Laura Cornfield, 57, describes herself as fun-loving and curious. But she doesn’t have a bucket list. She crossed off the typical bucket-list items in her life BC (before children). Annual ski trips, explorations in Zanzibar and Europe, a whisky tour of Scotland – check, check and check.
“Most friends at my age have started traveling with their spouses. Part of me would like to be with them and the other part says, ‘I already did that.’ Now I do a lot of things so that my kids will have fun. On Yom Kippur we went for a bike ride for a few hours with friends. We love hosting people for barbecues and jumping on our trampoline.”
The Jerusalem resident is coming up on two years as director of MediaCentral, a nonprofit media liaison service center providing professional support for journalists based in or visiting Israel and/or the Palestinian territories.
She began her own career in journalism only six months after making aliyah in January 1986. Arriving with a BA in communications from the University of Wisconsin, Laura took a job at Israel Television after completing Ulpan Etzion. Her salary for the first year was provided by the Ministry of Absorption in the hope that it would become a permanent position, and it did – partly due to Laura often filling in for coworkers on maternity leave.
Jumping into the deep end, she began working in Hebrew news and then two years later switched to the sports department. One of her assignments was covering the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, where Israel earned its first two Olympic medals.
Among her colleagues was Merav Michaeli, then a sports anchor and now Minister of Transportation – and a new mother, at 54, of a child carried by a surrogate.
“Recently I sent her a congrats WhatsApp about her new baby and offered ‘late in life’ mothering tips,” says Laura, the single mom of Matan, almost 12, and 10-year-old twins Hila and Tal.
“I had Matan in my mid-40s after my father passed away and then after my mother died, I had the girls,” she explains. “I have the maturity – maybe – and knowledge that I wouldn’t have had as a young mom but sometimes not the stamina, although they do keep me young!”
Born and raised in Milwaukee, Laura went to high school at Ida Crown Jewish Academy outside Chicago and then studied English literature for a year and a half at Bar-Ilan University.
“When I was my kids’ age, when you asked me at the end of the school year what I wanted to do I always said, ‘A radio announcer in Israel,’” she says.
“I come from a very Zionistic family, so it was kind of a given that we would go to Israel. And we four siblings all lived here at some point.” Her parents, too, spent their final years in Israel.
Because her ambition changed from radio to television, after Bar-Ilan she went back to the United States for college; it was the fastest way to get her degree – in two and a half years, with the Bar-Ilan credits. “Television journalism was only a master’s program at the time in Israel,” she explains.
Laura remained at Israel Television until May 2017 in various capacities including editor, senior correspondent and anchor of IBA English News. When Kan became the new Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation, she worked there for two years as post producer for the magazine segment of the evening news.
She feels passionate about MediaCentral, whose mission is to assist journalists in understanding the region and reporting the facts accurately. She does, however, miss the warm personal feeling that pervaded broadcast journalism in Israel in the 1980s and 1990s.
“In Israel Television, there was a sense of family. It was like we all grew up together,” she says. “These days, there’s more of a celeb vibe.”
Nevertheless, Laura is a “glass half full” type of person and prefers to dwell on the positive.
For example, although in some ways Tel Aviv would be a better fit for her lifestyle, with its beaches, flat topography for biking, and weekend activities for a non-religious family, she feels most at home in Jerusalem and never wanted to live anywhere else.
“I love the weather in Jerusalem. I love the peacefulness on Friday nights,” she explains. “This is where my friends live. We are lucky to have a garden so we can host them here.”
After nearly 36 years in Israel, Laura says she doesn’t feel 100% American or 100% Israeli. However, she is raising three sabras who don’t know anything about snowy Wisconsin winters and the experience of Jewish sleepaway camp.
Being a mother to young kids has given Laura “a whole new set of friends who are a decade or two younger than myself, which is a real trip.”
Laura and five other Anglo-Israeli moms get together regularly to enjoy high-quality wine, whisky and coffee.
“We are each at different stages in life, and we have a great vibe going on. I’m the chillaxed one,” she says. “I love entertaining and taking care of people.”
For anyone contemplating making aliyah in their 20s, as Laura did, she has some practical advice: “Follow your dreams but come prepared. Be ready to do scuttle work and expect that you’re not going to be paid what you think you’re worth. But you can make it happen.”
Furthermore, she advises would-be immigrants to brush up their Hebrew as much as possible by watching Hebrew TV shows and listening to Israeli news.
“I went to religious high school and Bar-Ilan, so I didn’t come with zero Hebrew. But ulpan was important. And then I was immersed in a Hebrew-speaking workplace. I know people can get by here without being fluent in Hebrew, but there’s an entire other level you can get to if you understand it.” ■
LAURA CORNFIELD, 57 FROM MILWAUKEE TO JERUSALEM, 1986