President Rivlin visiting the northern Israeli-Arab village of Kfar Yasif for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, where he met with leaders of the Muslim community, October 2, 2014. Photo by Mark Neyman/GPO
President Rivlin visiting the northern Israeli-Arab village of Kfar Yasif for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, where he met with leaders of the Muslim community, October 2, 2014. Photo by Mark Neyman/GPO

People of the Year lists popped up last week as the Gregorian calendar year changed digits. Most of the names and faces highlighted by numerous sites, newspapers and media sources weren’t unexpected or extraordinary. Except for Reuven “Rubi” Rivlin’s — Israel’s president.

The Guardian, the UK daily notorious for its continuous criticism of Israeli foreign policy, surprised many when it chose the 10th president of Israel as one of its heroes of 2014.

“Ever since his elevation to Israel’s largely ceremonial presidency in June he has acted as something like his country’s conscience – both castigating what he sees as a national slide into racism and intolerance, and standing up for the civil rights of Palestinians,” the paper wrote in its explanation for choosing the 75-year-old politician.

Rivlin’s predecessor, Shimon Peres, was – and is – a hero to many for his work toward peace. When the changing of the guard took place in July 2014, it was understood by all that Rivlin wasn’t likely to collect the same world media attention as Peres had.

But Rivlin surprised everyone.

It was actually at the start of the Jewish New Year in September that Rivlin’s badge as lifelong resilient politician (with a longstanding political right affiliation) began to transform to that of a champion of civil rights.

A YouTube video by an 11-year-old Arab student in Tel Aviv, who was being bullied in school, moved Rivlin to collaborate with the boy on a clip of his own. That video — reproving “violence, hostility, bullying, and racism” – helped give Rivlin his new title as defender of the rights of Israel’s 1.7 million Arab citizens.

And though not widely reported by foreign media, the seventh-generation Jerusalemite is also considered a superhero of sorts among his neighbors. Upon taking up residency in the President’s House, Rivlin decided to invite his neighbors over on a number of occasions.

The neighbors, who are inconvenienced regularly by the president’s security personnel, told local media that they thought it was a joke at first when they saw invitations in their mailboxes. But they’ve since joined him to decorate a sukkah and play games – including soccer — on the presidential lawn.

Rivlin getting help decorating his sukkah. Photo by Miriam Alster/FLASH90
Rivlin getting help decorating his sukkah. Photo by Miriam Alster/FLASH90

Rivlin has also hosted Israeli Christian leaders and visited the family of a Druze policeman killed in a terror attack.

To mark the end of 2014, Rivlin and his wife invited neighbors for tea.