An Illuminating Evening

On Dec. 21, 2019, approximately two hundred people filled the banquet hall of the Young Israel of Jamaica Estates (YIJE) for a Chanukah-themed evening presented by the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought, the Samuel H. Wang Yeshiva University High School for Girls (Central), and YIJE.

Mrs. CB Neugroschl, head of school for Central, introduced the evening with some timely and stirring thoughts on the subject of our power to brighten the world, which segued smoothly to the main topic of the evening, entitled “Eight Paths to Illumination.”

Rabbi Dov Lerner, YIJE’s rabbi and resident scholar at the Straus Center, then engaged Sivan Rahav Meir, the World Mizrachi Distinguished Visiting Lecturer at the Straus Center and the Yeshiva University Center for Israel Studies, in a discussion centered upon eight discrete phases, each relating to a stage of Sivan’s life.

Sivan Rahav Meir speaks with Rabbi Dov Lerner

Rahav Meir began by discussing her childhood, during which she confessed never to have met an observant Jew. But when she began to engage with scholastic literacy, she felt, for the first time, a passion and talent that, in her mind, gave her an advantage over her more athletically inclined peers. She went on to describe how her first conversation with religious contemporaries, filled with warmth and hospitality, changed some of her ideas. For instance, where she had felt that regulations around Shabbat constricted her, she now sees that they, in fact, liberate her in so many ways.

She also touched upon the challenges and opportunities afforded to people by the rapid and tectonic shifts in media and technology, but she made that topic palpable to the audience by giving it a personal spin.  She spoke about she handled the struggles of a secular Israeli public to process a news reporter sharing religious ideas online, and noted how her children have given her both purpose and perspective in selecting which news stories to cover. She also detailed how she and her husband have faced the question of technological discipline in the home.

On a broader level, she spoke to cultural rifts between Israel and the United States and the lessons she felt we can learn from one another. She illustrated this through a touching anecdote about her interview with Natan Sharansky. His advice to fight for Jewish values and pride, not just in times of persecution but also in a world of autonomy, impacted her strongly, and the story left the crowded auditorium feeling just as charged as Rahav Meir felt when she first heard Sharansky’s words.

Rabbi Lerner ended the evening by thanking Mrs. Neugroschl, the Straus Center, and Rahav Meir for all they do to promote Jewish values in a world thirsting for truth.