Stefanella's Drive Thru

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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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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. . .

 

The Birthday Bailout November 25, 2009

Last week myself and another set of parents co-hosted our sons’ 2nd grade birthday party .  It was an ordeal.  To say the least.  The hoopla was originally scheduled to happen at a local museum but due to logistics, the venue tanked.  So the other parents and I scrambled at the last minute to find a back up: the local bowling alley.

As the date approached, my son fell ill with fever as did his co-host.  We held off, hoping for health and instead, three hours pre-celebration we postponed.  Thank goodness for SMS, email and cellphone technology.    It all makes last  minute change tenable.

We re-grouped and re-scheduled for the following week and luck was to be on our side:  The celebration happened as planned.  But not without incident.

Let’s just say that when you invite 35 kids – thirty-bleedin’-five – there’s bound to be a “hiccup” or two.

And so, the post-party day after was devoted to ME-chill out-time.  I needed it.  To regain my voice – lost as I attempted to out-shout the background music (score! on Lady Gaga), video arcade din and general bedlam.  I also needed to relax after the tension of all that last minute hiccup stuff.

While chilling at home, I emailed my dear friend Keith with a party re-cap. I had to share it with someone.  His reply: “I laughed out loud.  Then I read it again and laughed again!” – prompted me to share it here.

It’s post-birthday party chill day.  My friend D just showed up impromptu and we went to a French brasserie for coffee/food together.  I also briefly met with a graphic designer for a project.  Otherwise, NADA else on the schedule.

The party was slightly hectic – 35 kids.  And honey, let’s just say these littl’uns  DID NOT grow up playing in the local league.  They was throwin’ the ball backwards into the spectator area, bouncing it from lane to lane, rollin’ it down the center panel between lanes. . .EVERYTHANG!

I was certain someone would get killed or lose a foot.

And of course, the “active” kids are the ones whose parents dropped them curbside and screeched away out of sight, leaving only tread marks in their stead.  Bless their little hyped up souls.  I went hoarse coaxing them NOT to throw balls the wrong way, drop balls on other kids’ toes, roll balls  down the lane while the machine was wracking or take them to the toilet á la “this is mine!”…It was a job.

And let’s not forget the crying:  One inconsolable who arrived as dinner was starting and missed the gaming, another who sobbed that his lane-mates were robbing him of his turn and another who DID NOT want to bowl – he had come for the video arcade!

But it was fun and my son had a really good time as did the other kids.  And he got tons of gifts.  And truth be known, it was the easiest party I’ve ever put on in terms of personal involvement.  I merely had to buy party favors, email invites and shell out $$.  Not too tough.

But, as the co-host-mom said the on the phone when she rang to check in:  ‘It’s sort of like the Last Supper.  Good thing it happened because it was the last time.’

I would have to vote an ‘Amen, sister!’ to that.  Less is more & mass invite parties are passé.  Even if it was my first.

 

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.

 

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!

 

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

 

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.