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Sister of the King

Eliyahu Ackerman

“Chacham Ovadiah was a man of greatness who drew people from far and near. But to me, he was my brother.” Esther Halevi, youngest sibling of Chacham Ovadiah Yosef, shares her memories of growing up in a different world and of family bonds that transcended all differences.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

With his weathered farmer’s fingers, Shimshon Halevi flips open the cover of Yabia Omer, Rav Ovadiah Yosef’s celebrated work of responsa. He points to the inscription: To my dear sister Esther shetichyeh, and her dear husband Shimshon Halevi. Wishing you a chag kosher vesamei’ach. With love, Ovadiah Yosef. “He sent us a copy of each halachah sefer he printed,” Shimshon says proudly. His thumb traces the edge of the pages, and he pauses to pull out a card from the pages. “Here.” It’s an invitation — all curlicues on scarlet paper: You are hereby invited to the inauguration ceremony of HaRav Ovadiah Yosef to the position of Rishon L’Tzion and Head of the Sephardic Community, which will take place in Beit Knesset Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai in Jerusalem. “It was important to him that we, his family, be included in each of his achievements, whether publication of a new sefer or an appointment to a position,” relatesEsther, Shimshon’s wife and the youngest sibling ofRavOvadiah. ThoughRavOvadiah was 14 whenEsther was born, his influence was profound.Miles away from the hub ofRavOvadiah’s kingdom in Jerusalem,Esther and Shimshon carved out their own lives. Shimshon’s weathered features testify to his occupation — he’s been a farmer all his life, and humor sparkles in his eyes.Esther’s own smile lines belie her profession: For 50 years, she was a preschool teacher — almost all the residents of the moshav and the surrounding farms have been through her loving care.Esther andShimshonHalevi live on the nondescript, sleepy moshav ofTelShachar: simple houses; dusty trees; and narrow, meandering roads. Inside, the walls are adorned with pictures of children and grandchildren. Just an ordinary home. But whenEsther looks back, her memories are extraordinary indeed.

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