to an oxygen tank, while in reality she was spending several hours breathing on her own. When she learned of their trick, she was incredulous.


At the beginning of May, Mrs. Rivlin's condition worsened, leaving her suffering from severe shortness of breath and exhaustion. The president, who was on a state visit to Canada at the time, immediately decided to cut short his trip and return to Israel to be with her.


Nechama Rivlin at the President's Residence in 2018
Nechama Rivlin at the President's Residence in 2018


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was among the first to pay tribute to Mrs Rivlin, on behalf of the people of Israel and his own family.


"Together with every Israeli citizen, my wife Sara and I are deeply saddened at the passing of the wife of the president Nechama Rivlin," Netanyau said.


"We all prayed for her recovery during this recent period in which she fought heroically and with spirit. We send condolences from the bottom of our hearts to the president and all his family."


Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar, a personal long-term friend of the Rivlins, also paid tribute to the first lady.


"Nechama Rivlin was a lover of people, with a massive heart, who fought to the end," he said. "My heart is with my friend, President Reuven Rivlin for whom Nechama was a friend, a lover, a partner and a rock. And to the family, for their loss, may her memory be blessed."


Nechama Rivlin is survived by her husband, three children and seven grandchildren.




פרסום ראשון: 06.04.19, 10:48
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