Rivlin pokes cartoon fun at himself, previous presidents for his 81st birthday
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Rivlin pokes cartoon fun at himself, previous presidents for his 81st birthday

Exhibit opening Monday at President’s House follows the lives and histories of Israel’s presidents, as only cartoonists can

President Reuven Rivlin working to establish a unity government following an election. By Amos Biderman, published in Haaretz, September 19, 2019 (Courtesy of Haaretz / President's Residence)
President Reuven Rivlin working to establish a unity government following an election. By Amos Biderman, published in Haaretz, September 19, 2019 (Courtesy of Haaretz / President's Residence)

President Reuven Rivlin turned 81 on Monday, a milestone he celebrated by taking a lighthearted look at his office and his country’s history through an exhibition of Israeli cartoons.

The 24-cartoon exhibit’s Hebrew name — “Basic Law/Laugh: President of the State” — works better in Hebrew, where “law” (hok) and “laughter” (tzhok) are just one letter apart. In English it is being called “Character and Caricature – Israeli presidents in cartoons.”

“I know that the situation we are in at the moment doesn’t particularly lend itself to laughter, but if there is one thing I learnt during my years in Israeli politics, and in general, it is that even when you are dealing with the most serious issues, it is important to leave some room for humor,” Rivlin said Monday, opening the exhibit. “It’s important to laugh. To laugh at the situation and at ourselves,” he said at the opening, attended by some of those whose work is included in the show.

“Cartoons are part of the fabric of our vibrant civic society. A strong society is one that is not afraid of criticism – even biting, pointed criticism. In fact, satirical criticism can make us stronger, showing and clarifying what needs to be fixed by hearing a good joke, paying attention to it but not taking it to heart, thinking, perhaps improving something, and moving on. Because if the foundations are strong enough, you don’t need to be worried by a slight tremor,” he said.

Turning 81, President Reuven Rivlin is pictured with a birthday cake from his staff with a cartoon by Tal Lezer on it, September 14, 2020. “They say 81, but I feel 18,” he said. (Mark Neyman / GPO)

“When I see myself in cartoons, I try to work out what new light it sheds on me and on how I go about things. And the truth is that, more often than not, I learn something new from our cartoons.

Turning 81, President Reuven Rivlin was given a birthday cake from his staff with a cartoon by Tal Lezer on it, September 14, 2020. (Mark Neyman / GPO)

“That is why, when I find a good cartoon on the pages of the newspaper – even if it isn’t totally complimentary or approving – I find it a source of real pleasure,” he added.

Rivlin has long been known for his sense of humor and good cheer.

A Sunday press release by his office quoted a speech Rivlin gave in 2015, in which he exhorted: “Through all the chaos, it is important to laugh a little at ourselves, at the impossibility of our situation.”

Cartoon of Albert Einstein refusing an offer to serve as Israel’s second president, drawn by cartoonist Joseph Bass and published in Haaretz in 1952. (Joseph Bass/President’s Residence)

The initiative is a joint effort of Rivlin’s office and the Israeli Cartoon and Comics Museum in the central Israeli city of Holon.

It includes humorous depictions of Israel’s past heads of state, and of the current one, as well as commentary on major events in Israel’s history like the Israeli-Egyptian peace accords.

According to the President’s House, the artists included in the exhibit are Yosef Bass, Yosef Ross, Dosh (Kariel Gardosh), Arieh Navon, Ze’ev (Ya’akov Farkash), Peretz Weinreich, Shlomo Cohen, Shai Charki, Itamar Doeva, Boris Dickerman, Hanoch Piven, Jacky, Amos Biderman, Michel Kishka, Daniela London Dekel and Tal Lezer.

A cartoon showing world leaders gathered to pay their respects at the funeral of President Shimon Peres, long derided as a political ‘loser’ by his opponents, who says from his grave, ‘So I’m a loser??’ Drawn by Boris Dickerman and published by the Yedioth Ahronoth daily on November 19, 2016. (courtesy of Yedioth Ahronoth/President’s Residence)

Monday is Rivlin’s 81st birthday on the Hebrew calendar. His Gregorian calendar birthday was last Wednesday.

Cartoon of Pope Paul VI visiting Israel – birthplace of Judaism and Christianity – and being greeted by President Zalman Shazar, drawn by cartoonist Ze’ev (Yaakov Farkash) and published in Haaretz, January 5, 1964. (Yaakov Farkash/President’s Residence)
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