Thursday, December 6, 2012

Holiday season and Election season

It's my favorite day of the week, shabbat shalom! Also equally exciting, we're back on track for holiday season in Israel, Hannukkah begins on Saturday night.

It's been a weird couple of weeks. I've been busy, but not in the same sense that I was before or during the war week in November. The election season in Israel has started and my favorite story is the birth of "The Tzipi Livni party." Tzipi Livni is an interesting politician to me. She is a woman who I find has a strong presence. She is most recently known for being the former head of the Labor party and won the majority vote in the last elections. Livni would have been the Prime Minister but in a story reminiscent of the US elections of 2004, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyhu was able to form a majority coalition within the government and he became Prime Minister, creating a "center-right" government.

When I was first starting to read Israeli news I would see Livni's picture and read her soundbites interjected on popular issues within Israeli news reports. I wasn't sure who she was or what she stood for but she always managed to stand out. In the beginning of 2012 she announced she was resigning from politics. I remember reading the story and thinking it was a shame, there shouldn't be even one less woman in anything, especially politics. Within the last couple weeks she had been teaming up with former prime minister Ehud Olmert and the rumor mill was running on over time if the two would form a party and run in the next elections.

I was in the breaking news room when Livni held her press conference to announce that she would indeed be returning to politics and with a new party of her own. She introduced her party as "The Movement," or "Hatanua" in hebrew. We immediately started making jokes in the newsroom. "If you can't join 'em, make your own party!" "The party is 'the movement,' I think it's more forward than the 'forward' party."

But what jokes we did make didn't stoop to bodily functions. This was unfortunate because apparently "the movement," for most Hebrew speakers, conjures up ideas of evacuated bowels. This apparently came to light to Livni and her staff because very shortly, maybe even 10-20 minutes after announcing, in a press conference, the name of "The Movement" party, it was then changed to "The Tzipi Livni party."

If ever there is a politician (and a woman) I admire, it's Tzipi Livni. I think she has balls. To have the audacity to come back into politics, make your own party and then name that party after yourself, that takes chutzpa.

I can't decide if Israelis view politics and politicians as much as a popularity contest as American's tend too. I believe Livni aims to be "center-left" in her politics, balanced but liberal. But I could be way off base and just put under a spell of a woman putting forth a strong presence and speaking out.

"Sorry, I'll pass"

That was the response I received from the op-ed editor of the New York Post. I had wrote a piece criticizing Fordham University President Father McShane for bullying the group College Republicans and leaving Fordham to look like idiots on Bill O'Reilly.

When I wrote the article, I was fired up over how stupid Fordham looked on TV. Its very easy, when you read and edit opinion pieces all day (as I do for the Jerusalem Post) that you believe you can really put forward a strong voice too.

After I wrote it, I didn't think it was too relevant for most news outlets, but I thought it could be used as a space filler somewhere, so I sent it to a couple places. I thought the response from the New York Post was the best (well the only one I received) because it so clearly cut to my soul. "Sorry, I'll pass." Might as well say, "Apologies Ms. Kelly, but you just wasted about 4 minutes and 32 seconds of my life that I will never get back, I don't seek to do that to anyone else. "

As if I had a roster of editors waiting on baited breath for my next ground breaking opinion piece. Nope, just wanted to throw my piece into the world and see if it landed anywhere.

So I will publish it here, and let all, maybe the 2 or 3 people who see this blog, see what can take up a full day of my life.

For Shame Father McShane


Fordham University’s President has given the school its most recent notoriety for all the wrong reasons.

I am proud to say I graduated from Fordham University in the Bronx, NY. But recently Fordham has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons and giving a poor example of its ideals and the quality of its students.

On Monday’s “O’Reilly factor,” on Fox News, my alma mater was the subject of the segment “Watters world,” by Jesse Watters. The controversy that was the topic of the report began in the start of November. The campus group College Republicans invited controversial conservative pundit Ann Coulter as a guest speaker. The invitation caused such an outrage among the student body and faculty that the College Republicans very quickly rescinded their invitation. But what made this more than just an issue of cowardice was that the opposition included the influence of the President of Fordham University, Father Joseph M. McShane. In a personal statement to the whole student body on November 9th, the president wrote, “To say that I am disappointed with the judgment and maturity of the College Republicans, however, would be a tremendous understatement.”

With those words, the President acknowledged his influence and value placed on his opinion. In an email sent to the whole student body, generally uninformed students suddenly had fodder for an opinion, but little information to back it up.

The “Watters world” video package showed an embarrassing picture of young students’ naiveté and ignorance on campus. Interspersed with “Honeymooners” spoofs and cricket noises when students couldn’t answer questions, the video package was a farce. “I read something on her opinions after 9/11 and I didn’t like them,” said one bubbly, blonde, tanned female student. Watters asked what Coulter had said after 9/11. “I don’t specifically remember,” the young girl replied. Watters then spoke to one student who was able to offer informed insight on his reasons for being against the Ann Coulter appearance. “I would not have wanted her to be prevented,” the student said. “I would rather her allowed, and myself allowed to protest the event.” Watters raised the issue of the University’s decision to invite Peter Singer, “a man with extreme views who agrees with infanticide and bestiality.” Watters asked if the young student went to protest Singer’s appearance. “No I didn’t,” he said. “I had class at that time.”

But the absurdness of the video speaks to the absurdness of the situation. The College Republicans were bullied into rescinding their invitation. The statement by Father McShane was meant to make a call to arms. “The College Republicans have unwittingly provided Fordham with a test of its character,” he wrote. “The old saw goes that the answer to bad speech is more speech. This is especially true at a university, and I fully expect our students, faculty, alumni, parents, and staff to voice their opposition, civilly and respectfully, and forcefully.”

Most students do realize that when they agree to attend a private Catholic University constitutional rights such as freedom of speech aren’t absolute. Instead of addressing the issue that Fordham actually does have a say in opinions which they offer a platform too, Father McShane abused his power and influence under the guise of free speech. He invoked the Catholic traditions of good vs. evil and gave uninformed students the ammo to take a stand on issues they know nothing about. “Half the people don’t even know why they don’t like Ann Coulture,” Watters said.

Watters said the University wouldn’t give him anyone to speak to and had to flag down an “innocent assistant dean” that wasn’t involved in the decision making process of inviting speakers to the University. The bottom line, as said by O’Reilly, is that this is embarrassing for a respectable school.

It is embarrassing. Father McShane abused his popularity to attack a decision made by a bunch of kids who appeared to be as uniformed as to the reasons they invited Coulter as the ones who opposed her. In a statement explaining why the College Republicans rescinded Coulter’s invitation they wrote, “We regret that we failed to thoroughly research her…that is our error and we do not excuse ourselves for it.”

The “Watters world” segment was a ridiculously produced news segment as was the issue it was sent to cover. However, it is Fordham’s shame too that it brought itself low enough to be made fun of in this way.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Ready for shabbat

I hope the ceasefire holds. If I’m feeling I need quiet, I really can’t comprehend how necessary it is for the rest of the country. All I know is that for me, each day that has passed seems like a lifetime ago. Wednesday afternoon a bomb exploded. Wednesday evening I wrote a story about people sending letters and packages to the IDF and residents of the south. That night I went out drinking and dancing. The day before I went to a rally to support the IDF troops. Monday I went to visit a village for at-risk girls in Israel. 

On Sunday I was in Jerusalem at Mount Herzl, walking around the graves of fallen soldiers praying more won’t come. I was sitting in on lectures about the role of religion in a democratic state when the sirens went off in Tel Aviv. Hearing about it through the news and not being there, I felt I was abandoning Tel Aviv. I wanted to get back and put my arms around my city and give it a big hug. Riding the bus back, my chest tightened a little, what if another siren went off? How would we all get off the bus without being in a panic? Where would we go?

That was just five days. The first siren was last Thursday. Since then every day has been a balancing act between putting my reality into context for friends and family but trying to figure out how I feel about this reality. Today is Thanksgiving in America but I don’t feel it. I need Shabbat. I need the excuse to say that I can’t do any work. I am really not allowed to participate in work. No reading facebook, no reading the news, no internet, no phone. I need Shabbat so I have an excuse to tell the world to leave me alone and have it be ok.

Sunset on Shabbat in Tel Aviv

For 10 months now I post “Shabbat Shalom” to my Birthright Israel facebook page every Friday. When I first started doing it in February, we had just gotten back from our trip and I was riding on an incredible high. On one particular “high” day I wrote that I would never stop wishing Shabbat Shalom. I forgot maybe once or twice and my friends called me out. I started getting a little self-conscious about my posting because I am usually very critical of annoying people on facebook, but I kept it up. A friend told me she really enjoyed seeing me post it every friday and whether she meant it or not, it made me feel like I was doing something good.

For some reason Shabbat has a hold over me. It’s different than just TGIF and happy for the weekend. Living in a city, everything is always so hectic. But when Shabbat comes everything shuts down. It’s not complete quiet, but the distractions of shops, cafe’s and most cars are removed. Everything slows down, forcing you to relax. It seems counterintuitive, “forced to relax,” but sometimes you need a reminder to stop and breath.

A vision like this makes me love Tel Aviv more every day.

Rally in Kikar Rabin Tuesday night.

"We are all with the South, support the IDF"

Iron Dome graffiti in Tel Aviv - the Kipat Barzel protects us all.

Opening of the Beit Ruth village for at-risk girls in Afula, Israel on Monday during the heigh of the rocket attacks in the South.

The ribbon cutting ceremony, the staff celebrates the newly opened center.

Internationals gather to make packages to send to the IDF and children affected by rocket fire in the South of Israel.

Writing letters of love and support to the soldiers.
Coloring chamsa's for peace and safety.

Friday, November 2, 2012

I am not my MASA program

It’s four a.m. and I’m sitting on the curb outside the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv. It’s not the safest place to be waiting for a sherut (shared taxi) to start running so I can finally get home. “Coma dakot?” I ask in the general direction of an Israeli who looks like he might have some sort of authority on where and when the sherut’s operate. “Coma dakot!” He shoots back.

I’m confused because I asked, “how many minutes,” and it sounds like he made my question an answer and I should just accept it. I look over at the metered taxis, I already failed negotiating a price from 40 sheckles to 20, so I continue to sit stubbornly. An African man speed-walks past me, what does he have to be anxious about? The Central Bus Station is his territory.

Exhausted, frustrated, a bit defeated, I need to reflect on why I put myself in this situation; and why I continue to seek out potentially dangerous, ill-planned, mostly solitary adventures. Hours earlier, I was in a pressure cooker of excited, frenetic, Jewish Zionist enthusiasm. I was shuttled from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem with 80 other participants of my paid-for, all inclusive, five-month program in Israel. All of us had paid a decent chunk of change to pretend to feel like real people on this program, living and working in Israel, but with the comfort of an organized group. It is the opportunity to assimilate into Israeli society without the full commitment of making Aliyah or without the stress of finding work. Going about my everyday business in this country, I really started to feel like I was fitting in. But a shadow continued to follow me. It's the shadow that says “You fell right into their hands, build the Jewish state, you are doing exactly what they want.”

I had kept the shadow behind me these past couple of weeks, shopping, working, seeing friends, I was starting to feel like I fit in. But walking into the MASA opening festival, all my insecurities of being an American Jew in Israel were thrown back in my face. I was confronted with the reality of who I am and the stereotypes I fulfill. I am the drunk teenager, exploring and testing my limits, feeling untouchable. I am the easily impressed American, swooning at the sight of an IDF soldier. I am the desire to come to Israel to be closer to Judaism, a sense of solidarity among Kippas and religious songs. These things are part of me, I just didn’t want them to define me. Even worse, to watch them reflected back to me in a hot mess of MTV styled video testimonials. A reworked pop-musical performance to mention Israel, Zion and Jews complete with backup dancers and a smoke machine.

I was overwhelmed. I needed to reassert my independence. I needed to show that I am not a blind follower. All I kept picturing was a situation-style room with a round table of rich Jewish American’s plotting how best to grab hold of the minds of the youth. “Let’s make Judaism and Israel the hottest club to get into. Strobe lights, house music, dancing. The only stipulation to the bouncer at the door, they have to be Jewish, everyone else gets turned away.” I never was one for the club scene.

Eleven p.m. Jerusalem. Shuk party. When do you ever really hear those words? Walking through the Shuk at night is like being in an empty theater. The vibrations and energy of the day can still be felt in the discarded cardboard crates littering the floor, or the bruised pears too far gone to sell, too much effort to throw away. It's the feeling of being able to be behind the scenes, that the sets are an illusion, and the actors are stripped down of their makeup and wardrobe. I wanted to get back to the real Israel, not the Zionist reality TV show I felt was my life. The bar we went to stood on its own in the empty alley. We sat on milk crates with cushions. I ordered a small stout beer and the DJ played indie tunes from 2004. As far deep as I had traveled into Jerusalem-hipsterdom, the conversational circle I inevitably found myself in was like-minded American Zionist Jews. The boy-girl couple next to me was studying at the Yeshiva. She had been here for four months and hailed from Seattle. Minnesota was home to the boy, go Vikings. Across from us, a young beautiful girl sat, she had converted and just made Aliyah. Sitting next to her was her friend from Taglit. Coming to join in on our circle, a young man, who resembled a 90’s heroin addict with a confusing neo-nazi haircut sat down and started rolling a cigarette. He may have been drunk, also overly excited, he had just come from the same event as me and was totally jazzed on the music and feeling of Jewish connectivity. He was also on a long term program, working on a farm not too far outside Jerusalem.

The image of the people before me wasn't me, but the familiarity of why we are all here was still present. It’s the reality of being an American Jew in Israel. The decision to come to Israel is a conscious one, laden with subconscious desires. I can’t deny that birthright shook me and awoke a desire to explore myself and people like me more. I also can’t deny I fit within this stereotype of impressionable, excited Americans. It's a stereotype because it contains a nugget of truth.

At 2:30 am I sat in a sherut waiting with three other people, they were two Israelis and an Asian girl. We were waiting because a group of young, drunk Americans were trying to decide if they could handle splitting their group up to go on the sherut back to Tel Aviv. They were loud, they were indecisive, and they were interjecting American-accented Hebrew in their English. The Asian girl leaned into her Israeli boyfriend and complained as to why we all have to speak in English even though we’re in Israel, as she said this in English. I leaned over and asked “What language do you want to speak in?”

“Any other language,” she continued to whine.

I was losing patience with her. The kids outside the sherut continued to argue amongst themselves, their speech drunkenly slurred. Even though these kids represented everything in the night that I wanted to distance myself as far away from, I knew that I was part of them. We are loud, we are annoying, we travel in packs. But we are here to explore the Zionist and Jewish dream, and want to have fun doing it at the same time. I can critique, judge and second guess myself, but I’ll never apologize to anyone for being me.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Published writer

When you write for anyone, edits have to be made. A high percentage of the time they are necessary and as much as the anecdotes add color and humor to the story, I understand that they take up space and are just not relevant to the overall message. I was very excited to have my review of the Jesus & Mary Chain published on the Jerusalem Post's website. I got some really great feedback of people who liked my article (thanks family!). But reading it over I also wanted to give people more of a sense of what the concert was like. Here below I give the un-edited review.

Punk at the Barby, 2012

By: Laura Kelly

The Jesus and Mary Chain performed the first of a two night special at Tel Aviv’s “Barby” venue on Thursday night. At the edge of Tel Aviv’s hipster neighborhood Florentine, The Barby is one of the most famous venues in the city.

The Scottish band, whose only two consistent members are brothers Jim and William Reid, were part of the pop-punk movement of the 1980’s. Their appeal stemmed from catchy melodies layered over by strong guitar and percussion, aided by disenchanted vocals, both in style and lyrics. The formula fit their image as “youth’s in revolt” and reflected the times. American teens were rebelling against Yuppie greed and coming of age in the United Kingdom meant needing to be anti-establishment.

Sitting, wishing, waiting for the show to start.

The setlist.

Bass guitarist and Jim Reid, lead singer.

Jim Reid and Ninet Tayeb.
Fast-forward 30 years, Tel Aviv, 2012. I had my preconceptions on the way to the concert. I didn’t think 50-year-old men could connect with a sound and a style that was characterized solely by being young and disenchanted with the state of the world. The brothers took to the stage with close-cropped hair, William a head of gray, Jim, more of a salt and pepper. Both wore worn out sneakers, ill-fitting jeans, plain t-shirts and blazers. Blazers! Were they intending to make a good impression on this rag-tag gang of hooligans in the audience? They came on stage, sans opening act, to a raucous applause. This was curious considering 30 minutes earlier they had walked straight through the general admission area to neither a head-turn nor second glance. They opened with Snakedriver and continued into one of their most popular hits, Head on. The sound was great, Jim’s vocals continued with the same world-weariness he possessed at 20. William’s guitar emanated the noise the band was famous for; it pounded your ears and reverberated through your skin.  While the band harkened back to their classic sound, the audience was more surreal, an eclectic mix of old and young. Middle-aged rockers stretched their limbs and cracked their backs; they stuck to the edges while a mosh pit was convened by sweaty, smelly, twenty-something’s. Many a concertgoer then expressed blatant frustration at being run into by a half naked, epileptic mosher. The band looked out at the ground with the same blasé attitude I could only imagine they employed during the height of their career. Occasionally during breaks in the music Jim would try to banter with the audience. He would mumble something in his heavy Scottish brogue and a heckler in the audience would retort, “We can’t understand a word your saying!” With a careless shrug the band launched into the rest of their set. They finished out the first part with Happy when it rains, Halfway to crazy and finally Reverence before exiting the stage. It almost felt like a caricature of a punk-concert.  The general sentiment could be seen in the one pathetic attempt to crowd surf. One man, with one shoe, climbed atop his friends, launched himself onto the stage, only to be pushed off by security. After this, the crowd respectfully stood their ground and cheered waiting for the encore.

Mere minutes later, the band came back on. Despite the run-of-the-mill performance the entire first set had been, the encore was a special treat. Maybe at the realization that there’s only so much excitement five middle-aged musicians can muster, help was enlisted through one raven haired, Israeli beauty.  Ninet Tayeb, also known as Israel’s first reality TV pop-idol, took to the stage to accompany the band on 99 rainy days. The addition of a beautiful young woman brought out the best in the Jim Reid. Tayeb’s soulful, raspy vocals complimented Reid’s dark and ominous melancholy. The two continued with Just like honey before Ninet took a bow, embraced Reid, and gracefully departed from the stage.

To what end do members of a band this age still need to be playing the music they made in there twenties? As clearly seen by the dedicated fans that came out, it doesn’t matter the time or the place, it’s the feeling and memories the music elicits that makes it worthwhile. I spent most of the concert with a pair of sisters, both in there forties. They told me they had been fans of the band from the beginning, a thirty-year courtship. I told a friend of mine I was going to the concert and she reminisced about how she first downloaded their songs on Napster. While at the concert, I couldn’t resist jumping straight into the mosh-pit myself. It reminded me of going to rock concerts when I was 14 at Christian youth groups in my small town of Long Island, NY. Whether the Jesus and Mary Chain are just trying to squeeze out the last bit of success they can, or they truly are happy to be back on stage, everyone at the Barby was happy to have them there. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Eating cheap and healthy

One of my favorite things about living alone is having the fridge all to myself.

That's all me in there. If I was on an episode of "Cribs" I think it would go something like this:

"I gots the fresh fruit, you know you gots to have the fresh fruit. Plums, bananas, cherry tomatoes, and Figs. Figs man, those things are bomb! Let's see, I got some vegetables, dem be good. Cottage cheese, I make it savory and sweet, got my coffee and milk, can't do nuttin without my coffee, and Tahini - just put it on everything!"

Not to take away from Tel Aviv's culinary scene, I mean my previous post was all about my near orgasmic experience eating out really yummy dinner. But most of the time, it's hard for me to reconcile going to a restaurant and buying a salad when I know everything I want is in my own fridge. I've developed a minimalist "cooking" style, the quotations are necessary in that I rarely cook and just throw together my favorite flavors, with little to no dressings or spices, just letting the food taste as it should. I do this more out of laziness and ineptitude in the kitchen, but it makes me happy.

My breakfast of champions.
To confirm how lazy and cheap I am, I use the program issued, one of two glass mugs as my bowl for my morning oatmeal. I splurged on a cutting board and a knife that is sharper than a butter knife, but I still fear for my fingers every time I chop. Most mornings I make a cup of quick oats with my handy dandy kettle, half a banana, a fig, and some apple. Fig has become one of my new favorite fruits here - a little dangerous as well since it's more than likely to have more creepy crawlers than a normal fruit haul.

Now that I'm a pseudo-workin girl, just that I actually have to leave the place I live for most of the day, my lunches have turned into random concoctions. Yesterday I had rice cakes with cottage cheese, a plum, a carrot, and cherry tomatoes. Today I had all of that, plus someone brought in a huge thing of curry lentil soup that was absolutely amazing.

A good mix of an Israeli dinner.
Dinner is my new jam. Tonight I had a cup of chamomile tea, I was in the unwinding mood. A typical salad here is aptly titled, Israeli salad. It consists of chopped up tomatoes and cucumbers and is dressed with oil, lemon, salt and pepper. My version, I add more fig (of course!), carrots, mushrooms, avocado and a hard boiled egg. I then squeeze fresh lemon for the dressing. As my guilty pleasure I have hummus on the side. A popular way to eat hummus at restaurants is serving it with a hard boiled egg and slices of onion to use for scooping. I figure if this is what they are going to serve me for 20 sheckles, I can make it myself as well. As you can see I gave myself a healthy scoop of hummus and just went ahead and put it on top of the egg. My favorite ways to eat are just simple tastes, fresh and wholesome. 

Now don't go thinking I'm some health food, all organic nut. It's by eating like this to save money, that I'll leave the really good, additive filled, oil drenched, delicious concoctions for when I crave it. For this I'll go to the experts. One of my missions is to find the best (and biggest!) pizza in Tel Aviv.