'The Jerusalem Post' and me

In the course of our 7-yr relationship, I went from being a restless ingenue to a double car-seat-wielding mother.

By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
January 3, 2012 19:57
Beit Yehoshua

train accident in Beit Yehoshua 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – We’ve been together since before I got married. In the course of our relationship, I went from being a restless ingenue fresh out of combat service to a double car-seat-wielding mother. We began at the end of the second intifada, slogged our way through bombings, rockets, a war, an elections cycle – and, most notably, a 56-hour day that began with routine work, continued through the night in the Negev climbing on rooftops with Border Police, watching Kassams fly mere meters over my head in the morning, and ended with a five-mile hike to the scene of one of Israel’s deadliest train crashes – followed by a hurried return to Jerusalem to file the story.

As in every relationship, we’ve had our ups and downs. But as Eleanor of Aquitaine a la Katherine Hepburn said in Lion in Winter, after fighting with her estranged husband over a particularly ugly incestuous affair, what family doesn’t have its ups and downs?

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Maternity leaves not withstanding, Saturday night was the first time since 2005 that I did not go to sleep knowing that I would wake up with the news cycle the next day.

It seems too nonchalant to let this momentous occasion in my life pass without note. And since, unconsciously and unwillingly, you have shared my life with me for the past seven years, I feel that you should be included in this moment.

In early 2005 I had just finished my IDF service, the only “family” I had known since I moved to Israel. Having barely made ends meet on my lone soldier’s salary, I had no idea how I would make it through the next few months financially, particularly since the employment possibilities where I lived – in one of Israel’s northernmost communities – were minimal. I waited tables at a restaurant 45 minutes away, and took a stab at teaching English in a Kiryat Shmona middle school, while trying my luck at almost every employment notice I found.

ENTER THE Jerusalem Post. The paper, located over three-and-a-half hours’ journey away, had an open position for an “Internet updates editor,” and when I was called in for an interview, I did not even stop to consider how I would do the job if I got it. I did.

Until the end of the school year, I continued a commute four times a week between Kiryat Shmona and Jerusalem, working night shifts at the Internet and sleeping on the bus ride north.

I found myself gradually submerged in a parallel universe, a status that seemed to perch me always on the edge of a window ledge, peeking in at the rest of the world as if it was a television drama unfolding before my eyes. I became used to flashing my press card at crime scenes, disasters and bombings with the same panache Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) investigators show their identification with, seconds before they escort you into a white jeep.

I flourished on that out-siderness, the ability to look wide-eyed at your co-conversationalist and say “but I’m paid not to have a political opinion,” to be a part of that inevitable cluster of notepad wielding critics on the sidelines – sometimes cynical and sometimes sympathetic – who scribble the world into a sort of ordered chaos in articles and inches, relegating some events to ledes (lead paragraphs) and others to a simple aside in the 45th paragraph.

Sometimes, particularly on my internal security beat, I felt a yawning helplessness in the face of suffering. Sometimes, particularly on my Knesset beat, I wanted to yell at my interviewees, to shake them into their senses. Sometimes, more often then I cared to admit, I just wanted to find a story that could make good news that I could be done with by eight so I could have dinner with my growing family.

Sometimes, self-styled intellectuals would inevitably ask me about how I saw the future of journalism, as a practitioner. The question tended to take me aback. Just as a bus driver once had to yell “hayellet” (soldier) at me half-a-dozen times before I realized he was talking to me, it took me years before I understood – fully – that the journalist was me.

Yes, it is me. And to answer those questions: I don’t know. Maybe if I knew, I wouldn’t be starting a new chapter of my life but still trekking from the parking lot to the double doors of the MKs’ entrance to the Knesset, doors that always seemed to part to reveal a faintly goldly-lit glowing promise of another day.

It seems almost as if I am doing an injustice to myself to leave after finally understanding that the journalist was me. But instead, I am simply continuing from where my life left off seven years ago, before the Post hijacked my academic dreams and made me into a journalist on a roller-coaster of my own will.

TO DO adequate justice to the seven years is simply impossible. To recount every moment where adrenaline rushed through me so fast that I felt as if I were floating, every time I cried in private, every time I cursed my subjects, my editors, and even my fellow journalists would require more inches than the Post could offer in a year.

Instead, as I try to visualize the perfect final slide in a slide show of near-hysterical contrasts, I think of the passions that drove me. I think of people who changed not just my reporting but my world, of a Nobel laureate catching my son on a Jerusalem playground, of an Ethiopian girl who wanted to visit Poland and the Holocaust survivor who called me to give her the money to do it, of my challenge to myself to treat road deaths no differently than bombing casualties and the moment when I realized that the Knesset might be inching toward doing the same.

I think of the lessons I learned, the ability to see the humanity in subjects with whom you passionately disagree, but also the chill you feel when you look into the eyes of the truly evil. I learned not to respect authority because it is authority, but because of what it does with that power. I learned that sources sometimes become something like friends, and that in a moment of truth, they often go back to becoming subjects. I learned that the world is even more complex than the sum of all analyses put together, and to never, ever to go out on a story without a laptop charger and spare batteries for beepers.

I don’t know when I became a reporter during these seven years, and now – when I imagine my news byline relegated to Internet archives – I can’t imagine ever really being anything else.

The writer is a former Jerusalem Post journalist. She is now a PhD candidate in a history at Johns Hopkins University, and will be premiering, together with Hilary Leila Krieger, a new US political blog on JPost.com called The National Zoo.


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