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… 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…..!


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.



Going Global August 16, 2009

A few years ago when I was living in San Francisco, I shared an ongoing dilemma with an Israeli friend:

I feel torn between being here and living in Israel,” I told her.  “I don’t know where I should be.”

“Why do you have to decide?” she posed.  “Of course you choose a main locale for residence but as far as I’m concerned, the more comfortable you become inside your own skin the more comfortable you become wherever you are once you’ve lived in different places.  And that’s a great place to be.  You become a citizen of the world and you can find happiness wherever you go.

At the time, I couldn’t wrap my head around that concept.  I felt I should make a decision and declare my loyalty on some level to one place or the other.  No in-between nonsense would do. And the concept of “global citizen” or feeling a sort of neutral happiness wherever I might be was way beyond my comprehension.

But, by jobe, I believe I finally got it.

For numerous reasons I won’t go into here & now, I returned to Israel four years ago after a decade hiatus in San Fran.  Since returning, however, each summer I travel with my son to Cincinnati so he (and I) can maintain ties with my family & he can retain his command of the English language and gain exposure to American culture.

My parents and two of my sibs live in “Nati” &  it’s where I grew up.  But when I left there after college – which included a 2-year overseas stint at Tel Aviv University –  I vowed never to return.  Bloody god forsaken conservative place that indicted its own Contemporary Arts Center for running the Mappelthorpe Exhibit (!) was how I viewed matters.  Not for me. Gateway to the North, indeed.  There would be no containing me THERE, thanks.  I longed for the enchanted promise of Seuss’ Oh The Places You’ll Go.

But here I am, years later, turned completely around & feeling the warm glow of “global.”

This summer my son and I spent time in Cincinnati, took a side trip out to San Francisco and now we’re back in Tel Aviv.  And I can honestly say that in each place I found home.  Home in cultural events that included Opera and a World Piano Competition in Cincinnati, the MOMA in San Fran and upon returning to Tel Aviv, a visit to my local gallery to check out the latest exhibit.

I found home in culinary delights in Cincinnati’s trend spots: Bootsy’s for tapas,  Teller’s for rasberry vinaigrette over greens and goat cheese, my mom’s for home-cooked Indonesian chicken and a dear friend’s for backyard grilled Talapia wrapped in lettuce leaves.

I relaxed back into San Francisco food comfort with frighteningly potent margaritas served up at Puerto Alegre & generous, steaming bowls of traditional Vietnamese Pho.  And upon returning to Holy Land Central (aka Israel) I hit the supermarket on a Friday at 2 p.m. – total cold-water immersion into THIS local food culture.

Home, everywhere, is about the people.  I spent neery an idle moment in Cincy thanks to FB and reconnecting with old friends and loved ones who indulged me with tennis,  poolside lounging, movie outings, dinners, drinks and loads of engaging conversation.   Being back “Home” was an absolute treat and there are, by gosh and golly, wide swaths of WILD in Cincy.

In San Fran, I reconnected with my other sib and visited with friends and local merchants I hadn’t seen in years.  Particularly pleasant was sharing a vacation apartment in the city with friends who had flown in from Australia, Manhattan, Berlin and Serbia to be together. My son benefitted from reconnecting with children from his infant and toddler days.

Back in Tel Aviv less than a week, we’ve received separate invites to go snorkeling, camping, to overnight in the country and spend a weekend at a “mango tree resort”.  I am absolutely blessed.  No doubt about it.

I ran into that old Israeli friend last year.  She’s back in Tel Aviv and super busy with two young children and studies.  But she still has that positive outlook and cheerful disposition.  And she still maintains her status as a global citizen.

I believe I’ve joined her ranks.  Fine by me because feeling at home wherever I might be is a wonderful place to be.  But it’s also painful.  Leaving loved ones and engaging aspects of each culture behind isn’t easy.  But I’ll take it.  Because “living globally” far outweighs the absurd compulsion of having to declare loyalty or choose.


Israel Poppy Fields April 4, 2009

Spring Hath Sprung which means road trips are in order.

Today’s Jaunt:  Kibbutz Kfar Menahem to view breathtaking poppy fields, gaze at cows and stroke their calves’ noses and lunch with dear friends.

Ahh…Ain’t nature Purty?




America-nomics July 10, 2008

My friend Liza returned to Israel from a U.S. visit this Spring talking about rising gas prices and Americans feeling the crunch.

Gas stations that can’t compete are going out of business. Lines of drivers wait to fill up at stations offering a few cents off the rate the guy a block away puts up.

One time we saw a bunch of cars making U-Turns into a station where the price was remarkably lower than the going rate. We followed because who doesn’t want in on a good deal? It was a real life “too good to be true” scenario: The station was shut down but the owners hadn’t covered the pumps or taken down the last posted price.

Visiting my parents in rural Cincinnati this summer, I am coming face to face with Liza’s description. It’s one thing to read about record high $145 per barrel oil prices and quite another to see the effects.

I could reason that my mother’s precautionary strategizing – “You’ll need to plan out what you do and where you go while you’re here; gas is expensive” – is tied to her fixed budget status.

But she’s been a retiree for several years. This is the first summer she has prodded for mindfulness over the odometer reading or fuel tank fill-ups.

And it’s not just my mom. I asked my brother Josh for his Infiniti keys so I could make a dash to the local produce farm 10 miles down the road. He handed me the keys to his girlfriend’s Honda Accord instead. “Take the other one,” he offered. “Mine inhales gas.”

My sister, prior to offering up her compact model SUV for an outing, queried: “How far away is your meeting?”

I filled the tank of my mother’s Toyota yesterday. Kroger’s post-July 4th basement bargain rate of $3.86 per gallon put me out by $50 for the tank, already a quarter full before I started pumping. Last summer’s tank fill-up ran at about $35.

Prices are relative, of course. Where I come from, petrol rings in at an alarming three times the going rate in Ohio. Green-promoting, Jerusalem-based Benchmark Capital partner Michael Eisenberg takes Israel’s government to task for not rising to the occasion.

I filled up my tank the other day on my Volvo S40. Over 400 NIS. With the weakening dollar that is about $120! Gasoline here is now $8.50 per gallon . . .and is showing no signs of stopping.

With that as a backdrop, Prime Minister Olmert’s decision to stop building the high speed rail link between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv (link in Hebrew) is worse than bewildering. It is downright dangerous.

Given the neighborhood we live in, we should be doing everything possible to reduce oil dependency in Israel.

Maybe the PM’s busy with Iran’s testing. But hang on to your rail passes because if per-barrel prices really do end up rising from the current $137 to $170 by summer’s end as forecast by OPEC president Chakib Khelil last week, it’s going to get tighter still.

Israelis may be price-gouged but they haven’t yet been hit with the doldrums of job slumping, property foreclosing recession.

Which is also in your face here in middle America.

“For Sale” signs rusty from over-exposure pepper front lawns, the local evening news routinely carries stories of families in despair and Oprah is hosting guests lamenting their loss of fortune during the current economic downturn.

Americans are all sticking closer to home these days – air travel’s down and Amtrak Rails is setting records for the first time in years.

During chance meetings last week, three different people voiced deep concern over job safety and finances.

Some days I want to scream at the salaried employees: ‘FOR GOD’S SAKE YOU GET A PAYCHECK. SHUT UP AND SAY THANK YOU!'”, Sales rep Barb** told me, worry lines furrowing her brow. It was evening but she had forgotten to remove the first financial bank pin from her blouse. “I didn’t take a salary this month. And I don’t know what’s gonna happen next month. But I guess I should be thankful for not having a mortgage I can’t pay. I’m scared.

And there was George, a middle management plastics industry professional who told me all he wants is to retire with his company. But recent cuts are rattling his nerves. There’s no job security, even with twenty years’ seniority.

Frightening stuff when viewed up close.

And if, after all the proof I still doubted America’s tough times, the niggling was quelled last week when I heard NPR’s report that Starbuck‘s is planning to shut down 600 stores.

Ach, who wants to waste the gas driving there anyhow?