Grapevine: The ‘first lady’ earns her stripes

Very soon after taking office, President Reuven Rivlin insisted that his wife, Nechama, be referred to as the “first lady.”

March 31, 2015 20:58
First Lady

First Lady. (photo credit: CHAIM TZACH)


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Very soon after taking office, President Reuven Rivlin insisted that his wife, Nechama, be referred to as the “first lady.” Israel doesn’t really have a first lady status, and some people thought it was Rivlin’s way of showing respect and affection for his wife. A portion thought it might be one of his idiosyncrasies, and others still balked at the idea, saying that he was the elected official, not she. But in recent months Nechama Rivlin has proven that she is worthy of the title, given that she fits the Hebrew expression for a helpmate or a wife – ezer kenegdo.

Indeed, she has stepped in on more than one occasion when her husband has been unavailable.

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According to the law, when the president is unavailable for health reasons, absence from the country or something far more serious as was the case with Moshe Katsav, the Knesset speaker becomes the acting president. But Amir Peretz, as the Knesset elder – a role in which he never expected to find himself – was only the acting or interim speaker when the decision was made that Rivlin would represent Israel at the funeral of Singapore’s great statesman and long-time prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

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Aside from that, even when he’s in Israel, Rivlin who has a series of back-to-back meetings and ceremonies almost every day, cannot acquiesce to every request to meet with groups, organizations and individuals.

But he finds it difficult to say no – and that’s where Nechama comes into the picture.

She has accepted the role of presiding over events related to children and to nature.

As a native Jerusalemite, the president would probably have attended the official opening on Monday of the capital’s Gazelle Valley Urban Wildlife Park, but as he was still on his way home from Singapore, it was his wife who did the honors with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, director of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel Kosha Pakman and international chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation Sallai Meridor. The first of its kind in Israel is an example of how nature conservation replete with gazelles, can be combined with urban development. In fact one of the gazelles has been named Nechama in honor of the first lady.


On the previous day, in the absence of her husband, she, together with senior staff from the President’s Office, welcomed representatives of the Joint List who had marched from the Negev to Jerusalem to demand a change of status for 46 unrecognized Beduin villages that receive no community services.

A delegation representing the marchers led by Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh and including MK Taleb Abu Arar, MK Dov Henin, Joint List members Joseph Attawna and Juma Azbarga, chairman of the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages Atia al-Asam and chairman of the Lakiya Local Council Salem Abu Ayyash, presented their complaints and demands to the first lady. She promised that she would convey them faithfully to the president, who is an outspoken advocate for equal rights for Arab citizens.

■ EVENTS SUCH as state funerals for great leaders of any country present opportunities for representatives of other countries – leaders past and present – to get together, especially those whom might otherwise never have met. This is what happened at the funeral of Singapore’s founder and long-term prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Rivlin found himself in the company of former US president Bill Clinton, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and British House of Commons leader and First Secretary of State William Hague, Governor- General of Canada David Johnston, Governor-General of New Zealand Jerry Mateparae and China’s Vice President Li Yuanchao among numerous dignitaries who braved torrential rain to pay their respects.

In addition to a series of meetings that he held with various officials, Rivlin, who arrived in Singapore two days before the funeral, toured the border crossing between Singapore and Malaysia and observed the cutting edge technology employed for security purposes in its operations. Around 300,000 visitors and tens of thousands of vehicles pass through daily.

Following the tour in which he was briefed on trade and security cooperation, he said: “The realization of miracles requires true tenacity. We as a people have experienced this very need in the realization of a vision, the establishment of the State of Israel, and we see the people of Singapore, as real partners in the realization of a vision, a miracle that became reality.”

Rivlin, who attended Shabbat services at Singapore’s main synagogue, added that he looked forward to the strengthening of ties between Israel and Singapore, and that he would do all in his power to help facilitate enhanced relations. He expressed deep appreciation for all that Singapore has done and continues to do for the state.

■ AT THE PASSOVER toast at which awards were given to various staff members Ronit Hasin-Hochman, the CEO of The Jerusalem Post Group, said that she was very proud of the paper and its staff because The Jerusalem Post did not have an agenda during the recent election for the 20th Knesset and covered the whole political spectrum without taking sides. A good newspaper must be inclusive and give space to all segments of the public, she said, saying that the Post lives up to this philosophy in its coverage. Among the recipients of awards was photographer Marc Israel Sellem, who for once found himself on the other side of the lens.

■ IT’S NOT pleasant to say good-bye after 22 years on the job, but it was made a little easier for retiring deputy chairman of the Azrieli Group Menachem Einan, who has already passed his mid-70s. The farewell bash at the Herzliya Zappa Club last week was attended by his wife, Nira, who helped him reap the glory, and the crème de la crème of commerce and industry, demonstrating the esteem in which Einan is held. Headed by Danna Azrieli, who has been at the helm of the group since the passing of her father David nine months ago, attendees included her husband, Danny Hakim, a martial arts champion and a peace activist, her mother, Stephanie, and her sisters Naomi and Sharon.

Others in attendance included Azrieli Group CEO Yuval Bronstein along with other senior executives such as Arnon Toren, the general manager of the Azrieli shopping malls. Beyond the Azrieli family and people who were part of the group were Bank Leumi CEO Rakefet Russak-Aminoach, First International Bank CEO Smadar Barber-Tsadik, Gad and Etti Propper, Yeshayahu and Yigal Landau of Union Bank, Pini Cohen, MK Yaakov Peri, H&O chairman Ami Sagis, architect Moshe Tzur, lawyer Yosef Gross, Dudi Weissman, Yair Hamburger, Deloitte’s Ilan Birnfeld, El Al chairman Amikam Cohen and many other leading figures.

Danna Azrieli described Einan as one of the most talented business managers in Israel and said it had been a privilege to work with him. Einan declared the Azrieli Group among the most fascinating places of employment, and said he was pleased to be leaving a strong company with a thoroughly professional managerial work force rich in knowledge and capable of continuing to turn the vision of the Azrieli family into a reality by building throughout the country and developing Israel’s economy.

■ SOME DIPLOMATS, long after retiring from the Foreign Service, still feel an acute need to promote their country. One such man is Yitzhak Eldan, a former ambassador and chief of protocol at the Foreign Ministry, who is the founding president of The Ambassador’s Club of Israel.

Eldan is forever dreaming up activities to bring heads of foreign missions together to explore Israel as a group and to feed off each other’s enthusiasm. Most recently, he invited members of the club and their spouses to tour the Mount Carmel National Park and to be the guests of honor at the Second Regional Wine Festival at Ramat Hanadiv in Zichron Ya’acov. The event was gratis for diplomatic participants and Eldan organized free transportation, a guide, refreshments and a late lunch courtesy of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. Among those who accepted the invitation was dean of the Diplomatic Corps and Cameroon Ambassador Henri Etoundi Essomba.

■ OUTGOING CULTURE and Sport Minister Limor Livnat was feted at an appreciative farewell at the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv. The event was organized in conjunction with the Forum of Cultural Institutions, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality, Saham – The Israeli Actors Association and the Israeli Artists Union. All the artists who came to pay tribute to Livnat, did so gratis. One them has been singing to Livnat since the outgoing minister was a baby. The singer was her mother, Shulamit Livnat, who as a member of the Stern Group was known as the singer of the underground. Trying hard to cope with mixed emotions, the minister who is retiring from politics, told the people who had come to honor her that she had always been their soldier in the field battling on their behalf for better conditions and larger budgetary considerations.

Livnat was proud that on her watch the budget had increased from NIS 544 million in 2009 to NIS 700m. in 2014.

■ ON THE day following their European Championship qualifier in Israel, the Wales national soccer team, while still in Haifa, played somewhat friendlier soccer with a group of 23 Jewish and Arab children from communities across the North. The youngsters were thrilled to be coached by players who are international household names including Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale and Crystal Palace’s Joe Ledley.

The event was organized by the British Embassy in partnership with major youth soccer league the Equalizer, which brings together young Jewish and Arab teams to play soccer, interact and build coexistence and reconciliation between Israel’s communities.

Soccer is a great equalizer, said British Ambassador Matthew Gould, who added that the embassy was proud to support an initiative that breaks down barriers between communities through soccer. Gould was delighted that the Welsh Football Association had supported the initiative, and said that this sends a strong message.

■ DURING THE final throes of his election campaign Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page that if the Likud won, the first two people he would call would be Miriam Peretz and Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett in order to begin forming a government from the nationalist camp. In the interim Bennett has been all but shafted, and Netanyahu’s relationship with Peretz remains uncertain. As it happens, she was too busy to care one way or the other as she prepared for the wedding of the youngest of her four sons, Avihai, 29, to Hanni Alyn in a festive ceremony at the Ahuza banquet hall in Modi’in in the presence of hundreds of guests. Two of groom’s older brothers fell in active duty in the IDF. Uriel, an officer in the Golani Brigade, was killed in Lebanon in 1998, and Maj. Eliraz Peretz, deputy commander of the Golani Brigade’s 12th Battalion, was killed in a clash with terrorists near Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip in 2010. The wedding took place on the Gregorian calendar fifth anniversary of his death. The Peretz family is fiercely nationalist, and when Eliraz married his wife, Shlomit, they used a national flag as their bridal canopy. The same flag was used for the canopy of Avihai and Hanni.

■ IN THE strange world of coincidence, actor Chaim Topol was notified that he would be among the recipients of the Israel Prize on the same day that president Chaim Herzog was commemorated on the 18th anniversary of his death. In 1967 Herzog and Topol were the founders of Variety Israel together with Kenny Greidinger and Ruth Dayan to assist and support children with special needs who are not being adequately serviced by the state and other organizations.

■ THERE IS no doubt that some members of the audience were surprised last week when former national security adviser Prof. Uzi Arad, in an address to the Bar- Ilan University Ambassadors’ Forum, said: “The nuclear agreement being negotiated with Iran, if reached, need not necessarily be a catastrophe.”

In weighing the pros and cons of a good deal and a bad deal Arad said everything is relative and one should not be drawn into exaggerations of any kind. While the deal clearly falls short of the aspirations of the negotiators themselves, Arad said, the potential deal is not one that should be celebrated because it allows the Iranians to retain much of their capabilities and it does not achieve what seemed to have been the plausible objectives when the negotiations began.

“But neither should one declare an agreement as necessarily catastrophic – and such hyperbole doesn’t serve any useful purpose.”

■ AS HAS been mentioned previously in this column, visiting celebrities still get a thrill out of meeting with former president Shimon Peres who is more of an international icon than an Israeli one.

Despite the fact that people working for and with Peres have more or less seen it all, they still get excited by movie stars and top ranking singers who call on him. But expectations that they would be posing for photos with US actor Richard Gere last Sunday, fell flat due to the fact that Gere’s visit was postponed for several days because of changes in the schedule of the production teams filming Oppenheimer Strategies. It is being directed by prize winning Israeli film-maker Joseph Cedar, who modeled it in part on New York businessman Morris Talansky, who was once related to him by marriage.

Gere, who is a supporter of the Peres Center for Peace, has met previously with the former president, and was scheduled to meet with Arab and Jewish children who come together under the peace initiatives sponsored by the center. Gere is an activist who is particularly involved in the international campaign for human rights for the people of Tibet and for the rights and lands of tribal people around the world. Like Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman before him, he is staying in one of the gorgeous luxury suites of the Leonardo Plaza hotel in Jerusalem, with a balcony that offers a magnificent view of the city that next week will be more crowded than usual due to the fact that Passover and Easter, which do not always coincide, are falling in the same week.

■ APROPOS PERES, who continues to travel the world, he accepted the personal invitation of Lombardy President Roberto Maroni to attend Expo 2015 that will be held in Milan from May 1 to October 31. Maroni who was in Israel last week, made it his business to meet with the former president at the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa. At a gala event held at the residence of Italian Ambassador Francesco Maria Talo, Maroni signed a document together with the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund’s executive director of Resources Avi Dickstein for 12 scholarships to be granted to 12 agriculture students from Lombardy to study in Israel.

■ RA’ANANA MAYOR Ze’ev Bielski is known to be a hands-on personality, but when senior citizens who are residents of Ahuzat Bayit, approached him with a request that the municipality arrange a city tour for them so that they could see how Ra’anana is developing, they didn’t expect that the mayor himself would be their tour guide. Bielski went one better.

He organized a tour bus so that participants could get a broader picture of what is happening in their city and not only what is happening in their immediate environment.

That kind of personal relationship is what earned Bielski a comeback to City Hall after he had taken time out to serve for four years as chairman of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization and after that another four years as a Knesset member. He chose not to run for another term as MK and to return to local government. He had previously been mayor of Ra’anana for 17 years and was welcomed back with open arms.

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