Stefanella's Drive Thru

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Trashy December 19, 2010

While out covering a story today I heard a must-share anecdote

Background:  The locale was Tel Aviv’s landfill.  Not the most pleasant of surroundings, admittedly, but one eventually adjusts to the pervasive odor generated by multiple tons of trash.

I was interviewing the head of Tel Aviv’s recycle/renewable energy site at the landfill and as we watched tons of plastic bags, bottles, cartons, containers and the like empty onto conveyor belts aided by municipal employees, I commented:

“God, I’ll bet you’ve had some nasty accidents here with people falling into the compactors…”

The head of the recycle plant nodded his head vigorously and replied:  I could tell you some stories.

“Go on then, let’s hear,” I replied.

And this is how it went:

A few years ago the trash conveyor belt recycle line employees came banging on his office door in panic: 

“There’s a baby in the compactor!  There’s a baby in the compactor!”

He ordered an immediate machine shut down and then ran to the area to investigate.

Sure enough, there was an arm sticking out of the trash compactor heap.

But it clearly wasn’t a baby’s, he explained.

Someone called out in Hebrew: “Come out of there!” but there was no response.  Then in Russian. Nothing.  Arabic.  Still nothing.  Amharic.  Nada.

Then someone  yelled ‘Get out of there!’ in Yiddish.  And a reply in German came from inside the heap: ‘No!  I’m not coming out!  I’m naked’

The men gathered some clothing together and coaxed the man out.  He then told his story.

A German tourist, he had gotten drunk in a Tel Aviv pub the night prior and en route back to his hotel, was accosted, beaten up, robbed, stripped and then tossed into a dumpster.

The trash assembly line crew discovered him moments before he was headed into the “crusher”

They summoned an ambulance and police and when the medics arrived, one of the women commented: ‘He’s awfully good looking; shame about the smell.’

Divine intervention?



Going to Bed Hungry September 1, 2009

This afternoon while my son & I were riding our bikes home from a celebratory ice cream shop outing to mark his 1st day of second grade, we came across a prodigious public statement/art installation in Central Tel Aviv that begged contemplation.

The entirety of Rabin Square, Tel Aviv’s largest inner city public space, had been set up with long banquet tables covered with simple white table cloths and set with glass white plates and silver cutlery.  White plastic chairs were placed at each setting.

There were, literally, thousands of place settings.

Ooh…Mass banquet! I thought but somehow knew that was wrong.

It took a minute of reckoning, eyeballing the overhead signage displayed behind the tables and ultimately chatting with the young people guarding the “installation” to understand what it was all about.

Israel is headed into The Jewish New Year holiday season in a few weeks which means family gatherings, dinners, office toasts, gift giving and general cheer.

Right around this time each holiday season LaTet (“Give) Humanitarian Organization goes into full swing food drive mode taking up food and monetary collections for those in Israel who won’t be feeling the cheer, at least not monetarily, at holiday time.

I’m accustomed to seeing the Latet people at the entrance to my supermarket handing out flyers asking for donations of baby formula, canned goods, rice and other food essentials.


But the display on the square was a phenomenal means of sending a message.  The banner beyond the tables read:  “There are 200,000 people in Israel who won’t get enough to eat this holiday season. . .”  And the empty tables, the people manning the display disclosed, represent a mere 10th of what that number might look like were everyone to sit down together for a meal.

If you want to give, you can go by the display and make a donation, pick up an extra item or two at the supermarket and drop them into the receptacles on the way out or navigate to the Latet website for instructions on donating via SMS or pay per click.

And if you’re able to make it to the square, definitely go by and check it out.  It’s astonishing.


Found the Sh*tCreek Cure-All! April 5, 2009

Thanks to my pal-ee Sallee for this one…Mwahahaaa



The Big Ask: ACT NOW! February 12, 2009

Israel elections are past and a new government is in the making.  The Green party I voted for didn’t even make it into the bleeding government.  THAT is crazy.

It’s all about the future – for us and our children. If we combust, who cares who’s holding the scepter?

Check out the video. .


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.


In the Doghouse December 15, 2008

Follow this link – it’s non-embed-able.  G’head. You won’t be sorry.



Africans in Israel February 17, 2008

Meet Marcelle. He’s an attractive 15-year-old, no?

And sweet. I can vouch for that. I met him last week. On Valentine’s Day, in fact. It was rainy and mucky outside but his megawatt smile lit up the room.

He speaks French and a smattering of English.

But he doesn’t look all too chipper in this particular photo.

To be expected, I guess. After all, he walked/ran thousands and thousands of miles from Africa’s West Coast – Cote d’Ivoire, to be exact – to Tel Aviv. Take a look at the map. You’ll get a shock.

Yes. By foot.

Rumor has it that for fleeing refugees like Marcelle, getting to Israel entails torture, imprisonment, the constant threat of death and sometimes witnessing the murder of family members.

That’s why he’s alone in the Tel Aviv shelter he shares with dozens of others like him who have fled Eritrea and Sudan. He was orphaned. He witnessed his parents’ murders.

Marcelle is desperate for an adoptive family. He’s suffering. But then he has been through the kind of purgatory most of us only read about or see in movies.

So have many others like him. His name’s not Marcelle, by the way. He’s afraid that if I print his real name something might happen to relatives back in the Cote d’Ivoire.

The 6,000 refugees in Israel: It’s real and they need help.

Get in touch with the African Refugee Development Center to find out what you can do.