I grew up in a small Southern city in the United States, where my first introduction to Israel was in Sunday school. (We didn’t call it religious school back then.) Frankly, I was more interested in socializing with my Jewish friends whom I only saw once a week than hearing about dry history.
Then as an adult, I made my first trip there, and my Jewish soul felt at home! In 1996, I attended ulpan at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. That summer was one of the best times of my life. I felt so free, just being a student living in a dormitory again, with no worries, no phones, barely any access to e-mail. Part of the thrill was meeting editors and breaking in as a freelance writer for the Jerusalem Post. One of my first stories was a profile of the “Chicken Lady of Jerusalem,” Clara Hammer, a woman in her 80s who’d started a tzedaka fund to provide needy families with chicken for Shabbat.
The Chicken Lady became my muse.
Back home in Tennessee the following year, I first had the vision of creating a book to reveal the beauty and humanity of modern-day Israelis who make a great difference in the lives of others — like The Chicken Lady. That’s the Israel I know and love. Unfortunately, it’s an aspect of Israel that the Western media doesn’t seem to recognize.
Then in 1999, I made aliya. I was meeting unbelievable people every day — people like you don’t see on the 6 o’clock news in the West. I wanted others to know about this side of Israel — Israel behind the controversial, political, stereotyped headlines that often dominate. There is a communications theory called semiotics that looks at how images — such as a blown-up bus — can be used to convey the world of an idea or a place, like Israel.
As I studied communications theory back in the States in graduate school, I became more convinced than ever that Israel was getting a bad rap due to lazy reporting that relied on the “usual suspects” as topics and images of Israel.
Meanwhile, my dream took shape, and at last I started writing my book. “Beyond Politics: Inspirational People of Israel, which of course includes the Chicken Lady. She passed away in 2010 at the age of 99, but her legacy and mitzva fund live on.
In addition to Clara, other amazing Israelis include Shlomo Molla, who became the first Ethiopian Knesset member and is now deputy speaker. He left his village at age 16 with 15 other boys and risked his life, walking nearly 500 miles across the jungles and deserts of Ethiopia and Sudan, to achieve his dream of living in Israel.
My vision was to show the melting pot of Israel with stories about Jews of all ages, religious levels and backgrounds, from American and Australian to Iraqi and Indian.
I hope to spread the word — through these stories — about the many caring Israelis who are making a great difference behind the headlines.
I believe people all over the world hunger for inspiration. A lot of headlines unfortunately feed us negative news, and all the while we really yearn for something that uplifts our souls. There is much news from Israel that is positive, inspiring and, quite literally, beyond politics.
Israel is so full of great characters that I could never run out of material.