Stefanella's Drive Thru

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

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.

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Israeli Oscars September 27, 2009

Last night I slipped into a little black dress and a pair of heels and made my way to Haifa for Israel’s version of the Oscars: The Ophir Awards.

Attending Israel’s upscale events is always an interesting venture. Because, compared to the U.S., they’re pretty scaled down and lacking pretense. Dress codes don’t rule and most anyone can get away with whatever their personal interpretation of gearing up or down might be.  That includes nominees, as demonstrated here by Best Actor winner Sasha Avshalom Agronov for his role in The Loners. Dig the hat.
IMGP0051

Also glaringly absent at these affairs are hulking bodyguards (unless government ministers are present). Sure, there’s security at the entrance but once inside, the press mingles with celebs and it’s a sort of everyone hangs out with everyone free-for-all at the bar and buffet kinda thing.

Which is why I was able to walk straight up to Ajami Producer Mosh Danon, congratulate him on taking best film and wish him luck at the Hollywood Oscars. I grabbed this shot of the film’s Israeli director Yaron Shani as he was being interviewed for radio.  His Arab co-director Scandar Copti was, unfortunately, in Europe.     IMGP0047

I also shook Lebanon film director Samuel Maoz’s hand and congratulated him on his Venice win.  I felt truly sorry that his film didn’t clinch the top seed.  Because imho, the movie based on his personal experience as a soldier during the 1982 Israel incursion into Lebanon, would have been a serious Academy Awards contender for best foreign film.  I’m not sure about Ajami, a story about the crime ridden mixed Arab-Israeli neighborhood of the same name in southern Tel Aviv.   Yes, it’s a microcosm of the Israel-Arab flashpoint conflict at large but it somehow feels too local.

But then, I’ve seen neither  and am basing that rather broad opinion on trailers,  discussions with colleagues and the reception for Lebanon thus far in the world arena.

Here’s a clip.  A reportedly super intense film, it takes place entirely inside an Israeli tank  in Lebanon.  Last night the movie nabbed top honors for Best Supporting Actor, Best Soundtrack, Best Cinematography and Best Design.

A few notes about the ceremony:  The high point was seeing Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Assi Dayan take to the stage.  A legendary Israeli actor and director, he has been plagued by negative press throughout his career for drug abuse, mental instability and domestic violence.  But he is talented.  And his peers gave him a standing ovation.

Heart wrenching, on the other hand, was witnessing producer Uri Segev’s widow and two young children take to the stage to receive an honorary award in his name.  46-year-old Segev died last year of heart complications during the wrap of  Lebanon. The audience, on their feet again, applauded warmly as his wife and children stood at the podium. And there was neery a dry eye in the house as his wife thanked the film academy with broken voice and his 8-year-old daugher sobbed quietly beside her.

A final note to self:  MUST SEE A Matter of Size – a film about a diet club support group that decides to start up their own Sumo Wrestling team.  It looks poignant, funny and visually beautiful.  And Best Actress recipient Irit Kaplan made a distinct impression upon the uber looks-conscious crowd by advising in her acceptance speech that we all go beyond exteriors and start digging deeper to the core where it really counts.

Lacking pretense, indeed.

 

Matthew the Bully July 24, 2009

In the car driving home from summer camp this week. . .  

Mom, there’s this kid at camp.  His name is Matthew.  And …well…last week my friend Kenny made a joke about Matthew and I laughed.

Now Matthew says that because I laughed I have to pay him two dollars.

Pay him two dollars or what?  What is Matthew **f**k** going to do? I muttered under my breath, gripping the steering wheel tightly.

What mom?  What did you say?

What did Matthew say would happen if you don’t pay him? I asked, all sweetness and light.

He’ll hit me.

He’ll hit who? I internally raged.  We’ll see who’s going to get hit.  Threatening MY BOY??  Uh uh.  No.

Sweetheart, I reassured, You don’t owe him anything and you didn’t do anything wrong.  Laughing isn’t a crime. What do you want me to do?

Could you talk to Matthew or to the camp counselor? he asked.

Sure doll.  And don’t worry about it.  It’ll be okay.

I later consulted with a level-headed male friend who confirmed that  since my son doesn’t live here or see Matthew on a regular basis i.e. he doesn’t present an ongoing threat, it would be best to bypass the bully – unless I want to add legal implications to my troubles – and consult with a camp counselor.

So I heeded his advice.  And so far, all is quiet on the Matthew Front.



 

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!

 

To Gaza with Love January 15, 2009

My 7-year-old’s school is taking up a care package collection for Israeli soldiers serving in Gaza.

This business of organizing little gifties with little notes for military personnel serving in a conflict an hour & a half’s drive from my Tel Aviv home is a new experience for me.    gazasoldiers1

Because during my growing up years, the closest I ever came to participating in organized support for a cause was when our private school bussed the lot of us downtown to Cincinnati’s Fountain Square where we sat on the frigid cobblestone in mid-winter listening to speakers calling for the Soviet Union to Let the Refuseniks Go!

So when I consulted with my son about the care package – What do you want to include?  Maybe a few marbles?  Some chocolate bars?  That cool leather bracelet you got as a gift that you never wear? and told him that per the teacher’s suggestion we should add a personal note from him, he asked me a rather interesting question.  One, in my opinion, that I failed to answer adequately.

When the current Gaza incursion began nearly three weeks ago, my son and I were staying with friends in northern Israel for the weekend.  About midday we heard a stream of jets flying overhead.  For those in the know,  there is no mistaking the sound of fighter jets.  And being the Jewish Sabbath and all – a day Israel’s army doesn’t train –  it was clear “something was going down.”

Could the Gaza Operation be starting already? I asked our hosts.  The Israeli government had made it clear there would be an incursion but they had also said it would take place sometime after Sunday’s Cabinet session. Ha ha.  Part of the plan.  Surprise attack!

I try to keep my son away from regional news or gory details I don’t think he necessarily needs to know.  But as we ventured out for lunch a half hour later, he asked what was going on as my friends and I pointed overhead at yet another band of departing fighter planes.  That’s the Israeli army & they’re going down to a place called Gaza, I explained.

He wanted to know the distance from us to Gaza, why soldiers would be going there and whether or not we were safe.  I briefed him in the briefest manner possible.

But when we returned to the cozy warmth of our friends’ home, while channel surfing to find Cartoon Network I glimpsed the first Gaza aftermath images on Sky. The journalist in me couldn’t help but pause to take in scenes of wounded Palestinians rushing to Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital Emergency Room.

My son demanded an explanation.  Remember the planes we saw?  These are the people in Gaza who were hurt when the planes bombed there…and I quickly got off the channel and the subject.

And I didn’t bring it up again.

So when I asked him about the care package, he asked me:  But mom, shouldn’t we be sending it to the people in Gaza?

And well…hmmm?  So I explained why the soldiers were in Gaza and told him about the militants sending rockets to Israel.

And he said that wasn’t right either.

And then he threw up his hands and said he didn’t want to send anything to anyone.

And I totally understood.

 

War Cover Fatigue January 11, 2009

war_journalistIn my most recent post I wrote about returning to work in the television news industry during the current Gaza conflict.

The war itself, the toll to both sides, the ongoing strife,  the shite suffered by children being robbed of their childhoods – and lives – sucks.

Getting back into the industry and my roots, however,  has been a good experience.  And I’m almost ashamed to admit that because  it’s probably not okay to like what I do.  I love what I do, in fact.  But it comes with a price:  internal conflict hard stories evoke between the humane and professional parts of myself.

What I mean is that in the weird world of the press, journalists are often privy to information and images that dub us lucky in the eyes of those outside the business.  We get to see pictures we don’t put out.  Often because they’re too gruesome. We get information before everyone else and sometimes we have to sit on news until it clears censorship – or a next of kin is informed of a death.  That’s not lucky.

But in some cases – like when meeting and interviewing John Lasseter, or gawking Darth Vader‘s original  light sabre and then lunching with colleagues at “The Ranch”– we truly are privileged.

When the images are hard core, the story is war and the information you’re getting ahead of the games is, say, the knowledge that a friend’s son has been killed in a firefight and the friend is phoning to find out if you know anything, it’s tough.  But really tough.

I personally go into rote mode.  I do my job, cover what I need to cover and keep my opinions and feelings in check.  But they occasionally go splashing overboard after returning home and processing what I’ve been doing and seeing.

Loads of journalists drink heavily.

As I get back into the rhythm of cover, I’m discovering industry changes.  Modern day journo’s multi-task to meet print, radio and television story demands or work desk, field and camera positions.  No pigeon-holing.  They work long hours under not-always-pleasant conditions aided by technical changes that have come to the fore with the advent of digital technology: open fiber optic links, camera to computer broadcast-quality image transfer, not just for techies  easy-to-operate live studios and radio booths.

And gone are the days of cowboy  “Just find the Rebel Forces and go in With Them!” heroics. As insurance rates soar and the face of war moves to urban centers, field producers, crews and correspondents undergo hostile environment training before heading to the field and networks employ security experts:  former special task force or elite ex-military personnel who scout conflict locales for safety and potential danger before allowing journos to go in.

Last night one of the correspondents admitted: “I feel really guilty.  I went back to the hotel at midnight yesterday and slept 6 hours.”

Until that point, she’d been averaging 18-21-hour days on this story.

Slacker.

 

Obama in the HOUSSSSSSEEEE!!! November 5, 2008

It’s funny to wake up in Tel Aviv and suddenly rush to turn on the presidential victory speech and realize that the fact that it’s happening has dawned because you’re hearing the speech in stereo throughout the neighborhood.  In Israel.

Yup, we watched the elections closely on this end.  Of course we would.  High stakes, vested interests, etc..

And this morning, as I penned an election related piece for a U.S. based website, I traipsed through the blogosphere to find out what my neighbors in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iraq are saying about Obama.

The consensus is a collective sigh of relief.  Duh.  George W. isn’t liked in most of these parts  – except for in pockets of the part I live in and in the wealthier oil industry associated countries.

One Iraqi blogger, aptly titled neurotic Iraqi wife wrote of Obama as a savior.  She colorfully described anticipation of new chances & renewed hope while thanking Allah for the Bush exit saying he essentially trashed her country.

A Palestinian blogger despaired.  Who cares anyway? he wrote.  All regimes are the same.

Many mentioned the historic significance of Obama being elected to the White House.  A man of color.

My personal fave?

From Saudi Jeans:

Barack Obama is the 44th president of the United States. Congrats to Abu Hussein