Stefanella's Drive Thru

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

The Globo-Life August 15, 2010

Years ago while sitting in a San Francisco cafe, I moaned to an Israeli friend: “I like being here but I miss Israel.  And when I’m in Israel the things that drive me crazy there make me want to come back to the States!  I’ve moved around so many times I feel like it’s time to make a decision about where to settle down but I just don’t know where that should be!”

My friend, bless her Zen-filled heart, replied calmly:  “Why?  Why not be a global citizen?  That’s the way I feel.  I’m  comfortable wherever I go.  Of course there are places I prefer to be but I’ve learned to relax, enjoy and take the best of what each place has to offer wherever I am.”

I didn’t get it.  My then-mindset dictated a MUST DECIDE attitude backed by conviction that loyalty to one-place-only indicated good sense.  Die hard locale fidelity was my internal dictator.

But this summer the meaning of her advice clicked.  And as the surreal nature of realizations go, it hit me head-on right in the middle of a two-step move to Toby Keith’s Trailerhood as I line danced with total strangers in a small Cincinnati working class neighborhood bar.

I spend summers in Cincinnati with my 8-year-old so that he can get to know his aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, go to an English speaking summer camp and gain exposure to the multi-cultural experience of Israel versus the U.S. For me it’s a break from the intensity of Mid-East living and work and it’s also an opportunity to spend quality time with family and loved ones.

Thanks to Facebook, I started reconnecting with old Cincinnati friends each year, adding a dimension of fun and depth to our stays.

Over steamy cups of coffee and at dinners, parties, meetings, restaurant openings, Salsa on the Square, movie nights and art exhibits or during hours spent poolside, on shopping excursions and meeting new people via my old friends, I discovered I have arrived. I am globalized.

Because as I broke into a slight sweat alongside our a 60+ year-old line dance instructor Patty all decked out in her denim miniskirt and matching vest that I was reminded of Tel Aviv.  Saturday morning folk dance sessions along the Med pulsate to different strains but the Patty’s, Rex’s, Letta’s and Jimmy’s of Western Hills are alive and well inside the bodies of the Itziks, Chanas, Loolees and Shai’s of Israel.

As one friend shared the story of her beloved husband succumbing to cancer, another talked about Botox treatments, others spoke of job and financial woes,  methods for cutting costs in a flagging economy, choosing an education plan  for a 1st grader and facing the challenges of elder parent care, I realized I was physically in Cincinnati.  But I had lived all of these talks in Tel Aviv.  And Paris, London, Thailand and Singapore.

Vive la difference, I didn’t have to choose anymore.  I was having a damned good time with my global family and friends and rather than seeing the differences that separate us all, I was noticing the similarities forging our paths.

SO…..to my collaborating partners in crime – dear family, global friends, colleagues and an extra special someone held close to my heart:  Thank you for conspiring with me to make life richer, fuller, more meaningful and funner wherever I go

See you next year…..!

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Tel Aviv: Lifeguard Etiquette July 23, 2010

I came across this saved blog entry in my Drafts folder and decided it should see the light of  this July summer’s day. . .Enjoy

Israeli lifeguards

They sit on the decks of their wooden watch towers facing the sea & eyeballing water frolickers throughout the day.  When the Mediterranean is calm, ne’ery a peep is heard from them.  But get an undertow or high tide and they go into fast-forward, non-stop barking mode issuing relentless streams of orders through their megaphones.

“Move away from the breakers!”… “Hey you in the white swimsuit, did you hear me?”…. “Okay that’s it. All three of you come over here to the lifeguard tower right now”…..

Pretty standard stuff. But sometimes they veer off into ”creative license mode” because…gee I dunno.  It’s Israel and the rules don’t necessarily apply? Or they know they won’t get sued for poking fun or being rude? Or because it staves off boredom?

“Hey parents! Where are you?  Do you think this is your private bathtub?  I am not your babysitter. Does that kid in the blue even have a parent here?”

or:  “All of you move away from the breakers. That goes for you, too, Mahatma Gandhi.  Go meditate on the sand!”

or:  “Gina! Where have you been all morning? Come over to the tower.  I’ll make you coffee! I dreamed about you last night!”

(i swear)

Welcome to Tel Aviv.

 

Dedicating Life in the Aftermath of Death January 12, 2010

The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealisticJohn F. Kennedy

I spent last Saturday in Nablus.  Not the prettified city in the link here but a small outlying village perched on a hillside right below Elon Moreh settlement. Elon Moreh is where, according to the Old Testament, God told Abraham he was giving “your descendants this land”.  It’s why the Jewish settlers are there, for the most part, and it’s down the road from Yasuf Village, recently in the headlines when settlers set fire to the local mosque and burned holy books.

But I digress.

I went to the area with an Israeli  who, after his son was killed in Lebanon, chose to dedicate his life to fostering understanding between Israelis & Palestinians.  He works on projects like bringing Palestinian kids who have merely read about seashores to Tel Aviv’s beach – a half hour’s drive from their village.  He hires clowns and entertainers for village events,  helps re-plant old growth olive trees uprooted by…you know who… and this weekend, he dedicated a new playground built to replace the previous one destroyed by …you know.

To get to the village,  we had to pass through three Israeli army checkpoints and sign a waiver. But it was a feel-good day and upwards of a hundred children, teens and Palestinian official types were there.  I wasn’t nervous about violence.

After being there, the closest thing I can draw a comparison with in  U.S. terms is  inner city projects – just a lot greener and minus the dealers and drive-bys.  The village countryside is beautiful – lush green,  graduated craggy hills characteristic of this part of the world, olive groves stretching forever and partially built skeletons of homes awaiting further construction.

And yet, basic infrastructure was lacking.  Trash was strewn by the roadsides and along the hills and raw sewage streamed between olive tree rows.  As we approached, children swarmed, touched, patted, fired questions in Arabic and stared unabashedly, taking in every utterance and movement.   Allah help me had I pulled a stick of gum from my backpack.  Unless, of course, there had been enough to go around to all 4 dozen kids.

The dedication itself was run-of-the-mill:  Clap clap.  Smiles all around.  Hand shaking.  Photo opp.

What’s interesting is the response I got when relaying my plans for the day to friends.     It’s been the same response for more than a decade whenever I announce I’ll be going into the West Bank or Gaza. That is, unless I’m talking to a journalist. “Why are you going there?  Did you lose something?  Aren’t you afraid?  It’s dangerous!  Are you crazy?”

I won’t downplay the serious nature of the political conflict nor will I make light of terrifying lynchings Israelis have fallen prey to in Palestinian areas.  But most people on the Israel side of the Green Line haven’t crossed to the other side unless they’ve served there in the military or they’re journalists, settlers or peace activists.   Ditto vis-a-vis Palestinians coming to the Israeli side of the line.

Both populations get most of their information about “the other” from what they see on the news:  often frightening and violent depictions.  Mainstreamers on both sides are scared and have no idea what life looks like “over there” beyond the lenses of extremism, suicide missions, military uniforms, rocket launches and bombing campaigns.


My strong sense after visiting this weekend is that there’s not a hope in hell for working anything out in the long-term between the parties until getting to know “the other” and moving beyond “Arab terrorists” and “military occupying Jews” stereotypes.

And for the record, I’m not trivializing the pain or suffering others have endured nor am I lightly suggesting a kumbaya-live-in-love-and-harmony approach.  There’s no easy fix and it may never happen.

But I figure if the Israeli who devoted his life to reaching out can do it after his loss. . .

 

Missing in Action November 9, 2009

It’s another Ruth-themed blog entry day.  Ruth, for the uninitiated, is the in-her-eighties-woman at the Tel Aviv dog park I frequent who I’ve been fascinated with lately.

Ruth has spunk, attitude and sass to spare and I’d wager she’s the type who stocks vodka in the freezer for guests.  And if the guests don’t drink vodka?  She’d probably press a bill into her visitor’s palm and send him or her off to the corner store for an alternate libation of choice and some ice.

For the past few weeks, Ruth hasn’t shown up at the park at the usual hour.  And because her health is sketchy and she has already had one near-death experience, my ruminations have meandered to concern regarding her whereabouts or possible demise.

Apparently, I’m not alone.

As I climbed the stone stairs of the dog run entrance yesterday, Jacob, another octogenarian park regular, posed:  Have you seen Ruth lately?” I shrugged and motioned for him to join as I crossed the grass path to the stone bench beneath the orange tree.  I sat beside David, a middle aged regular whose dog is named Meeklee and whose American partner is also named David.

Have you seen Ruth lately? I asked him.

No & I’ve been worried.  I know that when she was hospitalized for a month, she put Jessie in the Dog Farm.  Maybe something happened to her and she put her there again.  Maybe they know something, David offered.

I had the Dog Farm number handy – Ruth had given it to me as a kenneling recommendation – so I dialed the number from my mobile phone and awkwardly explained to the proprietor that a group of dog park people was concerned over Ruth’s disappearance.

Did she bring Jessie there?  Do you know anything about where she might be?

The Farm owner understood the gist and said that Jessie wasn’t at the Farm.  But she offered up Ruth’s last name.

One call to information later, I was ringing up Ruth’s apartment.

Hello? a small voice answered.  I didn’t recognize the accent and guessed it might be the Russian caretaker she had mentioned several times.

It’s Stephanie from the dog park.  I’m looking for Ruth.  Is she there?

Yes, mamaleh (English: sweetie).  What is it you need?

Ruth?  Is that you?  We haven’t seen you in a while.  So a few of us are sitting here and we were worried so we decided to —-

Tell her the view’s not the same without her! Jacob interjected, the relief in his voice audible.  I think Jacob has a thing for Ruth, between you and me.   

Oh,  I’m fine.  I’m fine.  Thank you for calling, Ruth soothed and I could tell she was touched.  I don’t come in the evening anymore because Jessie gets into the garbage and eats trash and it drives me crazy.

I laughed aloud and David commented  Well if she’s laughing, everything must be okay.

Ruth, give me your cellphone number, will you?  Just so I have it.  And take mine, I urged.  We exchanged and then she said:

Thank you mamaleh.  Thank you for calling.  I come on Saturday mornings so I’ll see you then.  But listen, I have to go.  I’m watching my German mystery series on t.v. and I have to see how it ends.

That’s the Ruth I know.

 

Living In Sin September 23, 2009

I recently blogged about a woman I frequently see at the dog park who had a near death experience.   In my post, I described her as an older woman who sports a baseball cap over her kicky orange hair.

Today I saw her at the park again and she was sans baseball cap.  But her short, carrot colored hair was Working It and she had on bright red lipstick, black frame glasses, her eyes were accented with blue liner and overall, she was looking pretty darned smokin’.

He’s  trying to get your attention, you know,” I whispered to her, nodding in the direction of a 70-something-year-old gentleman who was staring intently at her from his perch on the fountain stone wall.  “He always tries to talk to you.”

Who, him?  Really?” Ruth was genuinely surprised and flattered.  Her name is Ruth.  I asked her. I nodded yes.  “He’s staring at you.”

Ah...” she waved the notion away with her hand.  “I already have a boyfriend.  He’s ten years younger than me but I’m younger than HIM in spirit.”

I laughed aloud.

She smiled with a faint hint of naughty behind the glimmer in her eyes.  “We’ve been together fifty years.  We don’t live together, though.  That’s what keeps us together.  Put us in the same house together and the relationship would be over in a week.

More laughter – raw and boisterous – from me.

I’m not looking for more boyfriends.  I’ve got enough.”

I like this Ruth.  Kicky personality matches her kicky orange hair.

 

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.

Image000

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.

 

Heroin (NOT) Chic August 18, 2009

On a recent visit to San Francisco, I was breakfasting with a group of people at a semi-dive-diner place in the Upper Haight when my brother motioned toward the booth opposite us.

“It’s going to take them a while to get through the meal,” he commented with a grin.

I looked over at the couple he had indicated: A male and female in their mid-twenties, both tattooed and pierced – typical Haight fare.  They sat opposite each other with hands resting on the table cluttered with uneaten plates of assorted breakfast fare.  Their eyes were closed.

“Oh, they’re saying Grace,” I mused internally.  Because where I live these days aka Holy Land Central or Israel, that type of thing is plausible.  Heck, I’ve seen groups of German tourists on a busy Tel Aviv street corner holding hands with heads bowed praying for…Well I have no idea, actually.  A break in traffic?  Good beach weather?  Ideal photographic lighting conditions?  I dunno.

Then I peered more closely at the couple, their heads lolling.  Oh  Wow! the realization dawned.  They’ve dosed on heroin.

It’s been years since I’ve lived in close proximity to the urban drug culture and all it entails: addicts sprawled in doorways, eyes at half mast as the heroin high hits, crack fiends pacing nervously, their movements disjointed and stiff, wayward alcoholics with red faces and crusty clothing rambling incoherently from front stoops.

My stomach dropped and I felt nauseous.  This is insane.  We’re sitting in a restaurant and they’re dosing. My San Francisco dwelling companions snickered and rolled their eyes in a sort of  Oh God, the neighbors misbehaving AGAIN sort of way. I forced myself not to stare.

Later, my brother confided:  That was gross, man.  Totally sick.

Well…yeah.