The accompanying photograph has appeared frequently in the last few days: President Joe Biden kneeling in front of Rivka Ravitz, head of President Reuven Rivlin’s staff, after hearing she was the mother of 12 children.
I asked Rivka Ravitz to tell me more about the photograph that was published in Israel and throughout the world: “I was privileged to meet three American presidents up close. Obama in the oval office, Trump in Jerusalem, and now Biden. It’s difficult to explain the feeling when the president of the greatest world power kneels opposite you and bows in tribute. After he rose, Biden said to me: ‘I have here a picture of my mother, you must see who she was,’ and he showed me a picture of her. I was in shock, but afterwards I tried to collect my thoughts.
I went back to my grandmother, who arrived at the age of three in the United States, after a long journey of two months in which the family did not taste any meat, in order not to eat any treif (non-kosher) meat.
“When grandmother grew up and had children of her own, another chapter of self-sacrifice began. Her family left a comfortable life and business and made aliyah to the Land of Israel after the Six-Day War. My mother was only a teenager and she held during the entire 12-hour flight a Torah scroll that my family brought to Israel.
“From my perspective, he actually kneeled for my mother, my grandmother, and all mothers wherever they may be. He did not bow because I was the head of the president’s staff, and he does not know that I will soon finish my doctorate. He wanted to express appreciation for the values of family, home, motherhood, and sacrifice for the sake of the next generation.”
Listing The 10 Most Influential Jews – What Does The Answer Tell Us?
Wow. So many graduation ceremonies are taking place these days together with so many beautiful farewell speeches. This is how Rabbi Ilai Ofron summarized the year at the Ruach Chadasha pre-military training school. His message is relevant to all of us:
At the beginning of the year, he said, trainees are asked to choose the ten Jews who, in their opinion, had the greatest influence on the Jewish people. During the last week of their studies, the trainees are asked the same question. The change is amazing. If Ilan Ramon, Eli Cohen, Miriam Peretz, Viktor Frankl, Amnon Shashua, and Roi Klein appear on the list at the beginning of the year, at the end of the year, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, the Rambam, the Baal Shem Tov, and Rabbi Yosef Karo are on the list instead. By the way, Ben-Gurion and Herzl appear on the list at both the beginning and the end of the year.
This is how Rabbi Ofron explains it: “During a year of learning Torah, they discover 2,000 years of a Jewish world that they did not know well enough. They leave a perspective of history highlighted by Bible stories and the War of Independence in 1948 and discover a rich history of our people in between. They stop trying to find sophisticated answers to their questions and return to simplicity. And the main thing is that they stop seeing themselves as the center of the universe. The reason that half of the figures they choose at the beginning of the year are from the present century is connected to seeing the Jewish people from their own limited personal perspective: whoever has a direct and immediate effect on me. After a year of hard work, they discover that they are not necessarily the center of the universe.
Several years ago, a couple came to see me regarding preparations for the bar mitzvah of their son and said: ‘It’s important to us that for one evening he will truly feel that he’s the center of attention.’ I answered them that a healthy child always feels this way, even ‘a little too much.’ A bar mitzvah is an excellent opportunity to begin to understand that you are not the center of the universe.”
(translation by Yehoshua Siskin)