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.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

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.

Ch-ch-ch-changes: Part II

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First, I must thank many of you who reached out to me after my last post. Your positive energy was much appreciated. I think it worked, because not only did I land my first contract writing gig, I also got rehired for my editing position. Yipee! The contract writing will be a part-time grant writing job that I can do from Israel. That’s a very exciting development and lovely way for me to step back into the nonprofit world. Then, the story about my position, well…how about you read this Jpost post, titled, “Working it: Some advice about journalism in Israel,” to get the full picture? :).

In any case, I’m very excited for these next steps and really appreciate all of your support. Hope you’re doing well, and look forward to seeing many of you in the Bay Area over Thanksgiving!

Courtesy of lovelihood at Creative Commons.

 

My blog is today’s top Jerusalem Post blog!

As some of you may know, I started writing a personal column for the Jerusalem Post Lite in June on a trial basis. Well, it received such strong feedback that they decided to make it a permanent blog on Jpost’s website!

My first post is actually today’s top featured blog!

 

The blog is titled, “A new take on native,” and is a way for me to share my perspective on Israel as a new immigrant. Specifically, I described fresh observations that might be new or insightful to Israelis. It will be in their “aliyah” section, which refers to blogs from new immigrants.

Before sharing my first post widely, I realized there were a few cultural things I needed to explain to audiences outside of Israel.

1) I use the term, “making aliyah.” This term refers to the process in which Jews outside of Israel can become citizens of the State of Israel based on Israel’s Law of Return. Some consider the Law of Return controversial in comparison to the Palestinian right of return. To be fair, I use the same source to explain both sides: Wikipedia (on an unrelated note, I am writing about Wikipedia soon because I went to their annual conference in Haifa and got to interview Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s founder!).

At this point, I am considered a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. On a personal level, I made aliyah mostly for practical reasons: I liked living in Israel and knew that I wanted to live here for a long time. Given the option, I preferred becoming a citizen to remaining on a work visa status because it made my life easier financially as well as legally.

2) Part of becoming an Israeli citizen can mean a mandatory military service. All Israeli women under the age of 22 and men under the age of 26 are obligated to serve in the Israel Defense Force unless they go to a Yeshiva, are married, have children, have a suitable medical reason or are Arab-Israeli. Because I became a dual citizen at the age of 26, I was not obligated to do this.

3) “Sabra” is a reference to native Israelis.

Hope you enjoy this humorous first piece, “My boss punched me. With love.