If you’re wondering what it’s like to live in Israel during Operation Protective Edge, this piece should hopefully give you a pretty good picture. Here’s my Mic debut, titled “These Images Sum Up the Mood in Israel Right Now,” about the Israeli-Hamas conflict.
This is a very sweet video of Israeli celebs, including Bar Refaeli, supporting a civil union bill. To give some background, Yesh Atid, a large centrist party in Israel, introduced the legislation in late October. It would not only give same-sex couples access to marriage benefits, it would also free heterosexual couples that can’t (or don’t want to) get married through Israel’s Orthodox Rabbinate. Right now, Arab-Israelis can get married through Islamic or Christian authorities, and Jewish-Israelis can only get married through the Orthodox Rabbinical Court. If either group wants to get married to a same-sex partner, intermarry, or get married outside of religious strictures, they must get married abroad.
The video, which was released on Sunday, asks the question “Why do I support the civil marriage bill?” At the end, the video asks people to share the video and raise awareness about the new bill. Hopefully the bill will be voted on in December. I don’t normally ask people to share stuff on my blog, but I feel this is important. So if this moves you (even though you can’t understand all the Hebrew…thankfully the visuals tell most of the story), please share this with your friends!
Two days after writing the post “Why doesn’t Moore, Oklahoma have any public tornado shelters?,” I was quoted in the BBC. (I refrained from posting at the time because 1) I was on vacation and 2) I didn’t want to sound too enthusiastic to the readers coming to the site from the BBC article). In Tara McKelvey’s piece “Why so few storm shelters in Tornado Alley hotspot?,” people in Tornado Alley explain why there are so few storm shelters. Towards the end of the article she quotes my blog post, the only international perspective in the piece:
One Israel-based blogger, Laura Rosbrow, says that she cannot understand why people in Oklahoma do not have more publicly-funded shelters.
In Israel, Rosbrow says, bomb shelters are located “within blocks of every residence”.
“In Israel, you feel like the country is giving you peace of mind,” writes Rosbrow on her blog. “Isn’t that the way it should be?”
Thank you Tara McElvey, whose career I respect enormously.
And dear readers, now that I am back from vacation, expect more regular posts. Getting back into gear!
First, my heart is with all the lives that have been lost in the tornado that has hit Moore, Oklahoma and the surrounding area. At this moment, USA Today claims that at least 24 people were killed. CBS News‘ “KFOR meteorologist Mike Morgan called this ‘the worst tornado damage in the history of the world.’”
As I have been watching the destruction unfold on TV with my family (I am visiting California), I have been struck by the lack of tornado shelters in Moore, Oklahoma. The best shelter during a tornado is in a basement or underground facility. Yet according to an MSNBC reporter on All In With Chris Hayes, only around 1 in 10 homes have these facilities. Even more chilling, the City of Moore’s website says “The City of Moore has no community (or “public”) tornado shelters.” Why?
On All in With Chris Hayes, the reporter (whose name I cannot remember) it is prohibitively expensive for most people to build tornado shelters. Additionally, there’s a form of rock underneath most Moore residents’ homes that is very tough to build through.
Further, the City of Moore bluntly states that it cannot guarantee FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) will cover the cost of building tornado shelters in individuals’ homes. In response to the question “Should I wait to build a safe room in the hopes that the FEMA grant program will be re-instituted?”, the City of Moore replies in the following manner:
No. If you’re concerned that you need a safe room, it is recommended that you build one. There is no guarantee that even if the rules are changed that we will be chosen for a grant; and if we are chosen, there is no guarantee that there will be enough funding to accommodate all residents who wish to participate. Your peace-ofmind will more than offset the cost of a shelter.
But if the cost is too expensive for individuals, why aren’t there public shelters? The City of Moore gives several reasons: “people face less risk by taking shelter in a reasonably-well constructed residence!” It seems strange to give a fact that few can afford the enthusiasm of an exclamation point.
That aside, the City of Moore encourages residents to shelter in the closest home with a reasonable facility. This is because “the average tornado warning time is generally only 10-15 minutes,” so if a shelter is constructed underneath one’s home, it is faster to reach that destination than to drive to a nearby shelter. Although the city has “2,210 registered saferooms” from individuals (the population is 55,081), there is no public listing of these rooms.
Regarding the possibility of public buildings with tornado shelters, the city’s website simply states “There is no public building in Moore which has a suitable location for a shelter.” Again, why?
Again, money. In response to the question “Why don’t we build a community storm shelter?”, this is the City of Moore‘s response:
- How large of facility should we build? Our population is 55,081. To shelter that many people would require building something like an underground sports arena. (If we didn’t build for that many, then how do we determine who gets turned away when the facility was full?)
- What would you use this large facility for the other 364 days of the year? The facility wouldn’t be financially feasible without other uses; but the other uses would have to accommodate unscheduled storms.
- Security. If the other “intended uses” require equipment or supplies, how do those items remain secure when people arrive for sheltering? Security necessary to properly maintain order for 55,000 people exceeds are current capabilities.
- Staffing. Sheltering thousands of persons also takes a lot of support staff, from ensuring someone has the keys and opens the doors, to custodial staff, to concessions, to maintenance.
- What about multiple smaller facilities? You still have many of the same issues, just spread over more locations, therefore requiring as many or more resources.
This governmental response feels like the complete opposite of living in Israel. There are bomb shelters within blocks of every residence. 10-15 minutes feels like a luxury compared to the 15-90 seconds most Israelis get before a bomb drops. In Israel, you feel like the country is giving you peace of mind. Isn’t that the way it should be?
In the aftermath of this horrible tragedy, let us prioritize funding governmental programs like FEMA over partisan politics. It is always worth the cost to save a life.
A lot of friends and readers have wanted to hear more of my opinions. For example, my most popular post on Facebook last year was a status I wrote right after Operation Pillar of Defense began.
“Several friends and family have been reading about the recent military conflict between Israel and Gaza and wanted to know if my friends and I are okay. Thankfully, so far, the answer is yes. I appreciate your thoughts and concerns. In the next day or so, I’m going to write as objective a post as I can write about the history of this conflict and what’s currently going on. Sending my love and hopes for peace.”
I unfortunately never got around to writing the post because I experienced so many things during the conflict that it was hard for me to articulate all of my thoughts in a timely enough manner. Sorry Facebook friends.
So, I’m trying to devise ways to share more of my opinions about current events without needing the time nor energy to create well-formulated posts. I’d also like to do this in a way that’s insightful for the reader versus just fluff.
Rating the news
Because I’m a journalist, I’m reading news ALL the time. I often have a gut reaction about a piece, whether that’s positive or negative.
Now, I’m going to post articles I read and categorize them in 1 of 3 ways:
1) Stuff that makes me mad
2) Stuff that makes me happy
3) Sh*t is complicated
Because news in Israel is often so complicated, I may end up double-categorizing many pieces. But still, I think this will help me share current issues that are important as well as my take on things.
If you have other suggestions for how I should rate news, let me know!
Last, a fun GIF to top things off, :).
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:
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.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _
‘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.
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!
“Israelis in Vietnam: From drug addicts to fakers, and in the middle, the heroic truth,” is my first article published directly to the Jerusalem Post’s website! No need to pay for it! And it made it to the front page of the website…so that’s cool.
The piece is about Vietnam War veterans that later immigrated to Israel. I did interviews with two of them and their stories are very moving, especially regarding trauma. They are both interviewed for a new documentary in Israel about Israeli-Americans that fought in Vietnam, which airs tonight on Israel’s History Channel.
Let me know what you think.
Well, so far I’ve been one of those writers that sits and stews on pieces for a while, and then all of a sudden, I post several articles within a short period of time. Unfortunately, this does not bode so well for regular blogging…
One of my editors told me recently that in order to stay on the Jpost blog site (especially because they’re looking to cut the bloggers down substantially), I’ll need to start writing once a week. He wanted me to stay, but cautioned me that I’d have to post more frequently. Eeck! It that was a kick in the butt to pump up my game. Which I’m trying to do.
This means that my approach to blogging will have to change. Instead of writing longer posts and posting less frequently, which is what I have been doing, I will have to write shorter posts but post more frequently. This means I will either describe short, clear stories, or spread out a piece over several posts.
Which leads me to ask you, my loyal readers, some valuable questions: If I could write about anything about Israel, what would most interest you? Which posts of mine have you liked more, and would like to see more of? Any and all ideas would be appreciated! Thanks!
I have to say, one of the coolest things I’ve gotten to do so far in journalism was this interview. Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, was in Israel last month for Wikipedia’s annual conference. He had a lot of interesting things to say about Wikipedia, journalism, and the tent protests going on in Israel. Check it out!
Photo by Andrew Lih via Wikimedia Commons