The Jerusalem Post
A fond farewell
s we congratulate Isaac Herzog on becoming the country’s 11th president today, we bid a fond farewell to outgoing President Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin. During the last seven years, Rivlin has earned the respect of most Israelis, Jews in the Diaspora and foreigners, and he leaves office as a beloved leader at the center of the national consensus.
From the outset, it was not an easy task for Rivlin. Even though he was a lifelong Likud member, his candidacy to take over from Shimon Peres in 2014 was almost sabotaged by then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who made an 11th-hour attempt to get Elie Wiesel to accept the presidency.
In his first significant act as head of state, Rivlin tasked Netanyahu on March 25, 2015, with forming a government following elections the week before, after voicing disapproval of the Likud leader’s Election Day warning that Arab voters were being bused in droves to polling stations.
The Netanyahu government did not heed Rivlin’s recommendation that it establish greater political stability to avoid early elections and mend painful rifts among the population. The president succeeded five years later in persuading Netanyahu and Benny Gantz to join hands in a national-unity government, which was dissolved after a year.
During his term, Rivlin lost his dear wife, Nechama, and tackled a slew of national setbacks, including four costly elections in two years and the pandemic. He made a few mistakes, such as violating COVID-19 restrictions by hosting his daughter and her family at the President’s Residence for Passover 2020, but for the most part, he played the role of the wise and responsible adult – Israel’s grandfather – and did it with aplomb.
After making himself conspicuously absent from a photograph with party leaders after the March 2021 elections, he did not hide his satisfaction over Netanyahu’s failure to form a coalition, nor his pleasure in welcoming the new government led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid.
Born in Jerusalem almost 82 years ago to a family of strong community activists who had lived in the city for seven generations, since 1809, he never forgot his roots.
His parents were Rachel (Ray) Rivlin and Yosef (Yoel) Rivlin, who published the first Hebrew edition of the Koran and was a candidate for president in 1957 before withdrawing in favor of Yitzhak Ben-Zvi.
Rivlin, a leader of integrity, stayed true to his liberal right-wing principles in the spirit of his hero, Ze’ev Jabotinsky.
On the plaque next to the bust made by sculptor Sigalit Landau unveiled in the gardens of the President’s Residence this week, there is a telling quotation from Rivlin: “In the house of my father and mother I breathed the spirit of humanity. I imbibed Jewish tradition, the Jabotinskyite hadar and tagar, but more than anything I learned to listen. I learned to respect the belief of the other, and I learned to acknowledge their pain. At home, I learned that without the ability to listen – there is no ability to learn. Without the ability to learn – there is no ability to repair.”
Rivlin proved that he had the ability to listen, learn and repair. He generally succeeded in putting himself above politics during his term as president, and got on well with all those with whom he came into contact, from the staff at the President’s Residence to visiting diplomats and world leaders. These included German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who honored him with a recent visit, and US President Joe Biden, who hosted him at the White House last week.
When Rivlin told Biden that his chief of staff, Rivka Ravitz, carried out her very demanding job while raising a dozen children, the US president bowed down in respect. The meeting was also a show of respect and affection for Rivlin.
Rivlin will also be remembered for his landmark “Four Tribes” speech at the 15th Annual Herzliya Conference in 2015, when he addressed the socio-demographic transformation reshaping society. He said it is composed of four tribes – secular, National-Religious, haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and Arab. This transformation, Rivlin argued, mandated the formulation of a “new concept of partnership” among the tribes.
Rivlin boosted the partnership between the tribes, serving as a leader for all, and he will be remembered as a worthy president through seven turbulent years.