Host: Let’s meet the most influential woman in the media, Sivan Rahav-Meir.
Let’s discuss the issue that we’re all concerned abou
Rahav-Meir: A little correction, I’m also an author – I wrote #Parasha and The Burning Snapchat…
– Yes, parashat Va’era.I was thinking of the ‘submarines affair.'
The public is sick of what’s been discussed to death, like submarines, etc. It’s more important to talk about something refreshing – like the weekly Torah portion.I disagree.
That’s how divisions are created in the nation. When I say something and you disagree with me, it harms our unity.
That’s not a real conversation with acclaimed journalist and author Sivan Rahav-Meir, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it was. Minutes after she sat down to speak with The Jerusalem Post
about her best-selling book #Parasha: Weekly Insights from a Leading Israeli Journalist,
newly translated into English, hit comic sketch show Eretz Nehederet spoofed her for the first time. (“The Burning Snapchat” is not a real book.) Rahav-Meir takes the ribbing in stride. At her weekly Torah class in Jerusalem, which is open to the public and has hundreds of attendees each week, she showed the class a cartoon by Haaretz’s Amos Biderman, which depicts her as a news anchor announcing “our reporter, Moses.”
Both Eretz Nehederet and Biderman were spot-on. Like the parody version of Rahav-Meir, the real one talks like a consummate newswoman who’s simply shifted focus.
So, in last Wednesday’s class, she described Abraham’s short prayer in Genesis 18:3, “My Lord, if I find favor in Your eyes, please pass not away from Your servant,” as being akin to a tweet.
The most popular woman in Israeli news – she called Eretz Nehederet’s reference to her as “the most influential” fake news, because the poll she actually topped was “most beloved” – is barely even in the news anymore. After 30 years in the news business, starting in first grade when she interviewed her friends and submitted the results to children’s magazines, Rahav-Meir, 36, took a step back.
From a reporter on Channel 2 News, Israel’s most watched news program, covering the Supreme Court, the Knesset and religious affairs, she now anchors the news for one hour a week, and has a radio show with her husband, Yedidya Meir, a columnist and radio broadcaster for religious outlets, and writes a weekly column for Yediot Aharonot.
Like in #Parasha, Rahav-Meir uses her newspaper column to connect the weekly Torah portion to what’s happening in the news. She also writes a daily lesson about the Torah portion, which is available on WhatsApp (058-679-9000), Facebook and Twitter.
How did she get from the Knesset to Abraham the Patriarch? “After Yehudit, my fifth child, was born, I started rethinking the whole thing,” Rahav-Meir said, practicing her English. “The media has changed and I’ve changed....
For years, I reported on the Knesset, and all the politicians came to me when they wanted me to write about something. Now, they started speaking directly to the public [on social media] and they don’t need me anymore....
Today, journalists have to bring big scoops, because people don’t need us just for information.”
At the same time, Rahav-Meir started thinking about new ways to bring Judaism to a broader audience.
“For years, I covered the religious scene in Israel, but I kept talking about politics, coalition, opposition, money disputes, conflict. It wasn’t enough. It was just the shell, and there is more depth,” she said. “We can speak for hours about Shabbat – laws, fines and about what’s going on in Tel Aviv [with mini-markets opening] and will buses run. We talk about the superficial elements, and I did it for years, but never about what Shabbat means, this great gift that we have.”
Prof. Nechama Leibowitz (1905-1997), the female Torah scholar, was a great inspiration to Rahav-Meir, in that she would mail weekly questions to those who sought to learn.
Rahav-Meir decided to use the tools and the audience she already has to “make headlines and bring scoops” about the weekly Torah portion.
“I know how to bring ratings,” she quipped. “For 30 years, I’ve been saying: Don’t go away, something is about to happen.”
Rahav-Meir thinks she’s become popular because of her positive message.
“In the news, we start out by saying ‘Good evening,’ and then we spend an hour telling you what’s bad....
That’s not the right way to look at reality. It’s bad and good. I think people are looking for balance, because our media is not balanced.... Reality is complex,” she stated.
“People love Judaism. The media treats Judaism like a problem, and I think it’s a solution. The media looks for places where media interrupts our lives, where people feel they can’t breathe because of it. But people love their traditions. They want to see a balanced picture.”
Despite her dedication to her current lifestyle, Rahav-Meir grew up in a totally secular home. She didn’t know any religious people at all – she only saw them on TV – until, when she was 15, her mother suggested she branch out in her journalism and interview teenagers whose lives are different from her own. She interviewed and befriended religious-Zionist girls her own age, and for the first time, she said, “I saw they were normal people… [not] people who probably helped kill Rabin, because that’s what I saw on TV.”
She quickly fell in love with religious life. “The minute I skipped the politics and the media and saw what’s happening behind that, I saw [that] the real, authentic Judaism was something completely different... I discovered treasures.”
Slipping into her comparison of Torah and social media again, Rahav-Meir talked about how she wants to share those treasures. “Rashi doesn’t have a Facebook page, and Maimonides isn’t on Twitter – and that’s a problem. The social media feed influences us. The books remain on our shelves, and the feed is our main source of thoughts and ideas. Who will open an Instagram account for the Ba’al Shem Tov?” That’s what Rahav-Meir hopes to do with her daily Torah messages and her book, which features new ideas she hadn’t shared on social media.
Now that #Parasha is available in English, Rahav-Meir has had more contact with Diaspora Jews, speaking to communities in Los Angeles, New York, Washington and Brussels in recent months, as well as Birthright groups visiting Israel.
“I think we have a lot to learn from the communities abroad. As Israelis, we think we know everything, but I saw great things. I think we can learn how to build a community and have a shul not just be a place to pray, but so many other things, an empire of activities,” she said.
As for the recent tensions between Diaspora and Israeli Jews about the Western Wall, conversion and other matters, Rahav-Meir said the real problem is something else entirely, which is not getting enough attention.
“While we’re having this conversation, 10 Jews just assimilated on a college campus,” she said. “The Kotel is a conflict, but do you think that’s the real problem of Jewry today? Fifty women going to the Kotel? Have you seen the assimilation and the ignorance? That’s the problem. We’re losing half of our nation, and we just talk to each other on panels. The largest stream in Judaism is nonaffiliated Jews.”
Rahav-Meir recounted participating in panels at conferences for major Jewish organizations and finding the average age in the audience to be well over 60.
“Where are their grandchildren? Don’t just talk about the Kotel, talk about what’s really urgent. We can’t afford to talk about other issues. There’s no time,” she said.