NOTHING COMPARED TO MY VISIT TO THE REBBE
November 8, 2017
Beis Moshiach in #1092, Profile

He is the editor of the most widely distributed paper in Eretz Yisroel, one of Israels senior journalists, a former diplomat and ambassador, holder of right-wing and conservative viewpoints, and sworn admirer of the Chabad movement. * For the very first time, Boaz Bismuth sat down for an interview about his special connection to Chabad, the return to his traditional roots, his children that are educated in Chareidi schools, as well as revealing what were the two personal requests he asked of the Rebbe which changed his life when they were fulfilled. * Also… is the staff of Yisrael HaYom prepared for reporting the event of Moshiachs arrival?

By Zalman Tzorfati

Photos by Jerry AbramowitzMr. Boaz Bismuth is without a doubt an unusual phenomenon in Israeli media. A respected veteran journalist, one of the most important members of the media in Eretz Yisrael with a long list of journalistic accomplishments, a diplomat and former Israeli ambassador, and despite all that, the holder of clear right wing views and a deep attachment to Judaism and Jewish tradition.

A great part of his work as a journalist was done as a reporter abroad. He visited over ninety countries, including Arab countries such as Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan. He covered combat zones in various wars and obtained exclusive interviews with world leaders and international personalities.

In recent years he is becoming stronger and closer to Torah and mitzvos. Nearly seven years ago, he attended the Kinus HaShluchim in 770. Following this visit he wrote a long, admiring article in Yisrael HaYom about Chabad and the Rebbe’s shlichus empire. Since then, he has returned to 770 more than once and tries not to miss an opportunity to visit the Rebbe, but that first visit he will never forget.

UNFORGETTABLE VISIT

“As a journalist I traveled the world, and I mean over ninety countries. I was in the United States on countless occasions as someone who covered two elections there. But the visit that I remember the best and which is engraved the deepest in my memory and heart is when I attended the Kinus HaShluchim in 5770. I must mention that I have attended many major events in my career, including the election celebration of Barak Obama and the election celebration of Donald Trump. I was at the White House in the Oval Office and in palaces, I met presidents and world leaders, but none were like my visit to the Rebbe.

“Why do I remember that visit specifically? Because when I look at my life today, I see all the changes I went through and that my family went through as a result of that visit: My wife is a convert. It was a long and very difficult process. We went on a serious, very demanding track, because that is what we knew had to happen. But we went through it with great faith and today I have a Jewish home.

“When I was at the Rebbe, I prayed with all my heart and asked for two things: Since my wife had truly gone through a long and serious process, with great faith, I asked for a bracha that it conclude, that my wife convert and that the energy and hard work and great faith remain. And another thing, with all respect for what I had achieved in life until then, the thing I wanted the most was a son. These were the two things I asked when I was at the Rebbe.

“Less than half a year later, I remember, we sat in a kosher restaurant in Tel Aviv, and my wife told me that she was called to an interview regarding conversion and that she was pregnant, with a boy.

“She passed the conversion tests and our oldest son was born and named Dovid. These two things, that were most significant to me, took place within the shortest possible time.

“When our darling Dovid was born, the doctors said he had a problem with his heart. He needed an operation. When the doctors came into the room, they were surprised to see a picture of the Rebbe hanging near the bed. That is how he successfully underwent the surgery. The Rebbe protected him and till today, watches over him.”

CHABAD IS JUDAISM

Did you visit 770 other times?

Of course. There were many other visits. I was in the U.S. during the year of mourning for my father and I went to 770 a few times to say Kaddish. Chabad is always in my heart. I can tell you that as a journalist I covered many events that took place in the U.S., unfortunately, with a theme of anti-Semitism. I was also a reporter in France and there too, there were incidents like these. So, first of all, every Jewish organization that works to foster Jewish identity in the Diaspora and in Eretz Yisroel is doing what I consider holy work, and gets credit for that work alone.

If that is what I think of Jewish organizations in general, then all the more so for Chabad, which does so much to draw Jews close and does so with mesirus nefesh everywhere in the world. To me, Chabad is Judaism in the world. You can ask Rabbi Nachman Maidanchek – I don’t get on a plane, and I’m in the airport a lot, without stopping at the Chabad House in the terminal. On my desk at work, where I am the editor in chief of Yisrael HaYom, I have a picture of the Rebbe. It gives me inspiration; that is what gives me strength.

THE SHLIACH THAT SENT A SHLIACH

One of the themes in the Rebbe’s teachings is the idea of using everything in the world for holy purposes. The Rebbe considers the media an important tool for the dissemination of Judaism. How do you see this idea expressed in your paper?

Look, we aren’t a religious newspaper. We target and serve all Israelis, but we are a conservative paper. Ideologically, we are situated Center-Right, but we are also a very Jewish paper that understands the importance of Judaism and the Torah. You asked how it’s expressed, well, we just had the chagim, which were the first chagim since I became editor. As editor, I sent my Chabadnik, Motty Tochfeld, to do an article on the phenomenon of thousands of Chabad Chassidim going to New York to be with the Rebbe for an entire month, and how they are hosted, given a place to stay and three meals a day by the Hachnasas Orchim organization. This is amazing! There is nothing like it, and yet it is not covered by the Israeli media. I think that putting an article like this in the holiday supplement in the biggest newspaper in Eretz Yisrael is about as close to shlichus as you can get.

In Chabad, they love to say that I’m their “shliach” in the world of secular media, oops sorry, general media, so the shliach in the media sent his Chabadnik to write an article in his paper about Chabad for the holiday supplement.

By the way, I must mention that your shluchim are also excellent journalists. When I need information on what’s going on in the world, who helps me? Where can I always get up to the minute information from the field? My base on the ground is always with the Chabad shluchim. North Korea has been in the headlines. Who am I in touch with? With your shliach in Seoul. The same is true for Thailand and any other country.

When I go places where there isn’t Chabad, it’s always good for my diet. But where there is Chabad, I will go and always find kosher food, except I end up putting on weight because the food is always fantastic.

In general, if I’m talking about what’s going on in general in Eretz Yisroel, it is impossible to separate the Jewish state from Judaism. All those who complain about coercion, blah blah, who say that they want a nation that embraces all its citizens equally, it’s all nonsense. I say it’s nonsense because all those who founded the State knew that it was impossible to do so without a connection to Judaism. It’s just that they weren’t all born into religious homes. Each one was born somewhere else and does the most that he can, so there are those who do more and those who do less. If only we would all do all the more. But the broad based common ground that we all share, the idea, thanks to which we are all here in Eretz Yisroel, is Judaism and our connection to the Jewish people, to the Torah and to G-d. This is what they understand in Chabad and this is what enables Chabad to be a bridge connecting all kinds of people.

NO APOLOGIES

You said the paper is Center-Right ideologically, and conservative. How is a commercial venture which targets the general public able to preserve a conservative stance when it seems the world is constantly pulling us toward liberalism?

We are all Jews and who are we to judge? When we buy a food product, the ingredients are always written on the package and you discover that one product is comprised of many ingredients. Our nation is also made up of many ingredients, many streams, many opinions. A general newspaper like ours must maintain a balance and allow expression of many views. We aren’t a sectarian newspaper but the most widely distributed paper, and we want more and more people to want to read it.

At the same time, it is definitely a newspaper that does not think that Jews are guilty for whatever happens… It is a newspaper which is not ashamed to declare that it’s Israeli. In every conflict, the first thing we do is adopt the position of the Jewish people. If there is a president in the White House who doesn’t like us and there’s a president who does, I will support the president who does and won’t be ashamed. I don’t think the Jewish people are guilty for all the problems in the Middle East. On the contrary, I look in amazement at the beauty of our land that was promised to us, while all around us is scorched. Hashem’s promise to Avrohom in Lech Lecha is significant; the promise that the land is given to us.

RESERVED SPACE

The Rebbe once told Judy Shalom Mozes of Yediot Acharonot to leave space in the paper to announce the arrival of Moshiach. Do you consider Moshiach’s coming something that you give attention to? Are you prepared on a professional level for such a sudden event?

I heard what the Rebbe told Judy. Due to today’s technology, it is not necessary to leave physical space in the paper, but the Rebbe’s message is that as editor, I should leave space in my consciousness for the coming of Moshiach.

Ultimately, every newspaper editor wishes for a scoop, but in this case of Moshiach, let’s just say that I don’t care whether I see the announcement by my competitors. Even if I’ve lost the scoop for my paper, the main thing is that it should happen already.

I am in this profession since ‘83. I’ve been in journalism long enough to know that anything can happen. There is no story that can’t happen. Crazy things have occurred in the world. Over the past twenty years, many unexpected things happened. We get up in the morning and suddenly something shocking happens during the day. We have enough journalistic experience to handle something like the coming of Moshiach. We are definitely prepared.

DISLIKE OF LABELS

Has Boaz Bismuth done t’shuva?

I don’t like definitions and slogans. What does doing t’shuva mean? We all need to constantly do t’shuva. I think that t’shuva is a process of progress and self-correction and that pertains to everyone, all the time, from the greatest tzaddik to the most distant secular person. But if you’re asking about Judaism in my life, then let’s start with chinuch. My little children, Dovid and Numi, attend chareidi schools in Tel Aviv. Dovid goes to nursery with a kippa and tzitzis and Michal, who is older, goes to a national-religious high school.

There is no greater pleasure for a father than hearing Shabbos z’miros from his children. There is nothing more moving. It has nothing to do with whether you are religious or not. It is a feeling of attachment and tradition. I don’t fit the category of a religious Jew, I still need to get stronger, but I can tell you a story. In ‘99 there was a war in Kosovo. I was there. It was Pesach but to me it was like Yom Kippur. I ate only oranges. There was only bread and all kinds of sausages and I eat kosher. I went from there to Albania and to other countries and everywhere I went, I only ate oranges. But every one of those oranges satiated me like the best food, because it was like food for the soul.

When my wife was in the process of converting, one of the rabbis said to me: Bismuth, we know you, and we expect you to behave accordingly. Then he asked me, you aren’t afraid that this whole business will be like a diving suit that will make you feel strangled? I told him that a diving suit is foremost a protective suit. People look at mitzvos and think, we have so many obligations. They see the obligation in the privilege while I see the privilege in the obligation.

I did not grow up in a religious home, but it was a traditional home. I remember that Yom Kippur was a scary day. Nowadays too, Hashem is judging us, but today, as Yom Kippur approaches, I am happy. When there are these arguments around you, among the different groups, complaints about ‘religification,’ about kosher sh’chita being barbaric and bris mila being pagan, Yom Kippur comes and I see that 83% of the Israeli public fasts. The shuls are full. And you say, thank G-d, this nation deserves the best. It’s not only the chosen people but the nation that chooses. A nation that chooses G-d every year.

I was an ambassador to Mauritania, a country without a Chabad shliach. So I myself was a sort of shliach because I would make all the kiddushim and gather the Jews there for t’fillos and Jewish ceremonies. As someone who was in a forsaken place, believe me that I know what it means to be a shliach in a place like that. But there is a big difference between an ambassador and a shliach of the Rebbe. For us, it’s four years and in Chabad, it’s for life. So I, editor of Yisrael HaYom, salute you.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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