Beyond The Headlines: A Weekly Glimpse Into The Israel You Won’t Read About In The News (Photos)

By Sivan Rahav-Meir/Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
Posted on 02/28/24

Insights From a “Speaking Fast”

I'm not usually one for joining initiatives, but this past Thursday was an exception. I encountered an incredibly heartfelt call from the families of the captives, supported by rabbis, urging a taanit dibbur, an hour without mundane speech, only Torah study and prayer.

In response, I shut down my electronic devices and picked up Mesillat Yesharim, a classic mussar text by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, the Ramchal. I delved into a special edition annotated with personal reflections and interpretations written by the late Hadar Goldin, whose body is still being held by Hamas in Gaza.

The Ramchal articulates in his preface that although people grasp the truth, the hustle of life often leaves them with little energy to live by it. He emphasized that the work is not about transforming ourselves as much as uncovering and being true to our deepest desires and potential, naturally reverting to our own foundational principles. Hadar Goldin noted in the margins for himself: "That’s the beauty of it! It requires effort to uncover these truths, yet, they are, in fact, deeply embedded within us."

In relation to the fact that Mesillat Yesharim is based on a spiritual path outlined by Talmudic sage Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair, Hadar goes on to note to himself: "The Talmud recounts Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair splitting a river on his way to fulfill the mitzvah of redeeming captives, bringing them out of darkness and into light. This act, intrinsic to his being – Yair means “to illuminate” - symbolizes not just physical liberation but a spiritual journey from the confines of this world to a higher state of being, where the body becomes a vehicle for the soul’s sanctity."

Motivated by the plight of our cherished captives in Gaza, I immersed myself in study. Hadar's writings also served for me as a poignant reminder of the imprisoned state of our own consciousness.

From Pinchas ben Yair, through the Ramchal, to Hadar Goldin, and now to my own desk. Thank you to those behind this unique initiative, through which hundreds of thousands worldwide dedicated an hour to the captives' welfare, in a way that departs from the typical. I think we’d do well to try, independently, to adopt this practice occasionally, even for less than an hour.

A Picture That Tells Only Half the Story

Yaheli and Tsud Badichi, hailing from Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel, found themselves evacuated from their home with their five children after the massacre on Simchat Torah. Due to the urgent nature of their departure, they could only take what fit into the two red suitcases, shown in the photo. After four months living in the community of Kfar Haroeh, they prepared to move to an apartment in the Hibat Zion community, between Netanya and Hadera.


All their other possessions, accumulated over this period and which they crammed into black garbage bags, were generously provided by the community in Kfar Haroeh, along with donations from across Israel and the Jewish world. (Incidentally, the bags in the picture represent only about half of what they received!)

Understanding the challenges associated with relocating to a new apartment right before Shabbat, their new community reached out and prepared the Shabbat meals for the Badichi family and all the other evacuees, aiming to ease their transition.

Shlomit Residents: A Tearful Farewell and a Grateful Homecoming

Translated by Janine Muller Sherr

They have every reason to despair, yet their faith keeps them strong.

During the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, they were torn from their homes in Gush Katif, tearfully warning of dire scenarios horrifyingly similar to the events of October 7th. From the sands of Gush Katif they moved to the sands of Eshkol, between Ashkelon and Be’er Sheva, where they made the desert bloom into their thriving settlement of Shlomit. 

On the morning of Simchat Torah, their first-response team sprang into action to shield the neighboring town of Pri Gan. While they managed to save Pri Gan from the slaughter, four members of Shlomit tragically fell in battle.

Members of Shlomit now faced another evacuation, their homes left behind for four long months. They sought refuge in the luxurious Cramim Resort near Jerusalem, a place where guests go to be pampered for a brief sojourn of indulgence, not extended stays exceeding 100 days. 

I encountered this resilient community in the first week after Simchat Torah. Amidst the upheaval, they’d already established Torah classes for their children.

Last week marked their return home. Before leaving the hotel, they organized an event to express their gratitude to the hotel staff, from the CEO to the cleaning staff, presenting each with a gift accompanied by a card, written in three languages: Hebrew, English, and Thai.

And while they invested great efforts to clearly communicate their gratitude, their true language is that of love and of unbroken faith – and it is their faith that will carry them through this crisis.

Welcome home, residents of Shlomit. May you be blessed with peace.

Lessons from Converts to Judaism

In the photo below, the only one born Jewish is me. The rest converted to Judaism and made Aliyah — two entire families, one from New Zealand and the other from Maryland, USA.  They’re now living in the community of Dolev, located in Samaria, northwest of Jerusalem.


The cheerful young girl next to me is Elia, who is celebrating her bat mitzvah. She asked to interview me, and then I interviewed her and the others. Here’s what they shared:

“New Zealand’s lush greenery pales in comparison to Israel’s vibrant essence.” “Living outside Israel, I felt that I had no air, that only here can I breathe fully, filling my lungs.” “It’s peculiar when Israelis ask me how I could leave Maryland, or why I took it upon myself to fulfill the mitzvot. Due to the difficulties and the challenges, they sometimes take for granted the privilege of living as Jews in this land and the treasures that are to be found here.”

We recently read in the Torah about Yitro, who chose to convert and join the nation of Israel. Similarly, in Shir HaMaalot we read: “Then it was said among the nations: ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’” Only afterwards, in the next verse, do we read: “The Lord has done great things for us, we were joyful.” Sometimes other nations see from the outside the greatness and the significance of what happens to us, and only then do we acknowledge it as well.

I believe that engaging with those who have converted to Judaism reminds us to shed the dust of complacency and reconnect with our identity.

To our nation’s newest members, thank you and mazal tov! Your journey enriches us all.

Havdalah at Times Square

Last Saturday night, thousands of Jewish teenagers from all over the world attended a Havdalah event in Times Square, capping a massive Chabad Teen Shabbat. The following is a report from a participant:

“Two brothers who were rescued from the Nova Festival went on stage and movingly recited a chapter of Tehillim, and we all repeated after them. After that, the entire crowd cried out together to free the hostages, as photos of each hostage were shown on the huge screen. The speakers exhorted the youth that as each one returns home, to Toronto, Texas or Tel Aviv, they should see themselves as an emissary.

“The way I see it, though, the highlight was the Havdalah itself. I have never felt the words of the prayer so strongly: ‘Who distinguishes between holy and profane, between light and darkness, between Israel and the nations…’ Wishing all a good week.”