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Rivlin, Pope discuss ‘enemy’ virus, exchange holiday greetings in phone call

President Reuven Rivlin spoke on the phone with Pope Francis on Wednesday, with the two discussing their concerns regarding the ongoing coronavirus pandemic while also sharing holiday greetings.

“The coronavirus shows us that it respects no borders and that no-one is immune,” Rivlin told the Pontiff according to a statement from the president’s office. “We are fighting a stubborn and cruel enemy together, and that is how we will overcome it, working together across the world.”

Rivlin also expressed his appreciation for the Pope’s support in the fight to combat anti-Semitism, saying the effort is particularly important “given rising numbers of anti-Semitic incidents as the coronavirus spreads.”

The president ended the call, sending wishes for good tidings and blessings for a Happy Easter, which Christians will mark on April 12.

“When you light your holiday candles tonight in Israel, we will all be with you. I will be with you in my heart and in my prayers,” the Pope responded, according to Rivlin’s office.

President Rivlln has spoken to leaders across the world about the pandemic, including the kings of Spain and Holland and with the presidents of Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Moldova, Czech Republic, Croatia, Armenia, Cyprus, Greece, Portugal, Romania, Colombia, Peru, Honduras, Kazakhstan and Serbia.

On Tuesday, Rivlin sent a video message to Jewish leaders around the world, wishing them all a Happy Passover.

“This year, we are all facing the challenge of the coronavirus and the challenge of distance from our family and loved ones. But despite the distance, Pesach reminds us that the Jewish people are all one family, with shared history, shared values and a shared destiny. And, as we gather around the Seder table, here in Israel we will think of you and will be praying for your communities,” the president said.

Addressing Jewish children in Israel and abroad, he said: “Even if we are not celebrating Seder night in the same way we do every year, but with just our closest family, do not forget the special Pesach traditions and songs.”

“Apart from that, remember that the smaller the Seder, the greater your chances are of finding the Afikoman! See you soon, dear children… And, of course, don’t forget to pick up the phone or Zoom to Granny and Grandpa, Saba and Savta, to wish them Chag Sameach and send a big, big hug from afar. Next year in Jerusalem. Next year, together,” Rivlin concluded.

The president’s office also announced Rivlin’s decision to accept the requests of 361 Israelis to have their criminal records expunged on the eve of the holiday. Seventy of the requests were from soldiers or individuals performing national service.

Among the requests approved by the president was that of Moshe (Shuki) Basso, who killed his father in 1993. Basso was charged with manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years, but had his sentenced commuted by president Ezer Weizman in 1997 due to the circumstances that led to the killing. According to the verdict, Basso had witnessed his father’s violent behavior toward his mother for years, including her rape.

“The verdict also said that Basso was in a state of genuine distress when felt that he had no other option and that he pays the price daily, hourly when he has to deal with his pained conscience,” Rivlin’s office said in a statement explaining the decision.

Another request approved by the president was that of combat soldier Yossi Shimshon. Shimson was convicted several times as a minor for property crimes and violence.

“Shimson has undergone an impressive process of rehabilitation, including attending the ‘One of Us’ pre-army program. Despite being exempted from military service, he fought to enlist and served in the Givati infantry brigade and is now in officers’ training school,” Rivlin’s office said.

Header: President Reuven Rivlin meeting Pope Francis at the Vatican, September 3, 2015. Haim Zach/GPO)