Israel is a better place today. In spite of all the back-biting and mud slinging and subterfuge, our Knesset has managed to elect not just a true man of the people to be its next president, but an individual whose commitment to the Zionist vision of a Jewish homeland is one of which we can all be proud.
The first time I met Ruby Rivlin was when I was on reserve duty in the Hebron Hills. One of his sons was stationed on a nearby base and the then-MK drove in to visit him. There was no fanfare asked for or given; no special treatment that I could notice. He was just another father coming to see his soldier son. “Nice,” I thought.
The second time was five years ago. I was on a condolence call to a family whose daughter had been brutally murdered in a terrorist attack—as my son had been the previous year. I sat near the mourners, waiting for an opportune time to offer any words of sympathy I could for nearly two hours as dignitaries, government ministers and various MKs came and went—most uttering only the same watery pabulum about being strong, life goes on, blah, blah, blah—that I had heard from too many people myself.
When Ruby Rivlin, then Speaker of the Knesset, arrived, he too engaged in shiva small talk at first. Then, one of the bereaved siblings came over and began to query him about whether the Knesset would finally act to bring about the death penalty for terrorists and work to rid itself of those MKs who seemed to always identify with the perpetrators rather than the victims of terror. It was an accusatory question understandably fraught with anger and pain coming from someone in the fragile yet nearly morally superior position of one who had just buried his murdered sister. There was a moment of silence. I think that a lesser man would have either muttered some lukewarm agreement or sidestepped the question—out of polite respect for the mourner’s feelings. But Rivlin did neither. Instead, he elegantly and eloquently began to outline his thoughts on why such “negative” actions were not necessary. Instead, he claimed, the Zionist project would be better served not by fighting those with whom we disagreed, but by strengthening our own position. Not by focusing on others’ hypocrisy, but by loudly proclaiming the justice of our own cause. We are Jews living unapologetically in the Jewish homeland: where others seek to tear down, we will build up; when others find fault, we will find cause to celebrate. We are better than our detractors—and we will show them just that not by fighting against them, but just by living the Zionist dream to its fullest–a free people in its land.
I watched and listened to his few minutes of passionate Zionist argument. I was impressed. Here was a politician who (in the unenviable position of shiva guest) rose above the all-too-usual petty discourse of fighting against someone to fight for something.
Later that day I sent an email to his office expressing my admiration for the way he stood up for his ideals in a not ideal situation. Maybe because of the unusual nature of my email—I didn’t want anything from him nor did I criticize him—a few days later I received a phone call from one of his staff. He told me that the Speaker would like to speak with me. We had a thoughtful twenty-minute conversation about Zionism, terrorism and things in between. Again, I was impressed: This time by the fact that he reached out to a citizen from whom he had nothing to gain and by the clear erudition he demonstrated in our short talk.
Today, I am proud of my country’s legislature for making a wise choice. And now I do want something from our President-elect: more of the positive Zionist thinking that this country sorely needs.