President Reuven Rivlin, who will celebrate his 79th birthday on September 9, on Thursday recited the Shehechiyanu blessing that is an expression of gratitude for having lived to this day to experience something new or special.
In Rivlin’s case it was the first time in a long time that he could say that with his presence he had lowered the average age in the room.
The occasion was a reception that he hosted at the President’s Residence for Israeli citizens aged 100 or more. They came with children and grandchildren and, surprisingly, the overwhelming majority were not in wheelchairs, and there were quite a few who had neither walkers nor canes.
In a short video that featured several of the people present, the common thread for their longevity was optimism, a diet that included fruits and vegetables and a continuing interest in reading newspapers and being aware of what was going on around them and in the world.
Social Services Minister Haim Katz said that in Israel today, there are more than 2,200 senior citizens aged 100 and beyond.
He made the point that they were no longer referred to as old people, an expression that has negative connotations, but as senior or veteran citizens.
Batsheva Shtrachler, a senior member of the ministry, who had contacted the people attending the event, said that they were so excited to be coming to the President’s Residence for something in their honor that she too became excited. “I hope that if I, too, live to be 100, someone will invite me to a reception like this,” she said.
The singer known as Ilanit, who entertained the crowd with familiar melodies, will turn 70 in September. She said she hoped that one day she would be sitting in their place and would be honored in the same way.
The most senior of the people present was Dina Tiras, 104, who looks nowhere near her age, and who continues to wear fashionable clothes and makeup and to have her hair done in the most flattering style. She said that her doctor can’t believe that someone of her age is so well-preserved.
Ilana Rotmentsch from Ramat Gan – who was born in Chrzanow, in southern Poland – is a Holocaust survivor, who was initially deported to Dachau, and from there to Bergen-Belsen, from where she was liberated. She was then sent to Sweden, where she spent a year before coming to Israel in 1948.
Somewhat hard of hearing these days and preferring to speak Yiddish rather than Hebrew, she was accompanied by her son, who interpreted for her in Yiddish, telling her in a sentence or two what was going on. Despite her travails, Rotmentsch, who has a radiant expression on her face, lives independently in her own apartment in Ramat Gan. She refuses to go to a retirement home “because I don’t want to be with old people.”
Rivlin and Katz each called for better conditions for senior citizens so that they could live the twilight years of their lives in dignity.
Rivlin told them that even though they were considered to be in the golden age, as far as he was concerned they were diamonds in the experience of life. “Each of you is a chapter in the history of Israel and the Jewish people,” he said.
He noted that some of those in the room were Holocaust survivors, others had come to Israel on operation “Eagles Wings” and others still had different backgrounds.
He was pleased that people in Israel are living longer. “Almost every week I write a letter to someone congratulating them on their 100th birthday,” he said, as he commented on events that have taken place in the life times of all of them – the end of World War I, World War II, the Holocaust, the creation of the State of Israel, and all that followed.
“For you the State of Israel will never be something to be taken for granted,” he said.
Rivlin recalled that he was nine years old when the national flag had first been flown from the top of the masthead. Even to this day, he said, whenever he sees it being raised to the top he gets tears in his eyes and his children and grandchildren cannot understand why.
The reception was held in conjunction with Israel’s 70th anniversary. A similar event was held at the President’s Residence more than a decade ago by then-president Moshe Katsav. Thursday’s event was the first time that this form of honoring the senior citizens, who built the state, was revived.