I met Rivka Levy for coffee the other day. After reading her recently released book, The Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife, I knew I had found a new friend. She is a wife, mother, teacher, writer, publisher, holistic therapist and much more. And at her core, she is a deeply passionate Jewish woman.
Back in 2005, she was earning a six-figure salary as a speechwriter near Downing Street, London (where the bigwigs of the British parliament work) and her husband, Reuven, was a successful lawyer. Yet, they knew it was time to make aliyah.
After 9/11, the Levys had started to feel the anti-Semitism that’s always bubbling under the surface in Europe more overtly. Even though they were careful not to dress visibly Jewish, Rivka and Reuven felt England was becoming a dangerous place for Jews to live – both politically and religiously.
One Shabbat, while they were still debating whether or not to make the move to Israel, and still worrying about terrorists attacking the UK, Rivka was walking on the street when a lavishly-dressed women driving a luxury car in London called out, “Hitler should have finished the job.” That was the final push. It was time to move. On July 7, 2005 they moved into their new home in Modiin, in the center of Israel. The same day terrorists bombed London’s underground tube system. It would become known as 7/7 or the UK’s 9/11.
It was a gratifying time to come to Israel, and, for the next six months, the Levy’s felt they were living the perfect life. Both Rivka and Reuven traveled back to England once every few weeks. She continued her speechwriting, her husband continued working for his legal clients, and their kids were adjusting.
Living in the Holy Land inspired them to rethink the way they were keeping Hashem’s mitzvos. In England, Rivka had not wanted to wear a sheitel, and wearing a scarf made her look more like an Arab than a Jew. So she didn’t cover her hair. Living in Eretz Yisrael, she started to cover her hair and began dressing more tzniusdik. She also started to learn with teachers trained by Rav Shalom Arush, author of The Garden of Emuna.
She began to realize that her high-powered speechwriting work was often in conflict with her Orthodox views. Living in Israel just made the incongruence more pronounced. Perhaps that is why Hashem orchestrated the complete cancelation of all her perfectly arranged meetings – after she had arrived in London. It was also clear that her two young daughters needed more of her time and attention.
It was clearly time for an overhaul. Rivka decided to quit her job and become a stay-at-home mom. Shortly after, her husband was fired. The Levys were now broke. They couldn’t pay their mortgage or afford their car. They sold their home in Modiin to pay off their debts, and started over in the then-much cheaper Neve Daniel, in Gush Etzion.
Rivka searched for a reason behind all the hardships. She thought Hashem would be pleased with her efforts. They’d made aliyah, she’d became more tzniyus, she had gotten rid of the Internet from her home, taken her job as a mother more sincerely, and Reuven had started learning each morning in yeshiva – and then G-d decided they need to live in poverty?! Why? What did Hashem want from them?
“Sometimes, you can daven your heart out asking for something that you’re pretty sure G-d would want you to have, like kids, or health, or a home of your own, and still not get them… It’s not a punishment or Divine rejection. It’s an invitation to judge G-d favorably and to fulfill the precept of being someone who serves Him for no reward. And of all the tests, that could be the hardest one.”
After a very difficult six months, their lives began to turn around. Reuven found a new job working for a law firm in Jerusalem, which brought them quick wealth. Rivka started writing about Jewish issues and emunah for Rabbi Arush’s website, a job she would keep for the next eight years. Her husband continued learning around his work schedule and became a sought-after speaker. Yet, it wasn’t all smooth sailing – as if life ever is.
The Levys had barely been in the Gush for two years when a spate of violent burglaries hit their block. In addition, their daughters had been having some social issues in school. It seemed a good time to pack up, and move to a more Anglo community on the other side of the Green Line.
Reuven’s father died unexpectedly a few days before Rivka’s sister’s wedding in the UK. The Levy family returned to England for a simultaneous wedding and funeral, and then spent the next couple of years trying to deal with all the emotional fall-out.
They moved again, a short distance from the Old City. Reuven planned to quit law and begin working in kiruv. They found a school that was a good match for their daughters academically and religiously; however, the security situation troubled them.
In July of 2014, the security situation in Jerusalem had become extremely difficult, with Arabs rioting and using knives to accentuate their anger. Only two girls besides the Levy daughters came to school without armed guards.
As the violence and terrorism continued to escalate, the Levys’ attempts at outreach in the Old City quickly floundered, and they once again found themselves financially broke and spiritually lost.
It’s a consistent theme in Rivka’s spiritual journey that instead of looking at specific reasons for why things went sour, she went straight to the Master of the Universe and asked “Why?”
And Hashem was glad to give her answers.
As she wrote in her diary of that year: “What’s a person to do when they’ve been to Uman seven times, talked to G-d for hours, got blessings and advice from holy people, tried to make teshuva on everything they can think of and still they’re stuck spiritually? Answers on a postcard, please.”
Rivka’s next entry describes a Tu b’Shevat party where “a Temani grandmother gives out spiritual advice as she makes millions of pitas. She explains that G-d always answers every prayer, and the stupidity of worrying about tomorrow instead of living for today. This Temani grandmother spoke of the need to like ourselves. When we don’t we’re always looking for acknowledgment from the outside, which is unhealthy. Don’t keep whining that no one’s praising your cookies! If the plate’s empty, it’s a sign they like them. Give yourself a pat on the back, and be happy! I think she was Eliyahu HaNavi disguised as a woman – she answered all my questions and also baked a mean pita.”
Rivka reassessed her observance of mitzvot, her eating habits, and the way she coped with negative emotions. She began to realize that the conventional holistic approaches were missing any form of spirituality. They ignored G-d.
The body can’t be divorced from the mind, the emotions, or the soul and our Creator – it is a package deal. So Rivka developed her own approach to health with the guidance and approval of her rav. Now as a therapist and writer, she has become a fountain of information on a wide variety of healthy Jewish approaches to all aspects of life.
She recently published her eight book, and still has many more ideas she wants to write about, including how the human body is actually an electrical circuit, and how the electrical nature of the universe is something frequently referred to by Chazal. She writes about the more spiritual aspects of these subjects at Emunaroma.com, and about the more physical and mental health aspects at Spiritualselfhelp.org
But while Rivka is a prolific author and writer, it’s clear that making money is not her main motivation. After two years of true financial struggles, her husband finally found a way to go back to work as a lawyer.
Recently the couple’s emunah was tested again. Big time. The two people they’d trusted to be their main spiritual guides proved to be frauds.
“The impact struck us harder than anything else. Thank G-d for our rabbi who helped us stay afloat as we struggled to find ourselves in the wreckage. We needed to figure out who we really were and what we had been told about what G-d really wants from us. We had been following bad advice for years from a very warped source, and our lives were in tatters as a direct result.”
This last test forced them to reevaluate their preconceptions again. Why did they choose one idea over another? Because they lost their spiritual guides, they needed to forge their own path.
Sitting in her brightly colored skirt and blouse, Rivka says she wouldn’t call herself “Haredi,” or even “Dati” for that matter – she doesn’t think in terms of labels. The Levys are religious Jews who are trying to use the hurdles that Hashem sends them to build their own personal stepping stones to reach a higher place, to reach a righteous path. Her point of view can be narrowed down to six words, “What does Hashem want from me?”
Rivka Levy is a passionate religious Jewish woman. I am glad to have made her my new friend.
* * * * *
Books by Rivka Levy
THE SECRET DIARY OF A JEWISH HOUSEWIFE
Other religious Jewish women feel recognized, vindicated, and enriched by Rivka’s diary.
“Rivka comes off as a quirky & compelling Everywoman, but with the caveat that she’s able to dig down much deeper than these diaries ever go…and still remain engaging & readable….Regardless of who you are, this book offers a lot to laugh about, read about, and think about.”
“I am so glad I invested in this book it answered many questions I have about myself, and shows me how to live this precious life that Hashem has blessed me with. It helps remind me to cling to Hashem even when things aren’t going as planned.”
“I have more compassion for myself, less critical of myself. I am doing my best in this world by being truthfully honest of where I am holding in my Judaism and that the small steps done with heart allows one to climb up that spiritual ladder. We women have been way too harsh on ourselves and each other and I felt Rivka just took the pressure valve off by opening herself to her own inner conflicts that I can totally relate to. Thank you Rivka Levy! This book came to me at the right time in my life.”
TALK TO GOD AND FIX YOUR HEALTH
The real reasons why we get sick, and how to stay healthy
This book takes the guesswork out of ill health by spelling out how body, mind and soul are connected, and explaining which physical illnesses are connected to which mental and emotional issues.
It can help you to figure out the real root causes of why you’re getting sick, and what to really need do to stay healthy and happy – without medication or invasive surgery.
THE HAPPY WORKSHOP
An eight-week journey to real, lasting happiness
Before you can really get happy, you first have to figure out what’s making you sad.
The Happy Workshop sets out an 8-week program of easy, but powerfully-effective exercises that will help you to figure out what’s bringing you down, and what’s really going to help you start loving your life again.
Also includes a special step-by-step guide on “how to do mind-maps.”
49 DAYS: AN INTERACTIVE JOURNAL OF SELF-DEVELOPMENT
49 Days is an interactive journal designed to help readers nurture their mindfulness, inner dimension and relationships. Over the course of seven weeks, readers are encouraged to focus on one area of inner work at a time, ranging from love and relationships, all the way through to self-improvement, truth and the spiritual dimension.
This uplifting book’s vibrant water-color images and innovative design really brings each day’s work to life.
THE HOW, WHAT AND WHY OF TALKING TO GOD
This an insider’s guide to incorporating more practical spirituality in your everyday life.
If you want to know how you can tap into the power of talking to God to solve your problems, transform your life, and to wake up feeling a whole lot happier and optimistic in this morning, this pocket guide to Jewish meditation and mindfulness the Orthodox Jewish way can show you how.
HOW YOUR EMOTIONS ARE MAKING YOU SICK
This book covers a lot of the same ground as Talk to God and Fix Your Health – but leaves out most of the theory and just tells you straight which emotional states are connected to which physical illnesses.
Simply look up your physical symptoms in the tables provided, and bingo! You’ll find out what emotions are probably causing the problem, and how to start working with them.