Avihem Shel Yisrael, the play
Avihem Shel Yisrael, the play Israel news photo: Yoni Kempinski

Following the popularity of a series of books for youngsters that was published after the death of former Sephardic Chief Rabbi, HaRishon Letzion Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu of blessed memory, telling some of the many fascinating stories about his life, edited by his son, the Tzfat Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu -- now comes the play.

Entitled “Avihem Shel Yisrael” (the father of Israel) like the books and the summer learning camp for gradeschool boys in the Rav's memory, the new, first-of-its-kind play will hit the stage during Chanukah. The play is based on the unique personality of Rabbi Eliyahu and his life story.

Rabbi Eliyahu was a Rabbinic Court judge at a very young age, and went on to become a revered spiritual leader of the entire religious-Zionist world for many years. People lined up outside his office and home for advice daily. His weekly Torah lectures were beamed all over Israel by satellite simultaneously for years before people had internet and listeners flocked to synagogues to hear the broadcasts.

Rabbi Eliyahu  was respected by all streams for his brilliance, erudition and kindness. He served as Israel's Sephardic Chief Rabbi between 1983 and 1993 and maintained close friendship with Rav Avraham Kahane Shapira zts"l of Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva who was Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi with him.

The Rabbi was well-known for his broad knowledge in all areas of Jewish Law. He encouraged settlement in all of the Land of Israel and was opposed to the 2005 expulsion of Jews from Gush Katif.

The play was written and directed by Dvir Schreiber and it features actors Eyal Neidorf, Yair Lehman, Amichai Azar and Hananel Amitai. Renowned Hassidic musician Chilik Frank and young child singer Avishai Rosen are responsible for the musical part.

“We mostly tell the story of Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu’s childhood,” Schreiber told Arutz Sheva. “He did not have an easy childhood. He became an orphan at a young age, his mother raised him and six other children with a lot of love but also in great poverty, and he became the great man he was thanks to his phenomenal ability, but accompanied by constant Torah study.”

Schreiber described the task of writing the life of such a great figure into a play as “a big challenge, not only because we’re dealing with a great figure and not only because of the unspeakable stories that exist about this figure, but also because it’s a challenge to, on the one hand, put on a play that communicates with the audience and on the other hand to present a figure who is so above me that I cannot approach his stature.”

He emphasized that no actor was asked to portray the rabbi as an adult.

“We present the rabbi as a child,” Schreiber said. “A large part of the play is about Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu’s childhood. As an adult we tell stories about him. We don’t play the character but use a certain way which I will not reveal now – whomever comes to the play will see the effects we’ve used.”

“I think this play is very important because there are many children who do not know Rabbi Eliyahu,” Avishai Rosen said. “When they come to this play they get to know him and also get to know him in a more fun and happy way and then they want to learn even more about him. I think that’s very important.”

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu encouraged the production and gave his consent for the musical. In addition, he also participates in one part of the play.