Stefanella's Drive Thru

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

Boys’ Toys February 19, 2010

Every Thursday my son’s classmate comes to our house after school.  It’s an arrangement between the boy’s parents and I and so far it as worked quite nicely.

Yesterday the two boys met me at the school gate as usual but out of the ordinary was their hyper-animated state.

I have 100 shekels (U.S. $25) Sonya gave me for my birthday and I brought it to buy Gogos.  Will you take us to the store?” my son’s friend asked.

Sonya is a classmate.  But I didn’t know that.  I figured Sonya was an aunt.  Gogos are the craze du jour among Israel’s elementary school set.  They’re highly appealing, mini-plastic figurines that come three to a packet.  They cost about $1.75 per.

Your mom said it’s okay for you to spend your birthday money on that many Gogo’s? I asked.

It’s my money.  My mom lets me do what I want with my money.  As long as I take her to a hotel for vacation, he responded, laughing.

How very liberal of her I pondered.   I wouldn’t let my son do that. Maybe I should loosen up. . .

Okay then, I capitulated.  Let’s go.

At the store, I browsed front page stories about Mossad agents, assassination and dual identities while the boys handled the transaction.

They purchased 14 packets and split them – my son’s friend is quite generous – and then clamored to get home and open the goods.

They alternately ran and walked the 5 city blocks to our place, urging me to hurry.  My son actually screeched aloud with anticipation as I unlocked the front door. The neighbors! I chastised with an internal smile.  Their enthusiasm was refreshing.

They dumped book bags in the entrance hall and spread the packets across the coffee table, busying themselves with the business of divvying treasure.

When lunch was ready, I called repeatedly to no avail.  Eventually I threatened to lock up the kitchen for the day in order to cajole them into eating.

At 3, the boy’s father came to retrieve him.  And Gogo Hell broke loose.

You bought WHAT?  he asked incredously.  With what money?  After I told you there would be no more Gogo’s?  Where did you get a hundred shekels?  WHO gave it to you?  You’re in some serious trouble, young man

They exited and as I heard their exchange in the hallway, my cheeks flamed red with shame.  It hadn’t occurréd to me to phone one of the parents and check the story’s legitimacy.  I assumed if a kid says he got some money for his birthday and he’s allowed to spend it….Criminy.  Silly me.

THE TRUE STORY:  Sonya, presumably wishing to curry favor, gave the boy a hundred shekels she got from God-knows-where a day prior.  He decided to purchase the toys without telling anyone – other than a gullible ME, that is.  The part about the birthday and his mom knowing?  Mmm, Mmm, mmmm.  My son was also clueless to the dupe.

Okay so I learned my lesson.  The opened Gogo packets can’t go back to the store but the money has to go back to  Sonya.   I won’t take the loot away from my son – he was an innocent.  So I’ll cough up half the $$ and give it to the boy’s parents.  Peace offering sort of thing, Innit?

When the winds of war calmed later in the day, I texted his mother:  “You have to admit, it IS funny

She texted back:  This story is going to make the rounds for years to come.

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Risky Business February 13, 2010

I was chatting on the phone with my friend “G” the other day and the subject of his 20-year network news career came up.

How did you get started with them? I asked. 

His story was fascinating.

It was 1982 and Israel was going into Lebanon to root out the PLO. Being an elite paratrooper, I got a “Tzav 8” – it’s an emergency order for reservists calling for immediate mobilization.

At the exact same time, I was offered the chance to go into Lebanon and cover what was happening for one of the major American networks.

I was conflicted at first.  I mean, a military order is a military order.  But on the other hand, I knew that this was a huge break that wouldn’t come around again.

So I opted out of the order and went with the network.  And that’s how I started my career with them.

The irony?  After the dust cleared and I was back in Tel Aviv, I never, ever heard from the army.  It was if they’d never sent out the order.  And one of the funniest parts of it all is that while I was in Lebanon working, I SAW my unit.  They all called out to me and waved: “Hey G!” Of course, they didn’t know I’d been called up.

I was stunned by my friend’s story.  His gamble turned to gold and he has enjoyed a prestigious career that has taken him from Winter Olympics, to war in Somalia to an airlift operation that saved more than 14,000 lives to the fall of Berlin’s Wall and beyond.  He has met heads of state, international terrorists, world class artists and athletes and he has worked with the best in the business. He now languishes in retirement on a small Caribbean island.

When he relayed his tale I was reminded of Martin Fletcher, NBC News Israel correspondent of several decades who I worked with in the early 90’s.

I was always impressed by Martin’s ability to predict industry trends.  But when I read his book Breaking News I  discovered he had something in common with my friend ‘G’:  Martin took big risks that paid off.

In his book he writes that while he was stationed in South Africa, he advised editors at NY headquarters to send him into a nearby country as conflict erupted.  They refused.  He was so certain the story was cover-worthy that Fletcher went in anyway without informing his higher ups.  A short time after, entry to the country was cut off.  His editors phoned to see if there was any way he could get in.  He was already there.

I found that, too, to be remarkable.  The move could have jeopardized his career and instead it put him ahead of the game.

Internally I laugh.  My acquaintances take BIG risks.  I debate over which swimming pool membership to get.

I’d say there’s a lesson in there to be learned.

 

Israel & the Oscars: Round Three February 3, 2010

There’s a Hebrew saying two acquaintances exchange when unexpectedly running into each other twice within the same day or week:  “If we see each other a third time, you buy me ice cream!”

I thought about that yesterday when the American Academy announced Israeli film Ajami as an Oscar contender in the Best Foreign Film category.  This is the third year running for Israeli films to be nominated in the foreign movie category and I’m hoping it’s “third time lucky”.  Third time ice-cream.

I have to admit, though, that yesterday’s announcement took me by surprise.  I didn’t expect Ajami to make the short list.  And that’s because – and here goes another admission – I made an ignorant, snap judgment about the movie and wrote it off.

Months ago I attended Israel’s  version of the Oscars – the Ophir Awards – and watched, unimpressed, as Ajami knocked out Venice Film Festival winner Lebanon to take top honors.  This will never make it to the Oscars, thought I.  Not that I had seen any of the Best Film competitors…My opinion was based upon seeing the trailers before and during the ceremony.  And I was appalled.  Ajami appeared as an amateurish piece of work featuring non-professional actors and dealing with local crime issues.  This will never get picked up.

After yesterday’s announcement – and considering the fact that I am on deadline to write a story about it- I sprinted to a midday movie screening to come up to speed.

Hours later, I am still processing what I saw.

The film is good.  Really good.  It’s complicated and intense and brilliant and it’s a microcosm within a microcosm  with numerous parallels, messages and sub-plots – so many that it was a bit mind-boggling.  The story takes place mostly in the Ajami Quarter of south Tel Aviv’s mixed Arab-Israeli Jaffa enclave and it deals with issues faced by local residents while simultaneously fanning out as far as the West Bank and southern Israel.

In addressing local issues, it manages to touch on the Arab-Israeli conflict, poverty, organized crime, scandal, co-existence, futility, loss and the simultaneous complex& simple mix that is life  in this part of the world.  The actors were all non-professional – I nailed that one during my trailer viewing – and this is a first film for Arab and Israeli co-directors/writers/producers Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani.

I won’t give away plots or divulge anything about the characters or story but I will say that I walked away with a few distinct impressions:

1) Like it or not, the Israelis and Arabs living in this region are inextricably linked.  For better or worse.

2) That saying “It’s all Good”?  It’s not.

3) I got scared for a bit watching the film and contemplating where I live…the deception, thuggery, payoffs, crime, big shark eats small fish messages.  Then I remembered:  Oh yeah.  It’s the same everywhere.

I’ll be pulling up to the t.v. set on March 7th with my bowl of ice cream.  I hope third time charm works its magic.