After conquering headlines in the secular media, Sivan Rahav and Yedidia Meir have scored another victory – they've become a juicy item in the gossip columns. "Just don't turn us into the Haredi world's hippest couple," they ask before the interview.
For the uninitiated: Sivan Rahav-Meir, 24, covers justice and religion for Channel Two television news. Her husband, Shlomo Yedidia Meir, 29, is the editor of the Haaretz newspaper satire page. They are considered two of the most prominent ultra-orthodox (haredi) personalities in the Israeli media. They succeed in bridging two worlds with a worldview that is original and interesting.
When Meir interviewed Shelly Yechimovitz for the religious radio station 'Kol Chai', he succeeded in pulling a confession from her regarding the repulsion many left-wing secular people feel towards haredim.
"Sometimes, the secular dialogue has anti-Semitic elements to it," she said. "Phrases like 'leeches' sprinkle the conversation bringing to mind the caricature of the Jew from Der Strumer, who is portrayed as strange looking and greedy."
You kicked us out of our homes
In line with the caution required from any self-respecting media person, both avoid discussion of any issue liable to reveal their personal politics.
"I am a close friend and I have no idea who they vote for," says one senior journalist. "Precisely because their lifestyle is so unusual I bet they don't conform to the stereotyped political leanings of religious people. I would also bet that their own views differ from each other."
When asked who they will vote for in the upcoming elections, they get defensive and ask who we are going to vote for. Even when asked if anyone at Channel Two had doubts about her ability to objectively cover the Gaza disengagement, Rahav insists that no one raised an eyebrow.
One does, however, get a sense for their political sympathies in their new book, "Orange Days," released last week. The book interviews eight religious Zionists about their feelings after the disengagement, and is probing, sometimes bordering on brutal.
"After all the praises to the Lord, which permeated Gush Katif," they ask with great empathy.
"Neve Dekalim is gone; thousands of soldiers are deployed in the area. So what do you pray for now?"
They accuse David Landau, the orthodox editor of the left-wing Haaretz newspaper, of taking an "even more severe" line against the far religious right than the usual editorial policy of his paper, and they challenge Yesha Council spokeswoman Emily Amrussi how she tried "to show that you and the settlers don't have horns?"
On the eve of the disengagement, Rahav went to cover the goings on in Gush Katif, and during the evacuation she reported live from the area, and afterwards followed up on what has happened to the refugees.
"The biggest sin, being part of the media, becomes more important than being religious. Gush Katif people are not part of the "in" crowd, nor are they regular television viewers. Most of them had never heard of me. It was a very closed community. And those who have a television don't really know who the news anchors are."
"One morning after the evacuation, I went to the hotels where many of them were staying. One family had been virtual media stars until yesterday, even more than Dudu Topaz. I tried to speak with them and was given the cold shoulder. One man said, "It's not enough you've kicked us out of our homes? Get out of here."
Meir recalls a similar incident at the mass funeral, which took place in Jerusalem for the bodies being exhumed from the cemetery in Gush Katif. Sivan had just reported live from the prayer service, saying before the square had filled up with mourners that turn out was "very light."
Then people started to scream at Sivan for being part of the left wing media and accusing her of being a Shin Bet agent. "The busses are coming!" screamed one woman.
Sivan grew up in a secular family in Herzliya and was a bright student. She got her high school matriculation and completed her college board exams by the age of 16.
Her media career also started early on. She wrote for a number of youth magazines and appeared on several television shows for children and teens. At the age of 18, she had already completed a BA in political science at Tel Aviv University.
When she was 18, she became interested in Judaism after reading a book by Professor Yeshayahu Leibovitch.
"The questions he asks provoke thought. It amazed me." Her interest in religion was a solo journey. "I am always asked when I am going to begin lecturing on From Fame to Frum. But it's a very personal story. I don't see myself sharing it with the public."
Yedidia is the son of the rabbi of Moshav Gimzu, a scion of the Rabbi Kook dynasty on his mother's side. He is the eldest of 11 children who studied in religious schools even though he was a terrible student.
In the army he served in the military rabbinate. "I reported to the Jerusalem military rabbinical college where lectures are given to soldiers," he recalls. "I though I would be a senior lecturer but in the end it was my job to make coffee for the lecturers."
When he realized that his talents would never be realized there, he raised hell to be reassigned. He sent the commander in charge of the army magazine “B’Machaneh” a fax of several columns he had written for the Haredi magazine 'Family'. The editor liked his work and made him the magazine's first Haredi reporter.
How did you manage in a left-wing, Tel Aviv, not to mention homosexual, work environment?
"Some of the guys hadn't come out yet but I didn't know anything," he says. "I was disappointed. I was 22; they were a bunch of 18-year-old geeks. I was an alien presence who did not take part in their hours-long discussions about where they were going to have lunch."
Rahav recounts similar experiences at "B'Machaneh." "I was certain I was going to a lair of fun and wild parties – what I met were nice geeks, graduates of the youth movements who go to sleep at 11 and get up at 6 for their Hebrew language exams."
Instant coffee date
The two met when Sivan was with Army Radio as a reporter covering the very stressful military beat. She never answered Yedidia's constant beepers to spend 12 minutes with him over a cup of coffee.
Yedidia: We met at the birthday party of one of the geeks at the magazine. He even moved his party from Friday to Saturday night for two of his religious friends – me and someone named Sivan who had this thing about Judaism. It wasn't love at first sight. Not at all. Actually, my parents fell for her first."
A match between a newly religious and the scion of a rabbinical dynasty sounds like a bad joke. But in their case, say friends, it was so natural. One friend noted how open minded they both are and totally compatible.