Henry Lovgren
An American Student in Israel

Unexpected lessons from Sivan Rahav-Meir

Sivan Rahav-Meir remarks in Montreal-- photo provided by Hillel Montreal.
Sivan Rahav-Meir speaking in Montreal-- photo provided by Hillel Montreal.

A few weekends ago, I found myself reluctantly schlepping down from Cote-des-Neiges to Montreal’s Hillel House. Throughout the commute, drizzle soaked my jacket as I cursed myself for agreeing to attend a brunch featuring an Israeli journalist. As I waited in the bus shelter, I pulled out my phone and googled an unfamiliar name.

My initial and albeit last-minute, inquiry into this Sivan Rahav-Meir gave me a limited background into this individual. Contrary to my previous assumptions, Rahav-Meir is not your average journalist. Globes Magazine declared her Israel’s most famous female media personality, and the Jerusalem Post listed her as among the world’s 50 most influential Jews. After reading articles extolling Rahav-Meir’s work, her remarkably ordinary and humble appearance betrayed my expectations of an Israeli Barbara Walters.

Following a brief introduction, Rahav-Meir began to speak. Within a few minutes, my preconceived notions and expectations of mediocracy vacated my mind. In a brightly lit room with partially eaten bagels and mimosas in plastic cups, a charisma passed over the audience that felt tangible.

Rahav-Meir communicates in a bizarrely effective yet contradictory manner. She speaks with an unusual combination of confidence and modesty, conviction and sincerity. For lack of a better phrase, Rahav-Meir alludes that X-Factor, an ability to commandeer the audience’s attention with striking intelligence and articulation.

The remarks started by describing accolades of Rahav-Meir’s secular-childhood in Herzliya. A 7th generation Israeli, she portrayed her early years as a “loser” — a girl whose endeavours appeared destined to fail. In primary school, a young Rahav-Meir wrote poems and sent them to a children’s magazine to no avail.

Nonetheless, after a year of rejection, a magazine published her first poem. Her debut was simple: a short poem dedicated to her disdain for tomatoes. However, Rahav-Meir overcomes her first turbulent year with the guidance of an invested teacher.

“The teacher taught me how to read and write,” Rahav-Meir said, “she gave me a gift, a skill, something spiritual.”

Rahav-Meir’s characterization of her writing abilities as “something spiritual” foreshadows her eventual transition towards an Orthodox lifestyle. Positively a child prodigy, Rahav-Meir’s school-years reflect an intense curiosity that pushed her towards an insatiable need to understand and question the world around her. From matters as mundane as a classmate’s dog to her religious evolution — Rahav-Meir described a childhood of yearning for knowledge and truth.

And by all standard metrics — she did just that. By 18, she had graduated University, interviewed a Prime Minister on Israeli-television and published a book. Yet Rahav-Meir┬áspoke about such achievements with an astounding lack of bluster. In doing so, she managed to tell the story of an extraordinary childhood with a relatable tone.

Rahav-Meir used such candour when she spoke about the concurrent development of her career and interest in a more Orthodox lifestyle. She described her secular childhood as isolating her from her Jewish heritage and keeping her detached from the Jewish faith.

However, the same curiosity which drove Rahav-Meir to interrogate her peers reemerged after she encountered a few Orthodox girls and agreed to attend Shabbat as an “investigative journalist.” Over time, her investigations developed into interest and eventual transition into an Orthodox-lifestyle.

Years later, her newfound spiritual life converged with her ongoing career as a journalist when she became a religious affairs reporter for an Israeli network. The job title itself is deeply reflective of who is Rahav-Meir. Her life’s work transcends barriers and expectations. She runs a website featuring a plethora of articles and lectures while also reporting for hours on end at significant events in Israel, like the recent elections. Herein lies her appeal, an Orthodox journalist capable of working within the material and spiritual world — a combination rare and notable in an Israeli society that remains divided between religious and secular.

Following a few questions, Rahav-Meir began posing for pictures as her entourage hustled in preparation for her departure. As I recognized the brunch’s imminent conclusion, an unexpected curiosity, much like that which drives Rahav-Meir, overcame me. What makes Rahav-Meir tick is not her tireless work-ethic or people skills, but in her questioning spirit that mirrors the ancient Jewish emphasis on the importance of understanding the world and our role therein.

And then as inconspicuous as she arrived, Rahav-Meir departed. As I gathered my belongings in preparation for a return into the Montreal drizzle, an unexpected thought materialized — only a few hours prior, I dreaded the idea of dragging myself to hear a journalist speak who I subconsciously expected to be uninspiring. With these thoughts swirling in my mind, I departed the Hillel House, and as I walked down Stanley, it occurred to me that the most crucial lesson Rahav-Meir bestowed was unintentional. Her life marked by periods of trials, perseverance, and triumphs interested me, but I found what laid below the surface far more fascinating. In Rahav-Meir, I witnessed the wondrous power of questioning that which surrounds us, and as she left Montreal, the essence of her success remained behind in the minds of those who cared to listen.

This event was organized by Hillel Montreal, Israel on Campus Concordia, Israel on Campus McGill and Mizrahi Canada.

About the Author
Henry Lovgren is a foreign student interning at the Tamar Center in Be'er Sheva. He is working towards a BA in French and Journalism at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. Recently, he became the Assistant News editor and lived in Turkey in a Rotary Youth Exchange Program for a year. He's from Portland, Oregon.
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