Filed under: Feelings, Hey!, Identity, Struggles | Tags: blockade, Flotilla, Sandra Bernhard
A lot can change in 24 hours. Sunday night I got to watch Rihanna perform in Jafo’s Bloomfield Stadium, and she was magnificent. The concert was part of a cool initiative called the Orange RockCorps. To score a ticket you had to do four hours of community service or know my friend Beth and get given a ticket for doing nothing. This was RiRi’s first time in Israel.
I had a stupendous time at the show. I almost didn’t make it! Beth told me RiRi was performing at Ramat Gan Stadium. I set out on my bike with plenty of time – dressed in “26-year-old drag.” My friend Ashley told me that the RockCorps tickets were only for kids ages 16-26. With bad lighting, sleep in your eyes and visual impairment, I can maybe appear 32-years-old; 26-y-o would be really pushing it (#understatement). But I wore a baseball cap and little O.P. corduroy shorts and gave myself a fresh, clean shave.
Google Maps on my BlackBerry got me there easily enough, and I realized the stadium (actually in Bnei Brak) was across from two skyscrapers where I had business meetings in the last few weeks. I was feeling that “more has been revealed” satisfying feeling that (unknowingly at the time) those meetings had helped familiarize me with this location to help me find the concert.
Except, major #Fail, b/c RiRi was not performing there at all. She was performing at Bloomfield Stadium in Yafo, which is basically the southern tip of Tel Aviv. Bnei Brak was like two towns over, north of Tel Aviv.
Fortunately, this whole country is the size of a peanut, and RiRi is Diva enough to never start the show on time, and I made it to the correct stadium about :10 minutes before she went on.
I passed for 26-years-old or, they just weren’t checking! I had a ticket to stand on the floor, which was fine b/c it was very close up. Even arriving as close to showtime as I did, I still was maybe 15 feet away from her when she came stage right. It was like I was babysitting or 15,000 teenagers, but it was fine.
Don’t you love it, when you remember to bring your camera and when you whip it out to take your first shot, you’re greeted with this message on the display: “CHANGE THE BATTERY PACK.” #Fail !!! Why doesn’t the camera have a gauge that shows you battery strength as you go along, but instead tells you nothing before – “Hey, doufus – I’m done. Change me.” #Fail !!! BlackBerry pics had to suffice, mainly of the video monitor, b/c cam was not high quality enough to get good shots of RiRi directly, close as I was.
Great show. Of course, I’m gonna find all the ways she was derivative of Madonna, but she really turned it out and rocked hard. It was really fun. Since I’m building my own business, I work *A LOT*, and it’s a real challenge to make myself get out for social activities. Seeing a big act like RiRi feels tangible to me, like I can point to it and feel – See, I do stuff.
Next day, late morning I see one of the new friends I’ve made from this crowd that’s really active on Twitter, Benji, tweet something like – “So sad, can’t stop watching the news.” Part of me thinks Uh-oh, what? , but I’m swamped as usual w/ work, and I don’t pay full attention. I can’t remember how long, but later that day the twitter chatter becomes loud enough that I realize something big has happened.
I’m trying to remember now what the first coverage I read was like – was it the US and global press accusing Israel of a “massacre of peace activists” or was it links from the people I follow on Twitter, who told a different story – that the IDF soldiers were “brutally ambushed by the terrorists at sea“?
The Ynet article really made me feel better – See, we’re not barbarians…we boarded the boat and *they* attacked *us* !! In an interesting twist, right afrter reading that article, the next tweet I see in Tweetdeck is from comedian/actress/author/personality/singer Sandra Bernhard – who I have adored ever since the mid 80’s, when she seemingly appeared on Late Night w/ David Letterman every few weeks. I remember thinking – Who *IS* this chick !?! I don’t know if Sandra was out then (I certainly wasn’t), but I was captivated by the way she clearly marched to her own drummer and seemed so much more authentic and original than the celebrities I was accustomed to seeing.
Anyway, so I’ve been a fan of hers for 25 years, and I read her tweet saying:
Not mean spiritied. Just a question – a *good* question. But in this environment – when, AGAIN it seems the world is unifiyingly holding Israel to an unfair security & self-defense double-standard…and yes, I was probably taking on some of these critical attacks on Israel personally…because Sandra is influential (and Jewish) and many people pay attention to what she has to say, I didn’t want her question to go unanswered or manipulated for another person’s purposes or change the opinion of someone still making up his/her mind up about what was still breaking news.
So, I answered her over Twitter:
And I included a hyperlink to the Ynet story I had read. Then, I continued working. I was still swamped, and flotilla or notilla, that hadn’t changed. When I checked Tweetdeck a little later, I saw that Sandra had answered me. While I had half-hoped she would, I certainly didn’t expect her to. Anyway, here is our conversation:
OK, so maybe it’s less of a conversation and really Sandra’s response to my tweet, and then my 3 replies to her, plus one re-tweet from my new friend @Jewlicious. (But if you remove the 140-character limitation, then – yeah, it’s her response, then mine, then me forwarding something.)
Anyway, I continued working, but of course that means checking both Facebook and Tweetdeck (and Atraf) every 5 seconds, and I came across a link to video posted by The Huffington Post, and it made Israel look just awful. A British Al-Jazeera reporter is giving a report from the deck of the raided flotilla boat. He mentions in his report that the flotilla was “carrying aid” when the “Israeli commandos descended upon it in International waters after surrounding it with ships from all sides” and mentions that on board the raided boat were “activists, parliamentarians, women, children and the elderly” and that “tens of people were injured, and there were still sounds of live fire despite white flag having been raised.”
I started feeling bad after watching this report. Not just – Oh, shit, this is *Bad* for Israel, but more like self-doubt, like – Oh, shit is this who we are? Are we barbarians? Am I in denial when I say the world is being unfair in its condemnation of us for what transpired? Are we really evil?
Another report I read on HuffPo had a pundit calling the incident “Israel’s Kent State” and a “massacre” and referred to those on the boat as “activists.” Head was starting to spin. Were they activists delivering aid, or terrorists attacking soldiers with metal rods? What was the truth ??
The HuffPo post was updated with video from the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) that showed the people attacking the soldiers when they first boarded the boat. This did a lot to reassure me – both that we had not perpetrated a massacre, and that more balanced coverage was making it’s way to American media, if not Europe.
Here is close-up of the same footage I found on the IDF’s YouTube channel:
I felt even more reassured when I read my friend David Hazony’s report. David is a writer and author on religion, Judaism, Israel, and the Middle East. From his piece I learned that the flotilla had written a press release in advance about the attack and were able to send it to news media around the world as soon as the incident occured. Premeditate much? David’s piece talked about the need to win the media war via press releases and Twitter, and I popped a PR boner. This is what I do, man !!! Maybe this is the reason I am here in Israel – I’m supposed to offer my PR and communications expertise (all in mother-tongue English) to the Israeli government and IDF and help us win the media war the next time.
I fired off a tweet to Sandra Bernhard, with a link to David’s piece. Then, I went to the gym to get rid of some of this anxiety and fat. But first, here are two exchanges with friends on Facebook. But are friends I love. One is Jewish, and she thanks me for “getting the truth out.” The other is not Jewish, but he lived in Israel before and loves Israel. But after the news coverage he saw, he had decided Israel and the IDF were in the wrong here, and he was condemning the IDF raid. Can you see why this was very confusing and heartbreaking for me?
I got my gym on. As I opened my locker to shower after, I saw that Sandra Bernhard had replied to me on Twitter! I was really happy about this. Because our conversation did not devolve into argument, but remained kind; other people could be following it over Twitter and having their thoughts on the incident broadened, and Sandra and I found some common ground in the end. Plus, I was able to get my starfuck on with a performer I have always enjoyed and admired.
Cool, right? Look, I didn’t know when I’d ever be talking to Sandra again, so I could not resist telling her about how I first became a fan. It’s like when I met Debra Winger while working on the red carpet of the Gotham Independent Film Awards and got to tell her the scene in ‘Terms of Endearment’ where she says goodbye to her kids is my favorite moment of cinema ever. I still didn’t get what Sandra meant about my response being disproportinate. But whatevs. This was still a cool thing on a lot of levels for me. Headed to a cafe to work for a few hours. Logged on and saw Sandra had responded!
Then, when I get home, I found out she had asked me what I do for a living here in Israel. Wow, I thought that was really nice.
I could have asked her what she meant by that. Israel is a democracy and all 7.1 million citizens have full rights and participate in government and society (not just the 5.6 million Jews), but it was almost 4am, and time for a few hours of sleep.
It’s a couple of days later now, and I was happy to see more examples of US media coverage that I thought was fair. Like, when Vice President Joe Biden appeared on Charlie Rose and defended Israel’s actions. And then, this wonderful opinion piece by Charles Krauthammer.
Almost finished, those of you who are still with me. Saw this last night. Superbly powerful parody/commentary of the Flotilla called “We Con the World” (like the 1985 USA for Africa single, “We Are the World”). I think it’s brilliant and the creative force behind it, Caroline Glick, is my new hero. Watch:
Alright, it’s Shabbat, my dog is dying to get outside, and I’ve been writing this post for more than four hours. Time to get cleaned up and head to Hilton Beach. I just knew I had to do a long post about my reaction to this international incident, though. Because I am an Israeli, but not a native one. I’m an American, too, and most of my friends live in America. America is more supportive of Israel than any other country, and American news media coverage of Israel is more balanced than most coverage in the world, which has a very anti-Israeli slant – maybe because the world views Israel as an illegitimate country who shouldn’t really be here at all. From my unique perspective as an Oleh Chadash (new immigrant) living in Israel for less than a year and a half, I am in between worlds, in a way. I live here. But I read American news via the New York Times, and links to US news sources sent around on Twitter and Facebook. I have friends in both countries. I dunno, it occurred to me that my reaction to this event was probably not the same as the average Israeli, and I wanted to document it (for me) and share it – in case there are other Olim who can relate to parts of it.
P.S. Here’s a good summary piece from NYT.
P.P.S. Footnote: that I have a friend in New York named Kevin, who works as a professional drag queen. His drag name?