Stefanella's Drive Thru

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Iran Controversy May 18, 2009

iran

Did the Reagan campaign sign a deal with Khomeini’s Iran to delay the release of the American hostages held in Tehran until after the presidential election of 1980, thereby assuring Ronald Reagan’s election victory over President Carter?

My friend Brian Josepher (B.J.) thinks so.  Or according to his new book, that’s the case.  Brian has penned his third and most recent novel, a “faux” history of events.

The Complete and ExtraOrdinary History of the October Surprise is a faux chronicle of Iran-U.S.-CIA-Reagan-Carter-Economic downturn-Hostages, collaboration, dirty dealing, conspiracy theory, tons of info.

Mine came in the mail yesterday so I best get crackin’.  You can look at it or order following thes links here.

Congrats, B.J.!  Goodonya, mate!

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Crying on the Job May 6, 2009

I think I committed a faux pas.  But I’m not 100% certain.

I cried during an interview.

The interviewee didn’t seem to notice – I didn’t wail or tear at my hair or anything.  My face simply went screwy and got hot and a few tears spilled over my lower eyelids.

That’s probably not something you’re supposed to do if you’re a truly professional journalist.

It happened when I was out on assignment for my Manhattanite book-author friend who I’ve been helping on his latest project.  I interview concentration camp survivors living in Israel in their Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, etc. homes asking questions e-mailed by my friend.

So far the work has been incredible:  hearing stories, witnessing two survivors compare numbered arm tattoos,  looking through old photo albums…

Spending time with survivors I realize how very privileged my life has been and how honored I am to sit with them and document their lives.

But maybe I’m hardened.  Because in all the years I have covered all sorts of stories nothing has reduced me to tears.

And there have certainly been moments.  Like interviewing a man hours before he was to attend the double funerals of his wife and daughter, both killed in a Tel Aviv suicide bombing.  Or witnessing an elderly man sitting despondently in the rubble of his just-bulldozed home.  Or sitting with an inner city teen who stared blankly into space in the aftermath of his sibling’s shooting death.  Didn’t cry.

What did it for me yesterday was a certificate.

To be exact:  The Certificate of Liberation i.e. the “Provisional Identification Card for Civilian Internee of Buchenwald.”

On April 22, 1945 the survivor I interviewed was liberated from Buchenwald Concentration Camp by the American army.  He has held onto the wallet sized, brown leather-bound document signed by American General Bertel something or other  for 64 years.  It’  states that “Herr (blank blank in the interest of privacy) was kept in captivity from 16.4.1944 to 22.4.1945 in Nazi-German concentration camps and was liberated from the concentration camp of Buchenwald.”

It blew me away to see the authentic signed military document.  I traveled in my imagination to the place and time  that document was received and imagined the officer handing it to the survivor and the incredulity on both parts.  The significance of holding onto that document for six decades struck a chord.

I know, though, that I’m not the only journalist who has ever broken down on the job.

Some years ago B.Z. Goldberg’s documentary Promises was shown in cinemas worldwide. In what was the film’s most poignant scene, Palestinian and Israeli children are shown sitting together in the West Bank living room of one child’s home after having spent the day playing, laughing and getting to know each other.  Separated by politics and army checkpoints, they live a mere 20 minutes apart but would have never met had the filmmaker not brought them together.

Suddenly, one of the Palestinian boys begins crying.

What’s wrong? director B.Z. queries.

They’ll go back to Israel today and then we’ll never see them again, the boy answers, knowing all too well the reality of his situation.

The camera then pans to B.Z. who is also crying.

I was awed by that scene because  B.Z. allowed himself to spontaneously shed tears and he kept the shot in the film.

It was nominated for Best Documentary Oscar in 2001.

So about the crying thing…I dunno.  Mypersonal jury’s still out.

 

Until the Army April 20, 2009

My 7-year-old is doing really well in swimming.

He sailed through beginner, intermediate and advanced courses last year and has now been selected to join the city league swim team entailing twice-weekly practice training sessions.

Today was the 1st such session and when we  arrived, I had a word with the coach about vacation and how we should handle summer break.

Coach & I didn’t see eye to eye on a start date for my son.  I wanted immediate.  He favored end of summer.

“He’s now in serious training for the long haul,” coach explained.  “So what’s the rush? As I see it, I have him from now until he’s 18 when he goes into the army.”

JOLT.  I had NEVER directly correlated my son with army service in that kind of “oh it’s so obvious he’ll be going in at eighteen” kind of way.  Ever.  And here was this stranger casually linking the two.

Yes, it’s compulsory in Israel for 18-year-olds.  But MY son?  MY budding artist/swimmer?

I didn’t grow up with the concept so it’s totally foreign to me even though it’s ultra ingrained in Israeli society.  I can’t even think about it. I don’t want to.

Jolt aside, I won.  He started practice  today.

11 more years.

 

Waterboarding February 18, 2009

I’ve heard about Waterboarding.  I’ve read about it.  But I never had a visual image in mind of what it entailed.

While surfing Vanity Fair I came across this video.  I like Christopher Hitchens – acerbic as he can be.  Kudos to him for trying it out.  Geeyad.  If the video doesn’t come up on this blog page,  follow this link.  It’s very uncomfortable viewing so I can’t even imagine what the real deal is like.

 

Oscars Anyone? February 15, 2009

Oscars are a week from today.  I haven’t watched the ceremony in yeeeaaaarrrsss but I always follow the results.

This year, however, I’m changing it up by synching my local Israel time to U.S. ceremony time (read: It’s gonna be an over-nighter Sunday) to watch it live.  I admit: I’m a sucker for the red carpet, the hoopla, the speeches, the controversy and I particularly love seeing trailers from the contenders.

This year I have selfish interests at heart as well: I want to see if Israel’s nominated entry Waltz with Bashir wins in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

I FINALLY got around to seeing Waltz this weekend.  And it far exceeded my expectations.  The use of animation was really apt on many levels.  Also, because the subject matter it addresses has been so very controversial for so long, the film was quite poignant.

Because Director Ari Folman’s animation is a personal testimony to one of the major events that happened in Israel’s 1982 Lebanon War/Invasion, it is tough to dispute what some have denied vis a vis Israel’s role in that event.  I’m being vague, I know.  I don’t want to spoil it.

Watch the trailer.  French Foreign Film Contender The Class also looks quite good  – haven’t seen it yet.   I’d say it’s between the two.  But Waltz With Bashir’s timing in terms of what we just saw happen in Gaza may give Folman the edge…

 

The Female Factor February 5, 2009

I’m chagrined the past week. For a few reasons I think.

First of all I’ve been traveling to Jerusalem for work for the past few days.  And each time I get there, right at the entrance are strategically placed massive election posters canvassing tall buildings.  The posters bear images of the three campaigning front runners for the prime minister slot:  Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni.

I’m incensed because some person/s have painstakingly climbed up scaffolding or used pretty impressive ladders or who knows what else and have painted over Livni’s face.  On each and every poster.  And there are a lot.  And they’re not easy to get to.  “A” for effort.  Clap *  cough  * clap.  Is it the candidate or her gender?  I muse.

Second:  I phoned up the spokesperson for one of the campaigning Orthodox Jewish parties after hearing a rumor that they had added a woman to their list to offset “the Livni effect”.

“Is it true?  Do you think I can get an interview with her?” I ask.  The man on the other end of the receiver chortles cynically.  “A woman?  Uh no.  We didn’t add a woman,” he sniggers as if I had just suggested:  “Have you, perchance, added a Tuberculosis infected illiterate third grade Hamas devotee to the party list?”     

And lastly, probably fanning the flames of all this disenchantment is the fact that I’m reading Afghan author Khaled Hosseini’s “A Thousand Splendid Sunsdescribing, among other things, the absolutely horrific treatment of women in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion, civil war and  Taliban rule.  Some excerpts are chilling but the book is not put-down-able.

I read it and contemplate the part of the world I’m living in now and the potential future for this region.

And I have a tough time maintaining a positive outlook.

 

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.