Israel bade farewell Wednesday to its late First Lady Nechama Rivlin, on what would have been her 74th birthday, a day after she lost her long battle against lung disease. Mrs. Rivlin's coffin was laid in state at the Jerusalem Theater on Wednesday afternoon, allowing the public to pay their final respects to one of the country's most admired public figures before her funeral at the capital's Mount Herzl cemetery.
Mrs. Rivlin passed away on Tuesday at the Beilinson Hospital near Tel Aviv, from complications that occurred following a lung transplantation which she had undergone in March.
Her friends and admirers as well as many of the Israeli public who have met her over the years paid their condolences, recalling her bravery and her love for both people and nature.
The president and his family arrived at the theater at 4pm, and the funeral cortege departed for Mount Herzl at about an hour later.
The funeral service, which was began shortly before 6pm, included sermons and speeches from Rabbi Benny Lau, author Haim Be’er, and President Rivlin and his children.
The president, red-eyed and visibly grief-stricken, was surrounded by his children and grandchildren as he recited the kaddish mourners' prayer at the funeral.
There was also to be a musical tribute from singers Rona Kenan and Alon Eder.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday led the tributes to the first lady.
"Along with the citizens of Israel, my wife Sara and I would like to express our deep sorrow over the death of the president's wife, Nechama," Netanyahu said.
"We have all been praying for her recovery these past weeks, as she was bravely fighting for her life. We send our condolences to the president, his family and to the entire country. May her memory be blessed."
In an official statement Tuesday, the family thanked those who continued to be concerned for Nechama in light of her deteriorating medical condition in recent months.
The family 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."
In their message, the Rivlin family also thanked the family of the kidney donor - 19-year-old Yair Yechezkel Halabali, who died in Eilat days earlier - for “their inspiring dignity and the wonderful thing they did."
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 as a researcher three years later 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.
The first lady retired in 2007, and became seriously ill with pulmonary fibrosis. As the disease worsened, she was forced to use an oxygen tank to help her breathe.
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.
At the beginning of May, however, 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.