The benefit of having a word that can mean 'hello,' 'goodbye' and 'peace.'

Laura Kelly (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Laura Kelly
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
‘Shalom, ma shlomech?” I repeated to myself as my instructor reiterated the phrase in my ear. I was walking down Third Avenue in Manhattan listening to Hebrew audiotapes in February 2012.
It had been one month since I participated on Taglit-Birthright and I was preparing to head back to the country that so confounded me.
I’ve always lived my life as a bit of a nomad. Regular readers of these pages wouldn’t be surprised to hear that I always aspired to be a world traveler, with two study-abroad programs in university, a few months’ stint in China, then Ireland, before settling in New York for two years. My time in the Middle East has been my longest so far – four years – and while there’s no shortage of adventure here, my feet have gotten the best of me and I’m readying myself to move on. This is my last issue as editor of the weekend Magazine – a post I am so fortunate to have occupied for two and half years.
DURING MY tenure I was determined to push the boundaries of what readers saw in the Magazine. I wanted to create a publication that reflected my generation’s ideas, concerns and interests, but also to be sensitive to the already dedicated readership.
I assigned stories about LGBT rights in Israel, women’s rights, war and terrorism – but was surprised at how much I enjoyed learning about Jewish communities abroad, historical stories, art and culture. I quickly learned that as much as I wanted to challenge readers’ conceptions of the world we live in and highlight the injustices, there was also room for fun and inspiration. While the responsibility falls on the editor each week to choose the cover story, the Magazine writers frequently devised ideas for stories that led this paper each Friday.
It’s difficult to rank the stories I wrote and the things I experienced – but there are a few choice issues of the Magazine that I’ll always remember, for their innovation on covering a certain topic, relevance to breaking news and collaborations with different writers and being inspired by their passion. There was our International Women’s Day issue on March 7, 2014, that – in addition to a whole magazine dedicated to women – featured interviews with female journalists reporting for high-profile international publications; our February 28, 2014 issue, which explored the challenges faced by same-sex couples pursuing surrogacy.
As part of our coverage of Operation Protective Edge, we explored the unavoidable war being fought online and how social media were shaping public opinion. In one of my more memorable experiences, I wanted to find a way to put into context how the whole country was seemingly uniting in support of our soldiers during wartime – organizing countless packing parties, fund-raisers and visits to wounded soldiers in the hospital. For the cover, I posed an intern as if she were writing a thank-you note to the soldiers, and had our graphic artist overlay the image as if it were an illustration.
While my medium is the written word, I quickly gained an appreciation for the power of our cover image. The Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher supermarket massacres in Paris in January 2015 affected me deeply. Here were two communities I felt personally connected to – the media and the Jews – gunned down for simply being who they are. I found a photo of a close-up of a gloved hand, holding a blue paintbrush, a white pen and a red drawing pencil – symbolizing the colors of the French flag and the profession of the murdered. For our cover we laid this image against a black background with the simple headline, ‘We are all Charlie.’ FOR MY own reporting, I am so thankful for the opportunities the Magazine has afforded me, traveling all over Israel and to Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Sinai, India, Russia and countless countries in Europe all in the name of a good story. But what I didn’t expect is how much the readers would affect me. I feel I’ve shared these experiences most intimately with you.
Despite Israel’s prominence on the international stage (for good or bad), I came to realize that the relatively small size of the country, the wealth of the local news and the even more interconnectedness of the English-speaking community make the readers of the Magazine feel like family. I revel in the moments when I would see someone sitting at a coffee shop or on a bus reading the magazine. Throughout the trauma and drama of 2014 – the kidnapping of the three boys in the West Bank, the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, rioting in Jerusalem, Operation Protective Edge – I felt an overpowering obligation to take care of you, the readers. I wanted to provide the context to our reality, to find solace in information and give hope with stories of inspiration. It was then I started to realize the power of the Magazine, the absolute privilege to be brought into someone’s home each weekend, to be part of the moment’s of solitude, relaxation or escape.
MY MOM always said every good relationship should last two years; the first year is all about falling in love, the butterflies, the excitement, reveling in the unexpected. The second year is when you find your footing and you decide if the little annoyances that once were charming are something you can deal with and forge ahead – or break it off. My relationship with Israel has lasted four years. This country and the people have given so much to me. The challenges are steep here, but the reward is that much more fulfilling.
When I moved to Jerusalem in April 2013, I told myself I’d give it a year – with no family in Israel, no friends in this city and Passover turning my neighborhood into a virtual ghost town, I wasn’t sure I could make it. I entered the Jerusalem Post offices cautiously. I sat at my desk quietly, readily taking direction on how best to copy edit the evening’s stories and slowly reached out to my colleagues with a friendly smile.
Three years later, I’m sure the staff would balk at the idea that I could be anything but loud and rambunctious – and that is in large part due to them. They were mentors to guide me when I was lost, cheerleaders to support my decisions and sources of inspiration from their own life stories, dedication and hard work.
Most importantly, they’ve been a family when I had none.
THE JERUSALEM POST is historic, and I truly feel privileged to have been a small part of that history. I can’t say for certain if this is the end of my time in Israel, but I do know that I am a better person for being here, and no matter where I go or what I do next, this experience has affected me in a profound way.