Nechama Rivlin, the wife of Israel’s tenth president Reuven Rivlin, has died at the age of 73. She passed away on Tuesday, June 4 at Beilinson Hospital, where she was recuperating from a lung transplant.
She had been hospitalized for almost four months after waiting for a suitable donor.
She had suffered for several years from pulmonary fibrosis, a condition in which scar tissue accumulates in the lungs and impedes normal breathing. Rivlin was seldom seen without her portable oxygen tank. Yet despite her illness, she accompanied her husband on most of his state visits abroad including to India and Spain.
Her physicians had warned that without a transplant, her life was in danger.
A lung became available when 19-year-old Yair Yehezkel Halabi, from Ramat Gan, drowned while diving in Eilat.
When made aware of the recipient of his lung, members of his family said that they would like to meet Nechama Rivlin after she recovers.
Unfortunately, that never happened.
The complex transplant procedure which took several hours and was performed by Prof. Dan Aravot, Director of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Beilinson, assisted by Nechama’s personal physician, Prof. Mordechai Kramer, Director of the Institute of Pulmonary Medicine at the hospital.
President Rivlin and members of his family frequently expressed their profound appreciation to members of the hospital staff for the devoted care that they gave to Nechama Rivlin; at every event at the President’s Residence, speakers on behalf of various organizations and institutions wished that Nechama would be quickly restored to health. This included the delegations representing political parties with whom Rivlin consulted in the immediate aftermath of the recent Knesset elections. Every meeting began with expressions of goodwill towards his wife.
Though in touch with Nechama on a daily basis and a frequent visitor to the hospital, Rivlin kept up with all his ceremonial duties, sometimes working at a feverish pace, almost as if to find a reason to put his concerns for his wife on the back burner, however temporarily.
In voicing thanks to Beilinson for the care that Nechama received, the Rivlin family did not forget to thank the Halabi family for making what everyone had hoped would have been a gift of life.
The family has asked that the public refrain for the moment from messages of condolence so that Nechama’s nearest and dearest can absorb their personal tragedy and mourn together.
NECHAMA RIVLIN was born in 1945 on Moshav Herut in the Sharon to Drora (Kayle) and Mendy Shulman who had migrated to the Land of Israel from Ukraine and were among the pioneers of the moshav.
Due to a back injury, Nechama was exempted from military service.
In 1964, she began her studies in natural sciences and biology at the Hebrew University Jerusalem, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Botany and Zoology.
In 1967, she became a zoological researcher at the university and later switched to the genetics division in the Department of Ecology.
Deeply interested in art, she also studied art history – from the ancient classics to modern art.
She married Reuven Rivlin in 1971 and together they had three children – Rivka, Anat and Ran. The president also has a son from a previous marriage.
Nechama Rivlin was also a devoted grandmother to Matan, Ziv, Shai, Karni, Maya, Daniella and Yahav. She is also survived by her sister Vered.
Following her retirement from the university in 2007, Nechama was diagnosed with the illness that threatened her life, and which forced her to take a mobile oxygen tank with her wherever she went.
Notwithstanding her illness, she was an avid film buff and theater goer, loved to read and meet with writers, was interested in gardening and the quality of the environment, maintained her love of art, and was particularly keen to help children with special needs.
She often told them that everyone has a disability and a special need of some kind. It’s more obvious in some people, and less obvious in others – but no one is immune, she said.
She loved to visit cultural institutions, and posted many messages on social media about writers, actors, film makers and singers whom she respected and admired.
After moving with her husband to the President’s Residence, she changed the collection of art work on the walls to include a lot of contemporary art, and she also encouraged children to come and plant their own corners in the gardens of the presidential complex, so that they would develop a love and respect for nature.
Because some of the larger events at the President’s Residence cause certain discomfort to the neighbors, Nechama and Reuven Rivlin occasionally invited groups of neighbors to come and be their guests.
Although there is no official First Lady in Israel, Reuven Rivlin bestowed the title on his wife, and occasionally declared that he was married to the wife of the President of Israel.