On the Online Front: ‘Jerusalem behind the headlines’

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It looks like my next piece just got published. I think this Jerusalem Post Metro piece, titled “On the Online Front,” will be interesting for those interested in learning about Israel’s PR behind the scenes, both the good, bad, and complicated aspects of it. What is also unique about this piece is that the group, called Ambassadors Online, consists of a number of Arab students, which are usually underrepresented in such public diplomacy activities. Without further ado, here is the article (beyond the paywall). As always, let me know what you think.

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On the online front

A diverse group of University of Haifa students gains skills in new media and learns about ‘Jerusalem behind the headlines’ to represent Israel in the Internet age.
By LAURA ROSBROW
Haifa University students
Photo by: Ifat Segal

‘I’m an Israeli citizen, and many things are said about Israel that are not true. I want to show a true picture of Israel. It’s not all protests.”

Ayat Rahal does not fit the typical profile of a pro- Israeli hasbara, or public diplomacy, activist. She is a Muslim Beduin student at the University of Haifa from Rumat al-Heib in the Galilee. For her, participating in Ambassadors Online (Shagririm Bareshet), which trains students to represent Israel as unofficial ambassadors in the international arena, is crucial for promoting coexistence. “As a Muslim, I think [doing hasbara] is important for coexistence. People don’t understand that we live together, we study together, and do everything together. I want to show what life is really like here.”

Rahal, several Druse participants, a Polish exchange student, a Jewish new immigrant from Venezuela and 25 Jewish Israelis make up Ambassadors Online’s second cohort. The students were chosen from over 60 applicants, with more applicants in this round than the first group last year.

Ambassadors Online’s goal is to train students in new media skills, such as social media, blogging and filmmaking, so they can defend and represent Israel online. David Gurevich, a PhD candidate in the Department of Archeology at the University of Haifa and the program’s director, founded the program last year with Prof. Eli Avraham, a senior faculty member in the Department of Communications. The project is co-sponsored by the university, its student union and the ISEF Foundation. Although the cohort was supposed to begin in the fall semester, it was delayed to the spring semester because of a lack of funds.

Gurevich says the group’s diversity reflects the range of students that are passionate about representing Israel: “You can see that we have totally various populations here. What unites everyone is they feel connected to this country and want to stand for it.”

He also says that Ambassadors Online does not have a political orientation. “We’re saying, ‘Guys, you can be Left, you can be Right.’ The idea is we have a lot more in common here as Israelis, and that we can represent that common ground for the world.”

Several Jewish students wanted to participate because they feel Israel is misunderstood abroad. Maya Zaliuk- Sharabany says, “I wanted to be in this project because whenever I go abroad, it is hard for me to talk about Israel, to answer people’s questions. I’m glad to take a course that prepares me to do that.”

For Maya Beinin, the rationale behind Israel’s actions is obvious. But she does not think this understanding translates to foreign audiences. “Israel’s hasbara is really bad. The world doesn’t understand us.”

Perhaps Adam Asad, a master’s student in international relations who wants to become a diplomat, will improve Israeli hasbara in the future. Like Rahal, he also does hasbara in part to promote coexistence. “I really want to represent Israel from my point of view as Arab, as Druse, from Israel. I want to show the Israeli side. It’s not understood in the world that there are Arabs in Israel and they can represent Israel… I believe in coexistence.

I believe in interfaith dialogue inside and outside of Israel. That’s why I attended this program.”

To familiarize participants with the central issues that make up headlines about Israel, Gurevich leads a tour called “Jerusalem behind the headlines.” In the tour, the group visits controversial places in the Jerusalem area – such as the Temple Mount and Ma’aleh Adumim – as well as the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Gurevich hopes the tour shows “how complicated the situation is, and some information about the solutions so each one can go home and decide for himself.” This reporter had the privilege to join the tour.

On the two-and-a-half-hour bus ride from Haifa to Jerusalem, Gurevich lectures almost the entire time.

He covers many of the main aspects of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, providing facts that defend Israel or complicate one’s views towards solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

For most of the participants on the tour, it is their first time visiting the Temple Mount. Many smile, rush to take pictures of the golden dome and pose with friends as Gurevich guides.

Later in the tour, the group visits the intersection where Ma’aleh Adumim borders E1, a hotly contested territory adjacent to east Jerusalem. Although Gurevich says that E1 “does create a territorial sequence for Israel,” which some claim threatens the feasibility of a contiguous future Palestinian state, “that it prevents territorial continuity in the Palestinian state, that is just not true factually… What it does is prevent connecting east Jerusalem to that future Palestinian state… Right, not right, smart, not smart, that’s the situation. But it’s important to know the facts. The fact is that building in E1 does not prevent a two-state solution.”

Gurevich first statement that it is important to know “the facts,” and his further statement that building in E1 does not prevent a two-state solution illustrates part of the tour’s perspective.

The next stop is the Foreign Ministry, where officials present Israel’s hasbara strategy to Ambassadors Online. Ilana Stein, ministry vice spokeswoman, discusses hasbara’s “creative energy” strategy, which focuses on topics such as start-ups, the arts, and “cool” events taking place in Israel. The goal is for more people to engage with Israel through positive, non-political channels. She also encourages Ambassadors Online participants to write about fun experiences on social media sites so that peers can relate to Israel. Her motto for participants is, “Be truthful, authentic, say things that are fun.”

Although Stein’s advice is helpful, this reporter wanted to hear from the ministry about how it deals with the most difficult arguments against Israel.

When Eliya Rubinstein Benditovich, the ministry’s head of new media, is asked what the hardest question she ever found on the Internet was, she says, “The hardest questions are about delegitimization.

‘Why are you doing this?’ And it’s hard to answer because sometimes, yes, we’re doing this.” She then talks about what the office does during times of conflict.

This makes her reflect on Israel’s most recent operation, Pillar of Defense, which ended after a week of strikes between Gaza and Israel in November. “If the state had decided to continue with [the operation], our duty is to go along with it, to represent it.”

Therein lies hasbara’s greatest challenge: to make the case for all of Israel’s actions to audiences abroad.

Already, Ambassadors Online participants have organized a hasbara conference and created videos, blogs and pro-Israeli Facebook groups. Only time will tell if these students are up to the tough task of representing Israel. •

Cover of the Jerusalem Post Metro!

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The article I recently published about the mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood in Haifa made it to the cover of the Jerusalem Post Metro!

Metro Cover- Haifa's Florentin

In addition to the whole cover story thing, I took the photo on the cover, as well as the photos in the article itself. This is the first time in my professional life that I’ve gotten paid for photos, so that was a nice experience.

Haifa's Florentin Article

Thanks everyone for your interest in my work and your support. It means a lot.

Next week I have at least one, if not a few stories coming out. Stay tuned.

Profile of a mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood in Haifa

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I published a piece in The Jerusalem Post‘s Metro section about Masada street, the vibrant, bohemian center of Haifa’s Hadar neighborhood. The piece, titled “Haifa’s Florentin,” (which references a hip neighborhood called Florentin in Tel Aviv), profiles the neighborhood and describes some grassroots efforts being made here. It also examines what coexistence means for people living in this mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood.

Since the article is pay-walled, I have copied the article below. As always, let me know what you think.

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Haifa’s Florentin

While the municipality could do more to renovate the ill-kempt Hadar neighborhood – one of the country’s most diverse – grassroots efforts are being made to promote coexistence and encourage community activism.

By LAURA ROSBROW

Masada Street

Photos by Laura Rosbrow

 

Approaching Masada Street in Haifa, a small bakery kiosk with “Masada” written in orange and blue graffiti welcomes you. The kiosk offers the usual fare: burekas, chocolate and cheese baked goods, and of course, pita. But on a large plate next to the cashier, the bakery displays a food combination this reporter had never seen before in Israel: halla with za’atar.

This unusual fusion symbolizes a lot about Masada Street. It is one of the few places in the country where Jews and Arabs live side by side. This street is the bohemian heart of Hadar Hacarmel, which is one of the country’s most diverse neighborhoods: Jewish Israelis, Arab Israelis, Russian immigrants, students and foreigners all reside here.

Graffiti

 

Many of the street’s buildings are adorned with graffiti art reminiscent of Tel Aviv’s Florentin neighborhood, and a good number of store names are written in Hebrew, Arabic, English and Russian.

The street has an alternative, grassroots vibe. A poster hung on the door of MishMash, a new vegan café and restaurant, presents an intriguing invitation: “In March, a group was created for men that will engage in a wide range of issues: sexuality, politics, emotions, ecology, and more.”

At Café Masada, the street’s signature neighborhood café, one often hears snippets of political, left-wing conversations.

One person exclaims, “I’m not an extremist! I’m just.…”

Falafel

Similar to Florentin, many of Hadar’s buildings look ill-kempt, and one can tell that the neighborhood, although colorful, could use a face-lift. Nestled between Arab neighborhoods Wadi Nisnas and Wadi Salib, Hadar has historically been characterized as a Jewish immigrant neighborhood. The peak periods of the neighborhood, created at the beginning of the 20th century, coincide with the largest waves of Jewish immigration: in 1948 when many Holocaust survivors settled in the area, and in the early 1990s when many newcomers from the former Soviet Union were first absorbed there.

However, both groups treated Hadar more like a launching pad than an ideal destination. Some Russians have stayed in the area, largely because of economic constraints. Most of the neighborhood’s residents are lower income, and many of the neighborhood’s buildings have suffered from years of neglect.

When asked about the city planning department’s strategy for Hadar, a top official (who asked not to be named) says, “The city is in the midst of renovating Yerushalayim and Pevsner streets. That is what the city is investing in Hadar. This construction is the only project specific to Hadar.”

Although this is a solid effort, it seems more could be done to improve the neighborhood’s infrastructure so that it can become a desired, long-term place of residence. Instead, the city has focused more attention on bringing young people to the neighborhood. In partnership with the Haifa Municipality, the University of Haifa and the Jewish Agency, a student village – Kfar Hastudentim – was created in Hadar in 2007, shortly after the Second Lebanon War. Students participating in the project move to Hadar and receive a NIS 14,500 scholarship. In exchange, they do community work with Hadar residents, such as facilitating youth groups, community organizing, assisting the elderly population and coexistence projects.

Inbal Levy-Leibovits, the director of Kfar Hastudentim, explains that the project’s main goal is to “stimulate a process of urban renewal.” In the long term, she hopes that the students that “have gone through this program will be dedicated to society and the country later on in their lives.” She also hopes “that some of them might choose to manifest this dedication within the neighborhood.”

So far, around 200 people have participated in the program, 50 of whom have remained in the neighborhood.

Noam Fonia, a 27-year-old Technion student, moved to Hadar a year ago and has been active in the student village.

He thinks the neighborhood is “fascinating… There are a lot of groups, communities, activities and good people.

I’m always recommending it to other students.”

He is involved with a project that helps teenagers in the neighborhood, and he likes it a lot. When asked if he plans to stay in Haifa after he graduates, he says, “Yes, I would like to stay in Hadar if I can. That’s the plan.” But he will need to find work in order to stay in the area.

Perhaps he will follow in the footsteps of activists such as 32-year-old Shai Nir, who manages Hadar’s Community Center. Nir moved to Hadar seven years ago from Jaffa. He says he moved from that mixed Arab-Jewish area because “Hadar is more mixed. It’s more like Israeli society: Arabs and Jews, immigrants and veterans, religious and secular.

Everyone is here.”

At the Elika Art Bar Café, where an Arab artist’s paintings, a Che Guevara poster and Banksy prints line the walls, an amusing cross-cultural interaction is taking place. Two older Americans are sitting with a Jewish Israeli man in his 60s. One of the Americans proudly tells the manager, who is Arab, that they are all attending their first Arabic lesson tonight. The manager smiles, says that’s great, and then continues to talk to his co-worker in Arabic.

When asked if there is a feeling of coexistence in Hadar, Fonia reflects, “On Masada Street, you see students, Jews and Arabs all sitting in one place. It’s not exactly a rosy picture; it’s more a feeling of openness.”

In fact, whenever this question is asked, the term “coexistence” feels a bit like a dirty word. Var Kevenbrov, the cofounder of MishMash, flatly states, “Yes, there’s coexistence because everyone is living here together.” She then laughs, not knowing what else to say.

Nir explains, “We do not live outside Israeli society.”

Addressing racist incidents that are reported in the media, he adds, “Of course it influences us. But we deal with this. We work in collaboration. We work together. Of course, we have a lot of work to do.”

Waheed Asakli, who manages the Elika Art Bar Café, says that racism in the Arab community has been on the rise: “Life for Arabs is not easy. Racism is increasing all the time; the economic climate is difficult.”

When asked if there is a feeling of coexistence at Elika, he simply replies, “For me, it’s not exactly true. I would say that everyone speaks his truth, but I wouldn’t call it coexistence. That’s what we’re trying to do here…Your truth is different from my truth. But if you say, ‘That’s okay’ and it’s not okay, then you’re not being real with me. We want everyone to be real.”

It appears that the words “coexistence” and “reality” do not mix.

Coexistence perhaps connotes a state of utopia where people live in harmony.

Although folks who frequent Masada Street do interact with each other, often forming close bonds, the mere word “coexistence” seems to gloss over the challenges each community faces: discrimination felt within the Arab community, economic hardships and challenges integrating the Russian community.

Even though the student village and other social groups work with Russians, their presence can hardly be felt in hip, younger areas such as Masada.

Instead of lofty ideals, Asakli hopes that Elika provides a space where “many different kinds of people are more free, true, human and democratic.”

Everything is done in the three main languages of its clientele – Hebrew, Arabic and English – so that everyone can be understood. He hopes this open atmosphere – where films and music are played, art and books are discussed, and alternative thinking is constructed – encourages people to create change.

Not surprisingly, Masada’s peak hours are in the evening. When choosing what to eat for dinner, one is likely to order street food – hamburgers, empanadas, chorizos, pizza, felafel and the like. Music is playing, people are conversing, but there’s one big thing missing: foot traffic.

Masada Street’s multicultural bohemian epicenter is only two blocks long. It is hard to believe this because there is so much activity in these two blocks.

While sitting at any café in the area, one could not see a passerby for a span of five minutes. Many of the smaller cafés have only half a dozen customers in an hour.

However, the solution to this lack of activity is complex. As Inbal Levy- Leibovits notes, “On the one hand, you want to help the local population living here and bring them up. But on the other hand, you want to re-brand the neighborhood to the outside, and make it attractive to people from different backgrounds.”

Starting a new Haifa beat

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As some of you know, I have started to write about the Haifa area. I can do this now that I am working from home and have the 4 hours of my day back that I used to spend commuting. Yipee.

Here is my first piece, titled, “The allure of the city by the bay,” which I published in the Jerusalem Post‘s weekly metro section. It’s their top story this week!

Screenshot on Metro's page, Monday, March 11: http://www.jpost.com/Metro/Home.aspx

Screenshot on Metro’s page, Monday, March 11: http://www.jpost.com/Metro/Home.aspx

 

If you have ideas for pieces I can write about Haifa, the North, or about whatever, let me know. I’m looking to develop my portfolio considerably, so any ideas would be appreciated.

Without further ado, here’s the piece, texted below so that you can read it beyond the paywall (sshh).

 

The allure of the city by the bay

A small immigrant shift is taking place in Haifa. What does the city have to offer Anglos that other urban areas do not?

By LAURA ROSBROW

Haifa: The German Colony Quarter
Photo by: Itamar Grinberg

Many would say it is hard to find English-speakers in Haifa – that although one can hear English spoken occasionally in public, it does not happen often. So it may come as a surprise that there are over 700 members of the “Haifa Young English Speakers” Facebook group.

At an HYES pub night recently – an event held once or twice a month – several dozen people crowded into the dimly lit, cozy student bar and restaurant Nola Socks, located near the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. It was a diverse and well educated group. Many studied at the Technion.

Several were postdoctoral students. Quite a few were new immigrants, only one or two of whom wore kippot, though there were some Israelis there as well.

According to statistics from Nefesh B’Nefesh, there is an immigrant shift taking place: More Anglos are coming to Haifa. Since 2008, the number of North American and British immigrants who have moved to the northern city has tripled. In the same period, the number of olim from those countries has not even doubled.

However, this movement is small. According to Smadar Stoller Porat, the city’s project director of immigration for olim from English-speaking countries, the total number of English-speaking olim living in Haifa is around 2,600.

What is Haifa starting to offer Anglos that other urban areas cannot? Put simply, it’s cheap and beautiful.

Rental apartments cost around half what they do in Tel Aviv, and unlike in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, many apartments in Haifa have views. If you want a San Francisco-like view from your apartment and a more affordable quality of life, Haifa delivers.

MOLLY MULLIGAN, a 30-year-old American postdoctoral student in biomedical engineering at the Technion, is HYES’s social activities coordinator.

Raised Christian but now secular, she came to Israel because a doctoral mentor urged her to work with his colleague at the Technion. Asked if she plans to stay in Israel after her postdoc is done, she says she wants to if she can.

“I would like to stay, but I have to see if I can get a work visa. The level of work being done at the Technion and the companies I’ve had interactions with is just very high,” she says.

Aside from sometimes being mistaken for a Russian, Mulligan barely mentions encountering any difficulties.

In contrast, Diana Polansky, who made aliya five months ago from New York, seems less certain she will stay in Haifa. The 33-year-old Polansky says she doesn’t know if she was sold the truth about the city as an ideal launching pad.

“It’s hard to survive here. People come to Haifa for the lower cost of living, but then can’t find a job,” she says. “You’re not saving anyone any money if you can’t work.”

Indeed, this is the key reason Haifa is cheap: Beyond the Technion, the University of Haifa and the hi-tech industry there are fewer lucrative job opportunities than in the Center.

And even though Kevin Mayer – a 33-year-old Australian immigrant to Haifa – is an engineer, he thinks he will probably move to the Center of the country. “I’m looking both in the Center and in Haifa.

A lot more jobs in engineering are in the Center, so I’m more likely to be in the Center.”

FOR THOSE newcomers unanchored by institutions like the Technion, the critical support they need to stay in the city seems to be a partner. Tellingly, Stoller Porat asserts that “Haifa is great for young families and young couples who want a good quality of life that’s not too difficult.”

She has less to say about what benefits the city may have for singles.

This family-friendly atmosphere was one of the factors that motivated 39-year-old Josh Turner, his wife, Revital, and their two children to make aliya a little over two years ago from Canada to Kiryat Bialik, a short drive away from Haifa.

The Turners’ greatest challenge in moving to Kiryat Bialik was finding work, as it is for most olim. But “I got around that by starting my own business,” says Josh. “I do international PR for companies. I’m a bigger fish in a small pond in the North, as opposed to a small fish in a big pond in the Center.”

He says he appreciates what the area has to offer and thinks it’s a pleasant, affordable place to raise a family.

Australian immigrant Tanya Ford, meanwhile, lived in Tel Aviv for more than four years before recently moving to Haifa to live with her Israeli boyfriend, and she feels there have been many benefits to the move.

“It’s a lot cheaper than living in Tel Aviv in terms of rent. In my field, which is engineering, there is a lot of work available here. And it’s beautiful – it reminds me of Sydney,” she says.

However, she cannot see Haifa becoming a hub for new immigrants, as there simply aren’t the numbers for it.

“Anglos and olim are attracted to places where there’s a bunch of olim,” she points out. “Haifa isn’t an ideal starting point for olim, but I think it offers a lot to people who are more settled down and established in the country. I think it was a really good move at this point in my aliya life.”

Annette Cohen, a religious woman who made aliya from the US in the early 1960s and has lived in Haifa ever since, sums up what is good about Haifa for Anglos: more interaction with Israelis and with nature.

“Haifa is good for people not interested in living in an English-speaking community,” she says. “And after all these years, I still stop to stare at the view.”

‘Morty Robiniwitz at Congregation Beth Jewface isn’t throwing bottles at me.’

That was one of stand-up comedian Benji Lovitt’s better quotes from an interview I did with him recently for D”ash Magazine by the Jerusalem Post.

This is what the original article looked like:

Benji Lovitt PDF-page-001

But I don’t expect you to read the image above. Thankfully,  the full text is below. As always, let me know what you think.

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Benji Lovitt

‘The capital of your mom,’ and other Jewy things.

By Laura Rosbrow

Benji Lovitt is an American immigrant and the principal English-language stand-up comedian and writer in Israel. He has written for many Israeli media outlets, such as The Jerusalem Post, and has his own blog on The Times of Israel. This year his annual “Yom Hatzmaut List,” where he lists X number of reasons he loves Israel according to how old Israel is (this year, it was 64, and aptly titled, “Sixty-four things I love about Israel”) received 9,000 likes on Facebook. Things seem to be only getting better for this breath of fresh Texan air.

Like any good comedian, he performs for the people he most understands: other Jewish English speakers. Lovitt’s typical audience in Israel is Birthrighters, young people on long term programs in Israel, and of course, other English-speaking immigrants that made the plunge to make aliyah, or become Israeli. When I asked Lovitt what the rudest reaction he ever received from an audience member was, his response portrayed what his typical audience looks like. “I’m not really performing in comedy clubs in front of drunk rednecks. Morty Robiniwitz at Congregation Beth Jewface isn’t throwing bottles at me.”

Although Lovitt first performed stand-up in 1997 in New York City, he did not make comedy a full time gig until he moved to Israel in 2006. When I asked what motivated him to do stand up more seriously here, he answered, “You’re a big fish in a small pond here. Maybe it’s intimidating to do it in NYC. It’s rewarding here, and you can’t exactly do jokes about pushing your way onto an Egged bus [outside of Israel], and people really appreciated it here. There was a community that really connected.”

Lovitt always had a strong connection to Israel. He grew up attending Jewish summer camps, spent a gap-year in Israel on Young Judea, and worked in Jewish organizations before he made aliyah. When asked what prompted his decision to move to Israel, he said the same thing many idealistic Zionist immigrants tend to say. “I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life asking ‘what if?’ I wanted to give it a shot.” This brave, soul-searching attitude also helped give him the courage to plunge more seriously into comedy. As he put it, “I never thought in a million years I’d be a self-employed freelancer. One interesting thing about making aliyah is once you immigrate, everything else you could ever do is less scary; you’ve already immigrated to another country. No one comes to not do a meaningful job. Once you’ve broken down that barrier, the other things are much less imposing.

“I have a joke about how I can never shock my parents again: ‘Mom and Dad, I’m making aliyah.’ ‘What?!’ ‘Mom and Dad, I’m doing stand-up.’ ‘Oh. At least you’re happy.’”

One impressive aspect of Benji’s writings and performances is that he manages to make “Jewish” humor funny and not corny. His jokes are offensive enough that his audience is amused without being so offensive that they are put off by him. This is a challenging task in approaching material about Israel, which tends to make Jews (as well as everybody else) feel polarized.

A great example of this PG-13 brand of Israeli humor was a Facebook status Lovitt wrote during Operation Pillar of Defense in November. As rockets were pounding the South of Israel, many Israelis in central and northern Israel offered their homes to Israelis living in the South. Lovitt, a 37-year-old Tel Avivian, took this kind offer a step further: “Anyone in Southern Israel need refuge this weekend? Let me know if you need a place to crash. Especially if you are female, single, and between the ages of 29 and 37.

I am here for you.”

In fact, Lovitt hesitantly exclaimed, “Operation Pillar of Defense was my best week ever on Facebook.” For Lovitt, frustration breeds humor. “I wrote a lot of statuses, but one in particular was quoted by The LA Times, how when the siren goes off and you’re on the crapper, you just gotta laugh. I was saying something that a lot of people were thinking, being caught in a “sh**ty” position (no pun intended), and people laughed.

“I feel weird saying that Operation Pillar of Defense was my best week ever on Facebook. Some people said ‘I wouldn’t have made it through this week without Benji.’ That’s how I know I’m doing a good thing. Is the best word for how I felt ‘perverse’? I had a duty to rise up and make my fellow Jews laugh and bear this week.”

However, when I praised this “not-too-offensive” aspect of Lovitt’s work, he wasn’t as comfortable with the compliment. “I don’t really talk about politics. I probably should. I want to write more about social commentary. If I’m not offending enough people, I’m probably doing something wrong.”

One of Lovitt’s current goals is to move away from typical new immigrant humor towards more social commentary. As Lovitt explained, “there are only so many times you can make fun of bad English on menus.” The best proof of this new approach is a blog post titled, “BBC, I’m the Capital of Your Mom,” where he criticizes the BBC for not listing any capital city in Israel (every other country had a capital) days before the Summer Olympics took place in 2012.

What’s next for Lovitt? In April, he will be performing for various Jewish groups in the American Northeast. Perhaps some of you D”ash readers will see him there.

Contact Benji Lovitt at www.benjilovitt.com if you want to book a show, book a youth leadership workshop, or rent his room in Jerusalem.

‘If You Build It, They Will Come’

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This is a sweet story I just published about a baseball field in Israel that was opened recently in partnership with the Jewish National Fund. It’s called “If You Build It, They Will Come,” and was published in Philadelphia’s Jewish paper, Jewish Exponent. For all you folks that like baseball, Philly, kids, Jews, philanthropy, or Israel, this might be up your alley.

As always, let me know what you think!

Marcy Levin and her son, Robert, dedicated a baseball field in Israel in memory of her late husband.

Fifty voters from 50 states: Or, as the Israeli title goes, “50 shades of America”

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My 50 voters from 50 states piece, where I asked 50 voters from 50 states to explain why they’re voting for either Obama or Romney, came out today on the front page of Walla! News! The Israeli title’s even better than my original one: it translates to “50 shades of America.”  (Soon after, it was also republished in an English version on the Jerusalem Post.) It’s the largest reporting project I’ve done to date, and I’m happy to be publishing this after around a month of blood, sweat, and tears.

Walla! News, one of Israel’s leading online news sites, hired me to not only interview 50 voters from 50 states, 25 for Obama and 25 for Romney, they also wanted me to get a good quality photo from each voter. This was quite a task, and I learned a lot about reporting and political journalism in the process.

This is how the Israeli piece looks. You click on each photo to find out who they are voting for and why.

Because this article is being published in Hebrew (Amir Shiloh, Walla! News’ international desk editor, thankfully translated it. If I had done it, the article would probably be ready for publication in 2013.), I have pasted below my original version in English. Sadly I could not replicate the awesome graphics of the Walla! version of this article, but alas, a long-form blog platform will have to do. The voters are in alphabetical order according to state.

As always, let me know what you think. Additionally, I want to send my well wishes and support to everyone that’s been affected by Hurricane Sandy.

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50 shades of America

The faces of the election.

By Laura Rosbrow

“It will not be easy, and it will be long.” This was what President Obama stated in his inaugural address in January 2009, predicting his first term would be difficult in the wake of the economic crash that he inherited. One voter interviewed here remembers this line. Many more lament the economy’s slow growth.

In this piece, where I profile 50 American voters from every state in the U.S., 25 for Obama and 25 for Romney, Romney voters’ overwhelmingly say that they want to replace Obama with a business savvy candidate that will exercise more fiscal restraint and create more jobs. They believe he can do this from his ability to balance the budget when he was the governor of Massachusetts without raising taxes, as well as his extensive private sector success.

Some of the Obama voters express support for Obama’s economic policies, and often credit the 2008 economic crash at the end of Bush’s presidency for the difficulties still lingering in the economy. However, Obama voters’ largely say they support the President for his social agenda. Most voters cite social issues such as fair pay for women, LGBTQ rights, a women’s right to contraception and abortion, and healthcare as the main reasons they are voting for Obama. Perhaps this is because Obama’s first term was more successful on this front in comparison to the economy.

On the other hand, Romney voters barely mention social issues, such as traditional marriage and pro-life policies, as reasons they are voting for Romney. Unlike other campaign seasons, the economy is the central issue for Republican voters. Additionally, Israel ranks high among Republican concerns.

Granted, this pool of voters is undoubtedly biased considering everyone knew this article was going to be published on an Israeli news site. That being said, it is interesting to see that of the voters that mention Israel as one of their reasons to support either candidate, seven voters support Romney and three support Obama. Delving a bit deeper, of the 10 voters that mention Israel, five are Jewish, three of whom are the Obama supporters. Not surprisingly, this demonstrates American Jews’ continued division over policies regarding Israel, whereas most non-Jewish voters that value Israel (mostly religious Christians) support the Republican party.

Each voter interviewed gives a unique, valuable perspective on the challenges facing the United States. I hope these voters give you a glimpse of what is at stake for Americans in the 2012 presidential election.

Name: Allana Pinkerton

State: Alabama

Age: 44

Occupation: Child Passenger Safety Instructor

Who are you voting for? Romney

Why? Obama is no friend of Israel. Obama’s life has been influenced by too many radical people who are anti-colonialist. He is slowly and secretly putting the U.S. on equal ground with the rest of the world which will enable other countries to increase Muslim extremists. If he has another four years in office, our country will be more vulnerable to attacks.

He is not a business man. Running a country takes business sense and experience. So, I am voting for Romney based on what I don’t like about Obama. It’s not that I love everything about Romney.

Name: Catkin Kilcher Burton (left)

State: Alaska

Age: 54

Occupation: Small business owner (Co-founder Eagles Enterprises, LLC) and Colonel (retired), United States Marine Corps

Who are you voting for? Romney

Why? Governor Romney brings to the table the traits and characteristics I believe are important in a leader. His core values are admirable and his educational attainment show me he has the intelligence to absorb the sheer volume of information he’ll have to deal with to make sound decisions in the areas of foreign policy, defense, and other legitimate federal roles. His broad spectrum of experience  in business and government have convinced me he has the skill sets required to act as our Chief Executive and guide America back to prosperity and leadership.

Name: Donna Alu (right)

State: Arizona

Age: 66

Occupation: RN in a neonatal intensive care unit

Who are you voting for: Romney

Why? I am voting for Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan because I believe in the Republican ideals of smaller, less intrusive government and I want a health care system that is patient focused; not one that is run by a huge federal bureaucracy.

I am also concerned about national security, in light of the chaos in the Middle East and the fact that ammunition used against our embassy in Libya was given to the Libyan rebels to be used against Gaddafi. I believe that the Obama administration has failed in this regard.

Name: Patricia Nation

State: Arkansas

Age: 51

Occupation: Attorney

Who are you voting for? Romney

Why? He shares my worldview.  Romney believes in American exceptionalism.  He promises to lower taxes, balance the budget, repeal Obamacare, and put Americans back to work by implementing free market based principles that will stimulate economic growth. Romney’s decision to visit Israel and meet with Benjamin Netanyahu symbolized that he will make Israel and its protection a top priority. The relationship between America and Israel is at the top of my list for casting my vote for Romney because I believe Romney will give Israel unwavering support and put all options on the table to support Netanyahu against imminent and future dangers.

Name: Abraham Teran

State: California

Age: 32

Occupation: Self employed accountant

Who are you voting for? Obama

Why? I have strong faith in my president as people who voted for him should, and not change their minds as quickly as a coffee drink at Starbucks. Obama has invested money in a green direction that we should all follow! Obama is a humble and respected president, both here and abroad. His first address in office was clear. “It will not be easy, and it will be long.” He has fulfilled promises and promotes fair taxation where the middle class and poor benefit instead of the rich! Lastly, abortion: a woman has the right to do whatever she pleases with her body.

Name: Thomas McGuire

State: Colorado

Age: 35

Occupation: Auto body repair

Who are you voting for? Obama

Why? I am voting for Obama. Ready to move forward, for change, new ways of hope, for better jobs, community, more roads and buildings to be built, and the military.

Name: Brian H. Dennis (right)

State: Connecticut

Age: 49

Occupation: Material analyst

Who are you voting for? Obama

Why? The Romney plan don’t add up and he is a flip flopping pandering liar. It takes more than four years to get us out of the mess that we were in. Obama didn’t get a fair deal in the spirit of cooperation from the Republicans when it came to his policies in helping move this country forward and at the end of the day, Romney has no real plan except to make us believe that policies and belief systems used in the past which got us in this mess will work. I trust Obama to do what’s right for 100% of all Americans!

Name: Barry Guerke

State: Delaware

Age: 64

Occupation: Attorney

Who are you voting for? Obama

Why? As a registered Republican, I fled the party due to the extreme right wing policies that started with Newt Gingrich and culminated with George W. Bush. Obama promised to restore America’s stature in the international community, which I think he has done. He inherited many problems, but I believe that things would have been much worse without the policies he put into effect. I like his inclusiveness versus the exclusiveness of current Republican policies. Health care reform and eliminating Osama bin Laden are major accomplishments. He has earned the right to another four years to complete his agenda.

Name: Ingrid Linhares

State: Florida

Age: 30

Occupation: Hilton Hotels

Who are you voting for? Romney

Why? I was born in Brazil, but moved to the U.S. and gained citizenship in my teenage years. America is a great place where anyone can be successful if they work hard. I believe that Mitt Romney will preserve this great country and that under his leadership, the opportunities to become successful will grow. I just had my first child, and I want a bright future for him. Mitt Romney will provide a bright future for everyone because he will strengthen the economy and create jobs. As an immigrant, I know that hard work can help anyone achieve great things in America.

_ _ _

Name: M*nica Chau

State: Georgia

Age: 26

Occupation: Graduate student

Who are you voting for? Obama

Why? I’m liberal and my ideologies fall more in line with the Democrats. Particularly, it’s important to me to have a president who supports gay rights, abortion, and also, since I’m a stem cell researcher, I need a leader who supports this work.

Name: Juanita Brown Kawamoto

State: Hawai‘i

Age: 52

Occupation: Self employed

Who are you voting for in November? Obama

Why? I believe President Obama is focused on the issues affecting middle class America and the U.S. economy.  He is also aware of the unique matters faced by our state. He has a good plan to lead ALL our peoples!

Name: Michael Smith (left)

State: Idaho

Age: 64

Occupation: Retired

Who are you voting for? Romney

Why? Obama’s appointment has been anti-business and his actions have pushed government controls into more and more areas. He has failed to deliver on too many of his 2008 promises (I voted for him in 2008). And I especially like Ryan as VP.

Name: Matt Weiner

State: Illinois

Age: 28

Occupation: Midwestern regional director of Moishe Hosue (nonprofit org)

Who are you voting for? Obama

Why? Universal health care, a woman’s right to decide how to treat her own body, and LGBTQ rights are issues that are important to me. On those fronts, not only do I side with President Obama, but Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan scare the crap out of me. I also think Obama is great on foreign policy, especially pertaining to Israel. As an American Jew with close ties to Israel, I think that Obama is the stronger candidate to keeping Israel a safe and democratic Jewish State, while actively and realistically seeking out a peaceful solution with the Palestinian people.

Name: Holly Stroup

State: Indiana

Age: 34

Occupation: Warehouse supervisor

Who are you voting for? Romney

Why? I normally do not vote and never have. I’ll be definitely voting this year to help get the right president in office and to get Obama OUT of office. He has taken all the religious beliefs from our school, saying that this is no longer a religious country, and has taken our prayer day away but allows the Muslims to have prayer day. He’s making it harder for people to find jobs but easier for some to collect the welfare.

I will be voting for Romney because he is more for all the people. He’s for getting jobs back so people can actually work again.

Name: Eben Seaman

Age: 31

State: Iowa

Occupation: Musician

Who are you voting for? Obama

Why? I am proud of Obama’s leadership at home and abroad. I thought the Iraq war was a mistake and he ended it.  I know what Obama’s beliefs are, as opposed to his opponent whose message changes depending on his audience. Finally, my wife is a school music teacher and the President and his party support public educators, while Republicans run on platforms of cutting their jobs while their allies in right-wing media demonize teachers, blaming them for much of the U.S.’s budget woes.  When I vote for Obama, I am making a vote that directly affects my family’s economic security.

Name: Dale Harwood

State: Kansas

Age: 44

Occupation: Museum Coordinator

Who are you voting for? Romney

Why? Because I believe that Mr. Obama has lied, and continues to lie to not only the American people, but also the rest of the world about many things.  He promised hope and change ….. I see no hope. Conditions are worse now than before. He CANNOT be trusted, nor any of his lackeys in Congress.

Name: Carol Rogers

State: Kentucky

Age: 56

Occupation: Homemaker and Volunteer

Who are you voting for? Romney

Why? The economy is in terrible shape with unprecedented government spending, a $16 trillion national debt, high unemployment, lack of jobs, and increased dependency on the government through entitlement programs. Mitt Romney is a smart businessman with clear ideas for improving our economy, in contrast to Obama who has never done any work in the private sector. Romney is for small government and lower taxes; Obama is for big government and higher taxes on many Americans. I have two children and two grandchildren; I want America to be strong again so that they and other young people may have a future of opportunity.

Name: Audrey Melissa Diket

State: Louisiana

Age: 23

Occupation: Student

Who are you voting for? Romney

Why? Mitt Romney has the necessary qualifications and experience in creating jobs and running a business, specifically in the task of budgeting SUCCESSFULLY; he lowered taxes multiple times, and managed to get rid of his state’s debt, and create a “rainy day fund.” Obama has not been successful with his budget, lowering the deficit, fixing the failing economy, or working with Republicans. Mitt Romney has been successful in working with Democrats when he was governor of a majority Democratic state, Massachusetts. Lastly, there are many other good things he did for people throughout his life that show his compassion for others.

Name: Jesse Connolly

State: Maine

Age: 34

Occupation: Works for a Member of Congress

Who are you voting for? Obama

Why? I am voting for President Obama this November because I believe there is a lot of work that still needs to be completed by the President and his team to turn our economy around. Furthermore I feel that President Obama is more concerned with the issues that face me and my family then his opponent.

Name: Ed Levine

State: Maryland

Age: 66

Occupation: Retired

Who are you voting for? Obama

Why? President Obama and the Democratic Party’s platform is best suited for me, my family, and the U.S. Their platform is committed to 1) improving education and health services that will lead to increased employment, educational opportunities, and quality of life; 2) implementing a plan to address global instability through decisive military action that is cautious yet effective; and 3) enhancing our planet’s environmental health.

Mitt Romney and the Republican Party’s platform is committed to supporting major corporations by lowering their taxes and setting fewer regulations. This approach has proven to be ineffective, irresponsible, and has lead to economic disaster.

Name: Bonnie Margulies

State: Massachusetts

Age: 63

Occupation: Interior decorator and former middle school teacher

Who are you voting for? Obama

Why? I believe he is undoubtedly the best candidate because of his record in his first four years. I believe he really cares about all the people. He has a proven record in foreign policy. He has made his way to the top because of hard work and this life experience will allow him to perform even more effectively in his 2nd term.

Name: Amit Weitzer

State: Michigan

Age: 26

Occupation: Youth Environmental Education Program Coordinator

Who are you voting for? Obama

Why? I believe in a women’s right to define her future and have ownership over her body, and all people have the right to marry whomever they like. Legislators should stop legislating my body and definitions of love and family and get back to improving our safety nets. I believe in investing in green energy technology, in economic justice, and in desperately needed educational investments. I believe in comprehensive pathways to citizenship for people who have immigrated to our country and that the wealthy have a role in providing resources for those in need. A vote for Romney is a vote against everything I believe in.

Name: Jules Goldstein

State: Minnesota

Age: 65

Occupation: Retired Systems Analyst

Who are you voting for? Obama

Why? What President Obama has been able to do in the face of unrelenting partisan obstruction is amazing. Equal pay for equal work, repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, affordable health care, easing the burden of student loans, rescue of the auto industry, and reform of the financial industry are but a few accomplishments. He continues to pursue a foreign policy that promotes a strong Israel and fights nuclear proliferation.

All the while, Romney seems to be a walking shadow, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Name: Nic Lott

State: Mississippi

Age: 32

Occupation: Founder of Mississippi Forward, state affiliate of the National Taxpayers Union

Who are you voting for? Romney

Why? This election is about the course of the U.S. and two very different paths. We can’t afford to continue President Obama’s record of high deficits and chronic unemployment. Governor Romney has a plan to create 12 million new jobs. He will provide real solutions for accessible and affordable healthcare where folks won’t lose their current coverage and health premiums won’t go up as they will under Obamacare by $2500 per family. A President Romney will stop the $716 billion dollar Obamacare cut to Medicare, strengthen our military, and prevent defense cuts as we keep America strong and get the middle class working again.

Name: Kailea Bogner

State: Missouri

Age: 19

Occupation: Student

Who are you voting for? Romney

Why? I see this country going in the wrong direction. I believe that the policies that Romney will bring forth will enable our government to balance the budget and reduce excessive spending. Romney can improve the country not only in the short term, but for the long term. The Romney-Ryan ticket will ensure that our Social Security will be available when the Americans who are working now retire. Romney believes in a strong national defense and will protect the traditional principles that I believe in. He will not be ashamed of this country, but will make this country powerful once more.

Name: Jessica Sena

State: Montana

Age: 26

Occupation: Campaign Staff for Rick Hill for Governor.

Who are you voting for? Romney

Why? Gov. Romney possesses the business savvy and leadership needed to collaborate effectively across the aisle, as well as around the world. Congressman Ryan has the knowledge and experience needed to parlay his work in Congress into meaningful reforms for our economy. The two have the proven to be leaders in and out of politics, and are just what America needs to restore prosperity and opportunity in this country through the policies of less government and greater freedom. They fulfill the ideals of the nostalgic “American Dream” we seem to have lost over the last four years.

Name: Cyndi Lamm

State: Nebraska

Age: 54

Occupation: Attorney for eight years

Who are you voting for? Romney

Why?  I am a wife, a mom, a grandma, and a small business owner.  I am voting for Romney because I have concerns for my family and my business. Here in Nebraska, we have elected officials who largely exercise fiscal restraint.  We have a balanced budget amendment and our unemployment rate is well below the national average.  I believe that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will provide the same on a national scale, and that with their leadership, I can be confident that my children and grandchildren will have opportunity and that they will not be burdened by my generation’s debt.

Name: Dustin Ravizé

State: Nevada

Age: 23

Occupation: Computer Engineer

Who are you voting for? Obama

Why? I believe that social issues are at the forefront of what America is looking for. We now more than ever have been fighting hard for marriage equality, abortion rights, and a separation of church and state. I also believe Obama truly cares about the American people and has shown his care with his tax cuts to families and providing healthcare that has saved lives in need when no one would have offered anything. I believe this among many other solutions will bring the American people together, stimulate our social awareness and community, and build a better economy through new ideals.

Name: Natacha Sochat (left)

State: New Hampshire

Age: 61

Occupation: Physician (retired)  Artist/curator (ongoing)

Who are you voting for? Obama

Why? 1) Obama cares about everyone and has an economic plan that will benefit the entire U.S. population, not just the top 1%. 2) Obama was able to finally institute the beginning of health care reform, something that I never believed would be done in this country. As a retired physician, ‘Obamacare’ is a great accomplishment for our country. 3) Wall Street reforms were instituted along with other financial reforms including putting a stop to credit card companies’ financial abuses. 4) President Obama has been one of the best presidents to represent us to the world and have relationships with other nations.

Name: Sarah Luke

State: New Jersey

Age: 30

Occupation: Attorney

Who are you voting for? Obama

Why?  I am voting for Barack Obama for several reasons. First, I think that the measures he took in the beginning of his presidency kept the country from experiencing a much steeper economic decline. Second, I support the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare). Third, President Obama supports equal rights for same sex couples. And finally, President Obama will protect organizations like Planned Parenthood which provide women with access to quality reproductive care.

Name: Barbara Glazer

State: New Mexico

Age: 76

Occupation: Retired psychotherapist and college professor

Who are you voting for? Obama

Why? He feels a moral obligation toward equality, understands why women want equal pay for equal work, and knows that access to contraception and abortion is a woman’s choice. This election frightens me more than any other. I marched with my daughters in the civil rights movement.  Those daughters are now in their 50s, and have their own children and grandchildren. I don’t want to see my great grand-children, three of whom are girls, lose the equality we worked so hard to attain.  I will vote for President Obama and stay up all night until the results are in to see if I celebrate or sit shiva.

Name: Gabriella Rodriguez (middle)

State: New York

Age: 29

Occupation: Social Worker

Who are you voting for? Obama

Why? I think the country is moving in the right direction under his administration. He has shown a lot of strength, courage and determination. He has kept his original campaign promises as far as health care and bringing back the troops from Iraq. There was a lot hat he had to clean up after Bush left office and I think that with a second term he has a good chance at getting this country back on track economically.

Name: Steve Nicol

State: North Carolina

Age: 52

Occupation: Self Employed in Transportation

Who are you voting for? Romney

Why? I’ve witnessed a decline in my nation the likes of which I’ve never seen. I believe in limited government intrusion into both private and public sector arenas. As a business owner, I’m solidly against the Democratic philosophy of “regulation.” I truly believe President Obama has weakened our position both here and abroad. I don’t support many of his allegiances, I do not support his fiscal spending policies, and to be honest, as a judge of character, I do not believe he speaks for ALL Americans as a president should. Last, I support your nation’s continued efforts at self-direction and solidarity.

Name: Ken Callahan

State: North Dakota

Age: 50

Occupation: Energy Services Manager

Who are you voting for? Romney

Why? The economy is in horrible shape except for North Dakota. I believe a successful businessman knows how to balance a budget and will promote small businesses that will CREATE JOBS!!! We have a chance to become oil independent in North America and with Mitt Romney in office we have a better chance. Look at our president’s refusal to sign the Keystone pipeline project; he’s definitely not oil friendly. He can say we produced more oil in his administration than any other administration, but it’s not because of him; it’s because of the Bakken in North Dakota. It’s time for change.

Name: Jamie Zimmer (right)

State: Ohio

Age: 30

Occupation: Journalist/Editor

Who are you voting for? Obama

Why? Obama upholds stances on a number of social issues close to my heart. He also implemented economy saving measures that stopped the U.S. from defaulting on its loans by raising the debt ceiling in order to prevent a worldwide depression. Romney seems to not only want to undo all of Obama’s work, I also believe he lacks any understanding of foreign policy and the fragility of international relations. I also believe, as a resident of Israel, that Romney would plunge Israel and the U.S. into a state of war with Iran that could take decades and millions of lives to resolve.

Name: Gabriel Crawford

State: Oklahoma

Age: 22

Occupation: Student/ Associate at Squires Resource Development (Fundraising firm)

Who are you voting for? Romney

Why? I am voting for Mitt Romney because of his fiscal conservatism and his desire to tackle the country’s current debt crisis. As a young man, the growing debt will be strapped on my back and my paycheck will have to reimburse these outlandish expenditures. Also, the United State’s current entitlement reforms are going bankrupt in this process, not guaranteeing me any benefits once I get older. I believe we must change the engine of the current entitlement structure (Social Security, Medicare, etc.) to maintain it for the current generation and preserve it for my generation. A Romney presidency will do just this.

Name: Cole Merkel

State: Oregon

Age: 24

Occupation: Vendor Coordinator at Street Roots newspaper; Social services

Who are you voting for? Obama

Why? I work with people experiencing homelessness and poverty. I see first hand the trickle-down economic theories of tax cuts for the rich that will eventually benefit everyone through job creation only work to keep individuals in the upper class richer while subjugating the middle and lower class. This is what Mr. Romney is proposing. On the other hand, Obama’s economic policies create a more equitable future. Also, Mr. Obama’s support of same-sex marriage places him on the right side of history, which I am confident will be a harbinger of more freedoms for LGBTQ-identifying individuals, myself included, if he’s reelected.

Name: Rachel Robbins

State: Pennsylvania

Age: 29

Occupation: Arts/Nonprofit Administrator

Who are you voting for? Obama

Why? I believe in rights to contraception, healthcare, and abortion. Gay marriage needs to be legal. On the whole, it does not benefit the U.S. or the world for our leaders to be only interested in their own profit or in defending their traditions. I want an ethical leader who I trust and that is Barack Obama.

Name: Robert Davis

State: Rhode Island

Age: 46

Occupation: Nuclear medicine technologist

Who are you voting for? Obama

Why? I believe that the President has been, and will continue to be, acting in the best interest of all Americans. His plan for repairing our economic state makes sense and frankly, is the only one presented thus far by either party. His ideals match my own, equality for all regardless of sex, race, creed, and sexual preference. At this crucial moment, it isn’t practical to start with new, proven failed, policies.

Name: Lorilee Maurer

State: South Carolina

Age: 56

Occupation: Self-Employed

Who are you voting for? Mitt Romney

Why? My husband and I are small business owners. I feel that Romney better understands the economy and how to grow businesses. I think his approach to lowering the debt won’t be easy and may be a little uncomfortable, which makes sense. When you run up a debt that needs to be paid off, some things need to be cut, whether it’s my debt or our national debt! I appreciate his pro-family policies of traditional marriage and his anti-abortion stance. He’s not afraid to acknowledge God or his faith. I trust him and am proud to support him.

Name: Yvonne Rogalla

State: South Dakota

Age: 67

Occupation: Retired

Who are you voting for? Romney

Why? I believe that he can turn the economic situation around by lowering taxes on the small businesses and on the large companies so the large ones will come back to America, putting our people back to work. He also says he will open up resources we have here in the U.S. like oil, natural gas, and coal, again putting our people back to work and not depending on the Mideast and China. The greatest reason I am voting for him is because he says he is for Israel. Father God says that if we bless Israel, we will be blessed. America needs to be blessed.

Name: Daniel Garner (middle)

State: Tennessee

Age: 55

Occupation: Physician

Who are you voting for? Romney

Why? This is because I am concerned over the excessively liberal policies and decisions of the Obama administration, the poor record on Israel, and issues of the Federal deficit. Unlike many decisions, I am neutral on Obama’s record with the so-called “Obama-care,” health reform.

Name: Debbie Ferris

State: Texas

Age: 49

Occupation: Self Employed Technical/Grant Writer

Who are you voting for? Romney

Why? I support Mr. Romney because he has turned around several failing businesses and made them viable again. He was one of the most successful venture capitalists in the 80s and 90s and he was very successful at Bain Capital. Mr. Romney understands how private sector businesses work. As Governor of Massachusetts, he closed the deficit gap without raising taxes. I just think that Mr. Romney understands finances and the business world much more than President Obama and he will start the long process of helping the U.S. recover from the current recession.

Name: Jordan Hess

State: Utah

Age: 25

Occupation: Office Manager

Who are you voting for? Romney

Why? Mitt Romney encourages me to work hard and create my own success, rather than rely on the government to provide my happiness. My rights are given by God, not the government. America is a country where anyone can be successful if they work hard. Mitt Romney is also a family man with a beautiful wife and 5 great sons. I believe in marriage between a man and a woman, and Mitt Romney believes the same. I believe in a strong American military that stands with Israel. Mitt Romney believes the same. I believe in a free market economy; Mitt Romney believes the same.

Name: Rachael Cohen

State: Vermont

Age: 49

Occupation: Freelance editor, instructor at the University of Michigan New England Literature Program, adjunct professor of humanities at Colby-Sawyer College, laborer at Sunrise Farm, scholar for the Vermont Humanities Council Reading and Discussion Program, and dog-sitter.

Who are you voting for? Obama

Why? Although his first term was disappointing in some ways, especially compared to the enormously exciting promises he made during his first campaign, he came into office with nearly impossible financial and political challenges to overcome. I don’t agree with every decision he has made, but I believe that his economic policies are basically sound — and definitely sounder than Romney’s. We need the reforms of health care, education, and energy policy that he has been working toward.

Name: Jody Kemp

State: Virginia

Age: 57

Occupation: Church/Social services, serving women and children in situations of domestic violence

Who are you voting for? Romney

Why? I vote Republican because I am in favor of conservative solutions to America’s problems. Romney favors a strong defense budget and Obama does not. Romney opposes “Obamacare!” Mitt Romney supports an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to protect traditional marriage.Governor Romney will support our ally Israel. We have a long standing relationship and clear biblical mandate to stand with the state of Israel in every way. Finally, the United States needs Mitt Romney who understands economics, is a successful businessman/entrepreneur himself and who will work to create much needed jobs to get our economy moving again.

Name: Crystal Sweet

State: Washington

Age: 32

Occupation: Court Clerk

Who are you voting for? Obama

Why? I am voting for President Obama because he shares my values. I am particularly pleased with his stances on gay marriage and gays in the military. I also believe he will continue to protect a woman’s right to choose and he will continue to help fund much needed social services.

Name: Steven Starcher

State: West Virginia

Age: 36

Occupation: Pharmacist

Who are you voting for? Romney

Why? Barack Obama has steered this country to the brink of collapse with his policies and government takeover of the banking, auto, housing industries, and over regulation by the EPA on the oil, natural gas, and coal industry. These policies have caused 23 million Americans to be out of work and have led to six trillion dollars of additional deficit in just four years. This path for America is unsustainable. Finally, the foreign policy of this administration has been one of appeasement. In the eyes of your enemies, is it better to be feared or respected. I feel the current administration wants to be respected.

Name: Terri Krause

State: Wisconsin

Age: 50

Occupation: Administrative Assistant

Who are you voting for? Obama

Why? I believe that President Obama understands the difficulties and hardships that many Americans are experiencing. Mr. Romney has written off 47% of our population. I admire President Obama for standing up to corporate America by signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Paul Ryan voted against it. I support Obamacare. I supported the auto industry bailout – Mr. Romney said to let Detroit go bankrupt. That bailout saved thousands of jobs. Most importantly, I want President Obama to have the opportunity to appoint the next Supreme Court Justice and hopefully overturn Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission.

Name: Clay Long

State: Wyoming

Age: 28

Occupation: In the oil industry

Who are you voting for? Romney

Why? Mitt consistently proves his ability to manage large, overloading crisis with poise and pride. He understands the American dream isn’t born or protected in the marble clad domes of DC but the brick and mortar of America’s homes.

Before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni

Featured

The feature as it first appeared in the Jerusalem Post Lite.

Well, that was a cute, somewhat misleading hook for an interview I did recently for the Jerusalem Post Lite. For those of you that aren’t familiar with Adi Ezroni, she is one of the lead actresses in Hatufim, the Israeli series that Homeland is based upon. She’s also a serious Hollywood producer: A Late Quartet with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, and Christopher Walken came out on November 2 in the US and she executive produced it!

If you’re abroad and haven’t seen Hatufim, you’re in luck: the first season is available with English subtitles on Hulu and Sky Arts.

*Warning: There are spoilers for the second season of Hatufim towards the beginning of the interview.

As always, let me know what you think!

 

Interview with Adi Ezroni

Hatufim lead actress, Hollywood producer and huge Princess Bride fan.

By Laura Rosbrow

Hatufim just began its second season. We were thrilled to speak with Adi Ezroni, who plays Yael Ben-Horin, sister of Amiel Ben-Horin (played by Asi Cohen), one of three prisoners of war (POWs) “released” after 17 years in captivity. Amiel was released, but died. Or so we thought.

Now, we know Amiel is alive, he’s a Muslim named Yusuf, and he’s secretly living with Syrian terrorists that tortured him. Meanwhile, Yael is starting to date Noni. What seems simple isn’t: Noni’s father was killed by a terrorist exchanged for the POWs’ release.

In a long afternoon chat at Café Noach, Adi Ezroni talked about playing Yael, how Gilad Shalit’s return changed Hatufim, Homeland, and being a Hollywood producer.

What’s been your greatest challenge playing Yael?

In this season, she’s trying to come out of a shell and put everything away. It’s hard figuring out who she is, because grief is such a part of her. Now she has a relationship, and Noni, as far as she knows, has no connection to her past. This is the most complex thing, because they have a perfect relationship.

It’s true that being alone or getting into emotional places is challenging. I think that acting with Asi Cohen was extremely helpful.

What is it like, acting with Asi Cohen?

A dream. It was easy to miss him, because it’s easy to fall in love with him. I recommend it to all actors. I think he’s doing something that’s extraordinary, to go from total comedy to being able to play Yusuf and speak in Arabic and look honest.

How did Gilad Shalit’s return affect this season?

I don’t think all the differences this season were done consciously because of Shalit’s return. But the fact that he did come back in the middle is interesting, because the second season can move away a little from the sensitivity, and be focused on good television drama.

I think the first season touched on a sacred issue that hasn’t been dealt with before. It was more focused on family drama, on them returning home. I think the first season had this feeling of intimacy with the audience, dealing with the subject with sensitive gloves. Ultimately, that was also an incredible plot.

In the second season there’s a lot more suspense. Now that Shalit’s back, we could also talk about the consequences of that decision. We can look at the prisoners that were exchanged for the deal, as well as families affected by terrorism.

What do you think of Homeland?

I think Gideon Raff did something that’s perfect for an American audience, which is to change the focus from the family drama to the investigation. It’s great re-formatting for TV, because this could go on forever – there could always be new people to investigate.

The Israeli show comes from a different perspective that is extremely intimate. The Israeli series focuses on the family drama because they’re one of us. The issue of kidnapping and being in captivity because of political events is real. It’s a daily thing. Everyone says the Israeli series is more personal, but it’s also more political.

What was it like meeting the cast of Homeland?

It was really nice. Now, the same production working on Homeland is the same one working on Hatufim. They were here shooting, and we screened the first episode of Hatufim, so they got to see us. They responded well to the screening of the second season premiere, and enjoyed being in Tel Aviv.

But the real climax was meeting Mandy Patinkin. I couldn’t believe I actually spoke with Inigo Montoya! I’m the biggest Princess Bride fan. He has an incredible career besides that movie. But Inigo Montoya’s such a person in and of himself.

I just recently went to see Princess Bride again after many years. I think that it’s the most perfect movie ever created. Every moment there are twists, turns, and punch lines. Wallace Shawn was also in one of the movies I produced recently.

Many people don’t know you’re an accomplished producer. Some of your films coming out soon have huge Hollywood stars.

I have a production company called Spring Pictures that I run with Mandy Tagger. Our first film, A Late Quartet, is coming out on November 2nd in the U.S. and November 29th in Israel. It’s director Yaron Zilberman’s first narrative film and stars an amazing cast: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener, Wallace Shawn, Mark Ivanir, Liraz Charhi, and Imogen Poots, who was just listed by Variety as one of “10 actors to watch in 2012.” I’m really excited.

Last, can you tell us juicy details about this season?

Yael will get much more than she asked for.

That’s no surprise. But during this season, Yael will have many surprises. Maybe Adi Ezroni will have some pleasant surprises in Hollywood.

‘Anyone Who Says Differently, Is An Idiot.’

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In this month’s edition of D”ash, the Jerusalem Post youth magazine that I edit, I introduced a fun new feature to the magazine. It’s a single-page feature called “So Random!” where we interview every day Israelis. No one famous: just regular people. Each interview will include the same random, personal questions. In 15 minutes, we want to capture the essence of the interviewee as best we can.

This first one was really amusing. To give you a taste the headline of this post, as well as the article itself, is a direct quote from the interview: ‘Anyone Who Says Differently, Is An Idiot.’

Let me know what you think, as well as questions you’d like to include in this feature.

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Music Interview with The Young Professionals (TYP)

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This month we decided to do a special music edition of D”ash, the international youth magazine that I edit for the Jerusalem Post. We figured August is usually a slow time for news, so why not make it pop (quite literally)? Below is the cover story/interview I did with TYP, a great Israeli up-and-coming electropop group. In fact, they’re so up-and-coming that Universal signed them for a three-album record deal. To boot, for those of you that don’t speak Hebrew, no problem: all their lyrics are in English!

I am pretty proud of this interview, also because it was one of the first interviews I’ve done in Hebrew (another step towards acculturation; check!). As always, let me know what you think.

Cover of D”ash’s August Issue

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

The Young Professionals

D”ash interviews the most hyped Israeli band of 2012.

By Laura Rosbrow

Last year, The Young Professionals (or TYP for short) won Best Israeli Act at the MTV Europe Music Awards. This year, they signed a three-album deal with Universal. What makes this electropop duo, formed by veteran Israeli music scenesters Ivri Lider and Johnny Goldstein, such an international success? Besides their infectious melodies, catchy beats, and English lyrics, it probably has something to do with men in heels, campy dancing, and multi-layered videos.

Part of TYP’s tagline is “We create something new, always based on something old.” “D.I.S.C.O.”, their hit single, is a great demonstration of this concept. The song is an obvious homage to the Disco era, but the music video has various visual and musical influences. The girls that dance in the beginning are a colorful, hipster take on Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love”, also known to some as “that 80s video with models that look bored and fake play the guitar.” The girls here play keytars, and the song itself has a mix of 80s and indie electronic beats. So in one seemingly simple pop song, TYP takes us all the way from Disco, to the 80s, to today!

And here’s the clip:

Despite their impressive musical mastery, their real secret weapon is Uriel Yekutiel, their dancer. Extremely flamboyant, he is usually dressed in women’s clothing and heels, and often leads cheesy, choreographed group dances. His enthusiasm really brings the group to another level. First, he strengthens TYP’s connection to the LGBT community; Ivri Lider, himself openly gay, also sings frequently about relationships with men. But I also imagine that his energy makes their dance hits even catchier, helping TYP cement itself as a powerhouse on the electronic dance floor. This catchiness is also a large part of what has made them an international sensation.

Uriel doing signature campy dance in a TYP music video.

D”ash was thrilled to chat with this emerging pop duo. Similar to their videos, where Ivri sings while Johnny stares into the screen and occasionally taps his foot, Ivri was the bigger talker.

What led you to form TYP in the first place?

Ivri: The connection started about a project that featured many different artists but eventually, it didn’t come out. Then we played one year together for fun. And we didn’t plan all this, but we started to develop what we did together, and we found out that there was something tangible and wished to do something with it. Then we came up with TYP, which in its concept, is more than a band.

What is the importance of multi-media collaboration in TYP’s concept?

Ivri: It’s of huge importance. We don’t view it as mixing multi-media, but as one thing. And our band is a part of it. There are two musicians, a graphic designer, and a stylist as well. It’s more than the music. Music is an experience that combines all your senses. It’s not only what you hear, but also what you see. It’s about everything – what you wear, what you see on stage. It’s a total experience.

What impact has signing with Universal Music Group/ Polydor Records had on your lives? 

Ivri: I think that when you get connected to a huge body like Universal, it’s a very powerful bond because it allows us to do a lot of things. They have thoughtful and creative feedback that is really fun to accept. They have a great understanding of the market and it feels really good to collaborate with them. Basically, it enlarges our abilities – it allows us to do more.

Part of Universal’s feedback was to first release TYP’s debut album 9:00 to 17:00, 17:00 to Whenever in France (it was released in June). Why did they choose France first? 

Ivri: I think that France is a center for electronic music. The scene and especially the live music scene are very developed. They are very intelligent and stylish. They like things that are chic and special.

You said in an interview recently that, “We like opposites… we feel all those opposites is something in our everyday life.” This is reflected in different styles mixing within your music and videos. How much of this attitude comes from being Israeli?

Ivri: Yes, I think it’s a lot about being Israeli. There are all these extreme opposites that exist within Israel. You can find almost any opposites: within the economy, the music, that there’s liberal women walking down the beach in Tel Aviv and at the same time you have a woman walking down the street in Beit Shemesh that’s getting spat on. The fact that there’s also a war two hours from here, and clubs in Tel Aviv.

Part of it is also feeling like we live in a world where we have so many things. It’s part of also being Western people.

That’s interesting to hear your examples because they’re all parts of why living in Israel is stressful. But your music is really fun. Do you think that’s also part of being Israeli?

Ivri: We live in such a stressful environment that we don’t even notice it anymore. I definitely think the whole “party party” thing, especially in places like Tel Aviv, is a response to that stress. You know better than anyone (referring to said reporter) because you’re an olah chadasha (new immigrant) how stressful life can be in Israel. My boyfriend’s also an oleh, from Germany, and I see it through him how stressful life is here.

What do you want us to remember from this interview? 

Ivri: The fact that this is such a unique idea that is going to conquer the world!

TYP may not be conquering the world yet, but they will be performing in Paris and a few summer festivals in Europe. After that, we’ll see what Universal has up its sleeve: D”ash hopes this fun, thoughtful, artistic duo will go far.

Sivan Azulay and Tal Lado contributed reporting.