PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN addresses principals of Jewish schools in the Diaspora at the President’s Residence on Sunday.
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin inaugurated a visitors center at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on Monday that will be open to all Israelis, a statement from his office said. The launch followed a trial period in which 30,000 people visited the presidential compound.
In the course of addressing various groups attending functions at the residence, Rivlin has often said that the facility was not only the President’s Residence, but the residence of the people of Israel.
Actually that wasn’t and still isn’t quite true. Visitors still can’t walk in off Jabotinsky Street without an appointment, invitation or press card, and security is much tighter than it was under Rivlin’s predecessors.
But now, members of the general public can register in advance to be allowed to walk through the grounds and part of the interior to look at busts of former presidents and read their brief biographies. They can also visit the synagogue and inspect the gardens, where trees have been planted by US presidents and Roman Catholic popes.
But they won’t have the same degree of freedom of movement that is afforded to visitors to the White House in Washington.
There will be a guide who will explain the history of the President’s Residence and go into detail about the paneled ceiling of 63 painted squares that are the work of German-born Holocaust survivor Naphtali Bezem. The squares depict the history of the Jewish people from Jacob’s Ladder to redemption and immigration after the Holocaust.
There are also stained glass windows of Reuven Rubin, who in addition to being one of Israel’s leading artists, was also the country’s first ambassador to Romania.
David Saranga, Rivlin’s adviser on foreign policy, will soon take up his post as Israel’s next ambassador to Romania, having served there in the past in a lower diplomatic rank.
The murals of Moshe Castel are another important feature of the permanent artwork in the President’s Residence. There are also several valuable paintings on loan from the Israel Museum.
It is doubtful that visitors will bump into the president unless they happen to be on the premises during one of the many events that are held at the residence. They would also have to manage to get into the main hall, where despite requests that everyone remain seated at the conclusion of an event until the president has made his exit, few people obey. Many people crowd around him to shake his hand and pose for selfies, and visitors might be able to break away from a group and sneak to the front of the hall to do the same.
While the statement said 30,000 people came during the trial period, it neglected to say that there have always been groups of visitors – school children, senior citizens, academics, police, soldiers, jurists and others – who have come to the President’s Residence.
And, of course, every Sukkot there is open house. Some of the 30,000 visitors came to look, but most came to events at which the average attendance was between 200-300 people. On most days there are at least two events taking place.
But the main purpose of the tour via the visitors center is to make Rivlin’s flagship program “Israeli Hope”
known to a wider public. The tour includes discussion of the president’s proposed partnership between what he calls the four tribes – the main components in Israel’s demography – secular, national-religious, ultra-Orthodox and Arab. Rivlin wants to see all of them integrated into key civic areas including education, academia, employment, sport, local government and other areas. By creating broad partnerships with government ministries and philanthropic foundations, Israeli Hope aims to strengthen the “togetherness” in Israeli society while simultaneously respecting and giving space to each of the groups that are part of it. Rivlin’s aim is to strengthen Israel’s prosperity and resilience as a Jewish and democratic state.
In all his conversations with foreign dignitaries as well as with local audiences, Rivlin invariably stresses that there is no contradiction between a state that is both Jewish and democratic.
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