Stefanella's Drive Thru

Israel, U.S., conflict, war, peace, humor, travel, romance, fashion, fun

Obama…Fly January 30, 2009

My mother e-mailed me this image.  Thought I’d share…



Mid-West versus Mid-East January 29, 2009

Should I feel guilty that this video  is representational of my parents’/siblings’ current U.S. reality whilst I sit typing at my desk, balcony doors agape, warm winter sun streaming through, temps in the upper 60’s? (16 celsius)

I think not.  Mwahahaaaaaaa


Quotes of the Week. . . January 22, 2009

My parents back in Philly were freaking out.  I talked to my mom for the first time in three weeks today.  It was very traumatic.  But it’s over and my prayers were answered.  All I kept asking God for was to be able to see my parents again. . .U.S.-born soldier serving in Gaza since the start of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead

Mom, you’re the best most wonderful mom in the whole world.  I’d give you a shekel just to prove it but I don’t want to waste the money. . .My 7-year-old son

What happened to the good old days when you could kill people and dispose of the bodies in a field and nobody had to know anything?  Now you have to fill out paperwork, file reports and account for every single dead person!  God!  . . .Anonymous person in Tel Aviv cafe

We heard some stories in Gaza about miracles that made me think: The messiah is here.  It’s time.  It’s finally time.  The messiah has come. . .Israeli soldier at Gaza military base

“My daughters, they killed them, Oh Lord. God, God, God.”. . .Gaza physician, Dr. Izeldeen Abuelaish sobbing during a phone interview following the deaths of his three daughters and a niece after an Israeli army shell penetrated the wall of their home.

“I think this broadcast will change public opinion in Israel. . .It feels to me as if some of our audience is seeing and hearing about the high price ordinary Palestinians are paying in this conflict for the first time.”. . . Israeli television journalist Alon Ben David in an interview with the BBC after airing Dr. Izeldeen Abuelaish’s anguished phone call.


To Gaza with Love January 15, 2009

My 7-year-old’s school is taking up a care package collection for Israeli soldiers serving in Gaza.

This business of organizing little gifties with little notes for military personnel serving in a conflict an hour & a half’s drive from my Tel Aviv home is a new experience for me.    gazasoldiers1

Because during my growing up years, the closest I ever came to participating in organized support for a cause was when our private school bussed the lot of us downtown to Cincinnati’s Fountain Square where we sat on the frigid cobblestone in mid-winter listening to speakers calling for the Soviet Union to Let the Refuseniks Go!

So when I consulted with my son about the care package – What do you want to include?  Maybe a few marbles?  Some chocolate bars?  That cool leather bracelet you got as a gift that you never wear? and told him that per the teacher’s suggestion we should add a personal note from him, he asked me a rather interesting question.  One, in my opinion, that I failed to answer adequately.

When the current Gaza incursion began nearly three weeks ago, my son and I were staying with friends in northern Israel for the weekend.  About midday we heard a stream of jets flying overhead.  For those in the know,  there is no mistaking the sound of fighter jets.  And being the Jewish Sabbath and all – a day Israel’s army doesn’t train –  it was clear “something was going down.”

Could the Gaza Operation be starting already? I asked our hosts.  The Israeli government had made it clear there would be an incursion but they had also said it would take place sometime after Sunday’s Cabinet session. Ha ha.  Part of the plan.  Surprise attack!

I try to keep my son away from regional news or gory details I don’t think he necessarily needs to know.  But as we ventured out for lunch a half hour later, he asked what was going on as my friends and I pointed overhead at yet another band of departing fighter planes.  That’s the Israeli army & they’re going down to a place called Gaza, I explained.

He wanted to know the distance from us to Gaza, why soldiers would be going there and whether or not we were safe.  I briefed him in the briefest manner possible.

But when we returned to the cozy warmth of our friends’ home, while channel surfing to find Cartoon Network I glimpsed the first Gaza aftermath images on Sky. The journalist in me couldn’t help but pause to take in scenes of wounded Palestinians rushing to Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital Emergency Room.

My son demanded an explanation.  Remember the planes we saw?  These are the people in Gaza who were hurt when the planes bombed there…and I quickly got off the channel and the subject.

And I didn’t bring it up again.

So when I asked him about the care package, he asked me:  But mom, shouldn’t we be sending it to the people in Gaza?

And well…hmmm?  So I explained why the soldiers were in Gaza and told him about the militants sending rockets to Israel.

And he said that wasn’t right either.

And then he threw up his hands and said he didn’t want to send anything to anyone.

And I totally understood.


War Cover Fatigue January 11, 2009

war_journalistIn my most recent post I wrote about returning to work in the television news industry during the current Gaza conflict.

The war itself, the toll to both sides, the ongoing strife,  the shite suffered by children being robbed of their childhoods – and lives – sucks.

Getting back into the industry and my roots, however,  has been a good experience.  And I’m almost ashamed to admit that because  it’s probably not okay to like what I do.  I love what I do, in fact.  But it comes with a price:  internal conflict hard stories evoke between the humane and professional parts of myself.

What I mean is that in the weird world of the press, journalists are often privy to information and images that dub us lucky in the eyes of those outside the business.  We get to see pictures we don’t put out.  Often because they’re too gruesome. We get information before everyone else and sometimes we have to sit on news until it clears censorship – or a next of kin is informed of a death.  That’s not lucky.

But in some cases – like when meeting and interviewing John Lasseter, or gawking Darth Vader‘s original  light sabre and then lunching with colleagues at “The Ranch”– we truly are privileged.

When the images are hard core, the story is war and the information you’re getting ahead of the games is, say, the knowledge that a friend’s son has been killed in a firefight and the friend is phoning to find out if you know anything, it’s tough.  But really tough.

I personally go into rote mode.  I do my job, cover what I need to cover and keep my opinions and feelings in check.  But they occasionally go splashing overboard after returning home and processing what I’ve been doing and seeing.

Loads of journalists drink heavily.

As I get back into the rhythm of cover, I’m discovering industry changes.  Modern day journo’s multi-task to meet print, radio and television story demands or work desk, field and camera positions.  No pigeon-holing.  They work long hours under not-always-pleasant conditions aided by technical changes that have come to the fore with the advent of digital technology: open fiber optic links, camera to computer broadcast-quality image transfer, not just for techies  easy-to-operate live studios and radio booths.

And gone are the days of cowboy  “Just find the Rebel Forces and go in With Them!” heroics. As insurance rates soar and the face of war moves to urban centers, field producers, crews and correspondents undergo hostile environment training before heading to the field and networks employ security experts:  former special task force or elite ex-military personnel who scout conflict locales for safety and potential danger before allowing journos to go in.

Last night one of the correspondents admitted: “I feel really guilty.  I went back to the hotel at midnight yesterday and slept 6 hours.”

Until that point, she’d been averaging 18-21-hour days on this story.



It Takes My Village January 7, 2009

Hillary was right about the Village.

I’ve seen repeated proof of her theory for years.  And yet each time it plays out in my personal life, I’m  humbled and amazed anew.  Like 11 days ago when the “Gaza Story broke.          

I’m a journalist and when the jets began breaking the sound barrier two Saturdays ago at midday, an SMS message came across my cellphone:  Are you available for work?

The messenger was the bureau chief of one of the biggies in the broadcast news arena; his query presented an opportunity to dip back into my roots after a lengthy hiatus.

I started out in the t.v. news industry when I was in college and through the years worked my way up  from intern to  gofer to desk assistant to assignment editor to producer to field producer to correspondent.  I careened off toward print a few years back because I was keen to flex my writing muscle  and I needed a break from the long and demanding hours video work necessitates.  Also, the industry-wide affectation for histrionics and the all-hours-of the day-are-game-for-work lifestyle were wearing thin.

NOT TO MENTION the wear and tear hard news takes on a soul (& body).  Watching the images, being at the sites, hearing the stories. . . Eventually it pervades.

And yet the invitation was like a fuel injection.

“When do you need me?” I SMS’d back without pause or consideration for how I would cope with the long hours or long commute, disregarding schedule adjustment and most critical: not giving an iota of serious contemplation to how I might manage to work crazy hours AND care for my 1st grader son.

I was single the last time I lived the grueling hard news industry life.   I’m now a single mom with gramps, grams and all potential caretaking siblings living thousands of miles and at least one ocean away.

And there I was  jumping into the fray.

Which is when the village stepped in.  The village being after school care, babysitters, friends and colleagues who have fetched my son from winter break camp, brought him home, taken him to art class and the park, picked him up at school and brought him to their homes.. . and my neighbor, bless her completely unselfish soul, who has taken the dog for walks, picked up my son at school and hosted him overnight when I sat in the office until 1 a.m watching horrid images of other children no longer sleeping soundly in their beds.

The village is incredible.  And awesome.

And I’ve been living in it for years.  From my village in San Francisco where neighbors and friends stepped in with babysitting offers when jobs beckoned to the village in Tel Aviv comprised of numerous colleagues, friends and neighbors who, throughout the years, seem to conspire to help me succeed.

Thank you, my village.  I would be nowhere without you.  And I’m happy to report that although exhausted, I’m enjoying being back “out there” again.  And I’m also finding quality time to spend with my son albeit not much of it at the moment.  But this story won’t continue forever.

And speaking of, I’m not writing about the crap situation in Gaza. Because I’m too exhausted and I’ve seen too much of this kind of thing for too many years. Or perhaps, as author Barbara Ehrenreich terms it in Nickel and Dimed, I’m being held back by a kind of moral paralysis masking as journalistic objectivity.

However, I DID reflect while driving back from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv tonight – in the same way I have reflected so many times before on that drive down the hill at the end of a long day…. And I decided that this Gaza mess is mean.  And tough.  And the stakes are high.  And all sides know it.  And they’re going for bust.  And if they don’t hit bust or pay dirt now,  they eventually will.