A Phone Call With Sivan Rahav-Meir
“Yes! Shalom, shalom, how are you?” The urgency and over-friendliness in Sivan Rahav-Meir’s voice made me imagine that she was standing in her kitchen pressing her telephone to her shoulder while stirring a pot of soup with a wooden spoon.
She answered my phone call Sunday evening as political debate over the Israeli elections raged. In the middle of our conversation, she told me she had to call me back. Her phone was ringing about the Israeli elections.
Ten minutes later, Rahav-Meir seemed a lot more focused. I thought that she may have put the wooden spoon down.
Both journalists, Rahav-Meir and her husband, Yedidya, moved to the US only a few weeks ago with their five children. For the 10 months they are living here, they will call the Five Towns their home as Rahav-Meir splits her time between writing and broadcasting remotely to Israel, writing for YU Torah, giving a weekly parsha shiur at the Beren campus and jumping around to different Jewish communities in North America for Shabbat to accomplish her shlichut mission through the World Mizrachi Organization.
Unlike many shlichut organizations, Rahav-Meir explained, the World Mizrachi Organization does not limit its shlichut couples to a specific shul or school, but invites them to move around to different communities during their time living in America. Rahav-Meir and her husband are the shlichim for the North American area. They will visit Teaneck, Denver, Florida and California, among other locations during their stay.
As a young girl at the age of six, Rahav-Meir read any Israeli magazine or book she could get her hands on. “To talk, to read, to write, to relate to other people. That’s the only thing I’m good at,” she told me. She started working for Israeli TV stations and getting the opportunity to interview Knesset members, singers, politicians, Arabs, religious and non-religious Jews and virtually anyone she could talk to and get to know. She grew up in a non-observant household, but her curiosity led her to discover the “treasure” of the Torah and a religious lifestyle.
“Is this a long interview? I just want to understand the concept,” she asked me.
When Rahav-Meir had the opportunity to interview Orthodox teenagers, she took it, and they invited her to their homes for Shabbat. “I discovered Judaism out of journalism,” she said. Rahav-Meir began observing Shabbat at the age of 16 or 17 and her love of reading and writing directly affected her Torah learning and observance. “To sink into the experience of reading for hours was really a miracle for me,” she said about her Shabbat experience.
Her parents never became observant, but Rahav-Meir described her experience of becoming religiously observant as “part of the Zionist revolution ... The founders of the state of Israel forgot about [our] mutual heritage, especially after the Holocaust. They thought these roots are not so important because they had to build a new country. Our generation must fix, correct and add the things that we forgot on our way to Israel.”
Starting her shiurim three years ago was also part of that process. A group of singles approached her asking for her to teach a weekly parsha shiur. Rahav-Meir constantly reiterated that her shiur is not from a perspective of a rebbitzen, professor or even an intellectual, but from the point of view of a journalist. She learns Rashi with her students, but includes current events, news, media, and of course, her own experiences as an American this year. The topics are not overly sophisticated, and the goal is to get people familiar with the basic concepts of the parsha, “maybe because I know what it means to not know,” Rahav-Meir commented about the impact her upbringing had on her teaching.
Besides for her weekly shiurim, Rahav-Meir also has a daily WhatsApp group where she posts short ideas from the parsha that get translated to 10 different languages by volunteers.
First and foremost, she worries about the practical and logistical move to America — her children, their schooling, the language and taking trips on the Long Island Railroad. Her other challenge is to make the Hebrew shiur interesting and accessible to English speakers. “It is exciting to come to Stern College in the middle of the day and see students so concentrated in studying Torah … in the middle of Manhattan. There’s Macy’s outside waiting, there’s Starbucks, there are all the shops, all the brands, and they just sit there and study.”
“The message is coming here, listening to you, not only teaching, but learning, particularly what American Jews have to say, and talking about our mutual pulse, which is the Torah.”
Photo Credit: Sivan Rahav-Meir
Photo Caption: Rahav-Meir with the heads of the World Mizrachi Organization