Sivan Rahav Meir on moving to America: Will they come back?
“We are not cutting our ties with Israel; we are going to connect with more people.”
By SHAKED KARABELNICOFF
Popular religious journalist Sivan Rahav Meir announced last week that she and her family, including her radio-personality husband Yedidiya, will be heading to the United States on shlichut with World Mizrachi.Rahav Meir, who has been named as one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by The Jerusalem Post, is known for her roles in radio, television and her popular weekly lecture on the week’s Torah portion.For years, she has captured the minds and hearts of Israelis with her weekly lecture series, using Torah to teach and connect with her audience. Currently stationed in Jerusalem, Rahav Meir grew up in Israel and was raised secular. She became religiously observant at the age of 18, and calls herself a proud seventh-generation Israeli, which makes her temporary yerida – descent from the Land of Israel – especially notable.In a surprise announcement over Facebook, Rahav Meir reassured her audience that despite the 10-month-long move to Manhattan, “We are not cutting our ties with Israel; we are going to connect with more people.”As she prepares for the move, Rahav Meir spoke with the Magazine about the challenges she anticipates and the possibility of extending the trip.What inspired your move to America?Since I started my weekly lectures on the Torah portion every Wednesday, it has become increasingly popular and I was invited to speak to American and European Jewry. I began to get many requests and proposals from people who want me to come to America. Over the past couple of years, I have had the privilege of meeting dozens of communities in the United States. For the first time in my life, I had a chance to meet numerous brothers and sisters whom I knew nothing about. So when the World Mizrachi movement, led by Rabbi Doron Peretz, asked if we wanted to take on something more serious and go for a whole year really living there, meeting people, teaching them, and learning from them, we of course responded, “Yes, we want to do it!”AdvertisementWhat will the focus of your work in America be?Wow! That’s a good question. There are six million Jews. What do I want to do? I ask myself this question all the time. First of all, the main focus is the lecture, which will take place weekly at Stern College of Yeshiva University in Manhattan. That’s the one thing that will definitely take place continuously every week. The lecture will be in Hebrew and will be broadcast live on Facebook and Youtube. Then, we’ll have a break and do it again in English. I’m really looking forward to the girls at Stern College, but the lecture is for everyone, and everyone’s invited. The other plans are taking shape rapidly. We’ve been invited to speak in so many places: Canada, Florida, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and we really want to go. Rabbi Rueven Taragin, the educational director of World Mizrachi, is in charge of this aspect and will be dealing with all the bookings. Baruch Hashem, since we’ve announced our move, I think he’s gotten over 100 requests from all kinds of Jews who want to meet the Israelis, the “Yordim.” We’re planning it all right now so I can’t yet say with precision where I’ll be and when.Why is this the right time for you and your family to make this move?It’s the perfect timing for all of us, practically speaking, because of the age of our kids and the places we work. Yedidya and I think it’s perfect now, and our bosses are really thrilled and curious about what we will do. They want us to bring new content and materials from the States and continue broadcasts from there. Family aside, the sensitive political relationship between America and Israel makes it an exciting time to go. Plus, after doing the lecture for about three years here in Jerusalem, I feel that it’s the right time to move. We started something, built something here and it’s really exciting that Yeshiva University is interested in bringing it to Manhattan. It was Stephanie Strauss, executive director of Yeshiva University in Israel, who was the initiator of this cooperation, and for that I am grateful. We (I and all the volunteers who work on the lecture here in Israel) were shocked that someone so serious is interested in us. We built it as something for the singles in the Nahlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem and it has become a world-renowned lecture. That’s a “wow!”Will you continue your radio and TV programs? How will this work out logistically?Yes, with thanks to God and technology, we will able to do most things from there: radio shows, Yedidya’s daily show, our weekly show, and you will see me on TV, be’ezrat Hashem. I will still write in Yediot Aharonot, and continue the Daily Whatsapp project, a small daily insight about Judaism and current affairs sent through WhatsApp.What do you expect the biggest challenge of moving to America will be?The biggest challenge will be with the kids and their English. We have a private tutor who comes here almost every day to prepare them. Personally, that’s the main challenge. And of course, packing and arranging the technical things. Spiritually, touching as many Jews as we can and talking about Israel, Zionism, Judaism and finding the mutual pulse we all share. I believe the Parsha is our mutual pulse, that’s my philosophy. The weekly portion we read in the Torah, we are connected through it, so know it, learn it, find new meanings from it for your own life. I see that as a challenge because I’m curious about what Americans will want to hear. I’m not a robot – I come to listen.What will you miss most about Israel?Israel itself. I love my country, it’s my homeland. I’m a seventh-generation Israeli – my ancestors came as pioneers. They came with the first aliyah and established the city of Rishon LeZion. So I love everything about my country…. I don’t even want to start elaborating because I’ll cry.You have become a household name in Israel. Do you have plans to replicate that in America?Listen, America is huge. They have their own celebrities and famous figures. I’m not coming to America as a journalist, and I don’t come to work in the entertainment industry. I come to teach Torah, baruch Hashem many Jews will listen. Even some non-Jews listen to the lectures and like the content; they are also welcome. I come to talk about the Torah. Will the Torah get ratings? Be’ezrat hashem, I hope so. But I’m not coming to be the next star in America.I understand your plan is to stay for one year. Is there a possibility that you may want to stay for longer?That’s what everyone is asking: ‘Will you stay for two years, three years? Until the kids finish college? Will you get a senior home in Florida?’ People laugh at me here in Israel because they know many Israelis leave and never come back. But we will come back. Right now we’re only talking about 10 months – not even a full year. I don’t want to say, “Read my lips,” but that’s the plan. Ask me again in a few months.How are you and your family preparing for the move?We are really preparing! Talking to you is my break; I work all day. I’m copying documents for all kinds of agents and signing all kinds of contracts. The real challenge at this moment is working out how many beds the tenants will leave us and if we should we buy more. And what is Amazon Prime? Should we order things from there? I’m working on it as if it were a full-time job.How do your kids feel about it?We have five kids, baruch Hashem, and with that comes five different opinions, sometimes even 10. Most of them are really excited. They really want to come. Especially since I promised them all kinds of materialistic things that America has to offer. It’s a family adventure... tell them that they are also shlichim. Yedidya and I are the Mizrachi shilichim, but they are kids from Eretz Israel. People are looking at them. When somebody is thinking of making aliyah, they’ll look at them and will think, “Okay, these are the kids that grew up in Israel… do I want my kids to be like them?”I hope this doesn’t make them too nervous, but they also represent Israel and I pray that they will have a lot of success there.