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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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. . .

 

Deserving the Good Life July 19, 2009

As we traipsed to the swimming pool this afternoon, towels draped over our shoulders, my 7-year-old initiated a wee heart-to-heart.

Mom, if someone wanted to buy you, I think you would be worth 20 million, one thousand ninety eight dollars

Ah really?  And if someone decided to do that, who would the money go to?  I mean, who would get the 20 million one thousand and ninety eight?

You would.  Definitely.  Because you don’t have that much longer to live. I mean, you’re not young. So you should keep having a good life.

 

Dog Eat Dog (or Kaka) May 9, 2009

Would somebody please pinch me?  ‘Cause I’m having a really tough time remembering why I went out and got a dog.

They’re cute and loyal and great companions and you thought it would be great for your kid and to safeguard the house.  And don’t forget:  Man’s Best Friend.

All of that’s true.  But I’m a woman.  And our 10-month-old black Lab mix is truly tapping into my serenity.

Ahh.  A puppy.  Why didn’t you say so?

Yes, and?  I realize that puppies are notorious for gnawing at walls, chewing on furniture and succumbing to indoor accidents but my primary problem at the moment is with the things my not-so-little Butch has been getting into when we go out into the big world.

Let’s just say he evokes an acid trip-esque Andy Warhol Maurice way before he’ll get billing as Norman Rockwell’s Boy Meets His Dog.

What is it snookums?  Go ahead and spill.

Thanks.  Last week after an exhausting day of traipsing up to Jerusalem, rushing back to Tel Aviv, ferrying my son to swim practice and buying groceries, I took Butch to the dog park to play.  I was reading my book while he romped with his friends Juno and Mitzee.

“Uh..You might want to go get Butch,” Juno’s person suggested, breaking into my reading tranquility zone.  “They’re all in the bushes and…well you should probably go get him.”

For the non-dog people out there, here’s a shocker for you (consider this your disclaimer):  For an asinine reason I have yet to even want to fathom, dogs like to roll in kaka.  And eat it too.  And usually they find it in bushes.

So when Mitzee’s person grabbed the stained white Samoyed by the collar and, gagging, pulled her from the crime scene, I  knew what was in store for me.  Butch was covered in it.

I didn’t gag.  I didn’t even speak.  I hooked him to his leash and promptly marched him to our front yard for a spigot bubble bath x 2.

The next day I reasoned:  Keep him on leash and he can’t roll.  True.  But he CAN stick his snout through the neighbor’s fence and grab cat poop.

The day after I reasoned:  He needs to run free or he’ll go nuts.  I’ll take him to a different park where perhaps there are no treasure bushes.

Which I did.  And as I sat reading on the park bench, off in the distance I saw him toss something small in the air with his mouth and when it landed, flip on his back and roll over it.

Disclaimer #2 for the non-dog people:  Animals roll in dead animals.  I dunno.  Don’t ask.

This was a dead mouse he had unearthed somewhere.  You’d be amazed at the powerful stench one tiny carcass can radiate.  Especially when a 90-pound dog has rolled over it.

March home.  Bubble bath #2 in as many days.

I’ll save the other bits.  There are more.  But in the name of good taste (har dee har) and at the prompting of my life coach who advises focusing on the positive, I stop here and instead call up some good points.

  • My son loves him and the two together are wonderful to behold
  • He’s a great watchdog
  • He is very funny without trying to be
  • He’s an incredibly good natured & playful dog
  • He will grow up one day

Thank you for indulging me.  Over & out.    crazybutch

 

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.

 

Chick Versus Chick April 29, 2009

Confession time:  I stand alongside the global multitudes struggling to make ends meet during the current recession. Jobs are scant and it’s downright scary right now.  Especially as a single mom.

Luckily I rely upon faith, hope, networking, routine and friends to buoy me.  And thank goodness for chat rooms and friends’ IM & email messages discussing fear, job scarcity and struggles.  “Thank goodness” not in the Schadenfreude way; I’m grateful not to be alone.  

I felt loads better last week after watching a NY Times video profile of a laid off exec who had formerly managed multi-million dollar accounts and is now pushing a janitor’s broom.  His wife needs cancer treatments so guaranteed health insurance benefits are essential.  He can’t afford the luxury of leisurely looking around.

Instead he kicks off the covers at 4 a.m. each day, checks emails and sends out resumes to potential employers.  He then heads to his janitorial job where, during breaks, he sits in his car placing follow-up calls.  I don’t know if I was more blown away by his story or by his bravado in letting the world know what he currently gets up to between 9 and 5.

I, too, am working overtime at phoning contacts, tapping into networks, making new contacts and attempting to drum up work.

Which makes having to go up against female colleagues doubly frustrating.

I have spoken several times with a work contact about leads in news production.  And each time I talk with this woman  she asks: “But what about your son?  Do you have anyone to take care of him?  I mean he IS young.”

And each time I reassure her  that yes, I do have a network in place.  A really good one.  Not to worry, the childcare issue has never presented a problem.  I even have overnight babysitters.  “I HAVE A VILLAGE!!!” I internally dialogue. “So please, send the work my way.”

But she hasn’t so far.  And I don’t believe she ever will.  Because I don’t think she can wrap her head around my being a single mom and concommitantly producing television news.  Never mind that scores of anchors, producers, editors and camerawomen before me have done just that and are faring quite nicely. Or that I myself have done just that.

I’m being pre-packaged and labeled from the get-go and not only by this particular woman.  Recently a well-known anchorwoman told me:  “You certainly don’t want to work full time or get into a heavy career.  You have your son to think about.” She wasn’t asking.  She was stating how “it is”.    And I thought:  “But you’re so wrong!  By getting into something full time I AM thinking of my son. ”

It reminds me of the time I went to see U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright speak in San Francisco.  Someone in the audience asked if she regretted the choice of fast political track over full time mommy.  She explained that there isn’t a cookie-cutter path for all women – some are meant for careers, others to stay home with kids and others to do a range of things in-between.

But she told the packed house I DO believe there’s a special place in hell for women who give other women a hard time for the path they have chosen to follow.

And the room erupted in applause.

I don’t believe the women I mention here are malicious.  But their notions are misguided and create a certain level of frustration for me.

 

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.