Every rabbi worth listening to has at least one great airplane travel story. Often the story begins by describing the most unlikely person sitting next to them on the plane. There is one rabbi, a popular speaker, who has so many airplane stories that when he begins his Shabbat morning sermon with the words “I was on a flight this week…” his congregants all roll their eyes – yet even though they won’t admit it, they love the stories. This week the Jewish world was brought one of the best rabbi airplane travel stories to date.
The “Mizrachi Weekend of Inspiration” gathers over three dozen top male and female Israeli educators to the United Kingdom to teach Torah, share stories, and bring a taste of Eretz Yisrael to the British Jewish community. Both teachers and participants look forward to this weekend all year long; it is highly successful.
Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon is the rabbi of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, a Synagogue rabbi, rosh yeshiva, rosh kollel, author, speaker, and an increasingly popular posek. His works – he has written over ten sets and individual books – are popular throughout the world. At fifty-five, Rabbi Rimon’s fame has spread outside of Israel, and he is sought after in North America, England, and Australia. He has won government and private awards for his activism to help downtrodden Jews throughout Israel. As an IDF veteran he has gained respect in many quarters outside of the Torah scholarship world. If there was a list of “Top Ten Well-Known Israeli Rabbis,” Rabbi Rimon would make the top of the list.
Twenty-two-year-old Israeli singer and songwriter Noa Kirel is Israel’s newest superstar. In this year’s Eurovision, an annual contest among singers from countries around the globe, Kirel, or as she is admiringly known in Israel, “Noa,” finished third out of thirty-seven contestants with her hit song “Unicorn.” Given the name Noya at her birth, she became seriously ill as an infant, and at a rabbi’s suggestion, her parents changed her name to Noa, and while she lost a kidney she has recovered.
In 2015, at only 14 years-old, Noa released her first song, “Midabrim?” and it was a hit. Although well on her way to stardom, Noa drafted into the IDF in 2020 and served the mandatory two years. Although not yet in her mid-twenties, Noa has starred in a movie, hosts a television show, and performed professionally in live theatre. With an American label, Atlantic Records, already signing her to a contract, Noa Kirel will soon be an international star, but Noa is already one of the most popular celebrities in Israel.
As well known as both Rabbi Rimon and Noa Kirel are in Israel, it’s not surprising they hadn’t heard of each other until they met this week on an airplane. Rabbi Rimon lives in the world of Torah, usually decked in a suit and tie, and a Jewish scholarly work in hand. Noa Kirel performs in a very different uniform and lives in the world of popular music and entertainment. That the two of them met at all is an incredible coincidence.
As Rabbi Rimon flew back to Israel after teaching at the “Mizrachi Weekend of Inspiration,” Noa Kirel was on the same flight returning to Israel after her stunning third place finish at Eurovision. The story of their unlikely meeting leaked from a Whatsapp messaged sent by the rabbi to his family and copied without Rabbi Rimon’s knowledge. As Rabbi Rimon told the story, he happened to be sitting next to Noa Kirel (who he didn’t know) and asked her about all the signs hung everywhere for “Noa.” Kirel explained she was Noa and told him about her Eurovision success. After Rabbi Rimon introduced himself as a rabbi, Noa and her mother told him that her grandfather was a Rabbi and sofer and how she recited the morning blessings the morning of the Eurovision and turned her cell phone on the Shabbat. Rabbi Rimon gave Noa his cell phone number in case she ever needed to ask a rabbi a question. She then snapped the accompanying selfie and sent it to him.
Rabbi Rimon didn’t initially intend or want the picture or story of their meeting to get out, once it spread, he allowed people to spread it even further.
This week the State of Israel celebrates Yom Yerushalayim, the 56th anniversary of the reunification of the city of Jerusalem. The day isn’t generally celebrated by Israel’s secular community, and it’s not unlikely that secular Israelis will be more focused on Noa’s Eurovision success than Yom Yerushalayim this week. The lack of uniform celebration of Yom Yerushalayim can give the mistaken impression that modern day Israel is divided by secular and religious lines. It would be foolish to think there was no religious and secular divide in Israel today, yet these communities aren’t as divided as some would claim.
Stories of Torah scholars and Israeli celebrity songwriters meeting and befriending each other aren’t common in Israel, but friendships between secular and religious Jews in Israel are. There is even a much-discussed phenomenon of religious and secular spouses having successful marriages. The Noa and Rabbi Rimon story touched so many Israelis this week specifically because it featured a friendship between a secular and religious Jew that so many Israelis hear so little about but know to be common from their own lives. As Israel celebrates Noa’s success and Yom Yerushalayim this week, it’s a good time to focus on what individual Jews have in common and how we can all emphasize the unity among the Jewish people.