Friday, November 23, 2012

Dinner and rockets

Sun night we went to a dinner in Netanya honoring Arthur Opolion, who was President of AACI in Netanya for 2 years and who before that played many leading roles in the organization, and still does.  He is a consummate volunteer, working without fanfare on the jobs that need doing. 
Arthur had an amazing life story, that I was privileged to find when I interviewed him.  He and his sister were sent on a Kindertransport train from Czechoslovakia to England just before WWII, where they lived with a Minister and his wife for a year and a half.  His parents after many narrow escapes managed to reach Italy after the war had started and were able to escape from there and finally arrived in New York.  They discovered where their children were living and before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor they managed to have them sent via Sweden, Russia and Japan to the US West Coast and thence to NY.  This was en epic journey for two children.  When Arthur was a teenager he volunteered to fight for the underground Irgun Zvai Leumi against the British in Palestine.  He then returned to the US where he was drafted to fight in Korea, and spent some time in Japan.  Finally he made aliyah and has contributed greatly to the welfare of English-speaking immigrants to Israel.
The speaker at the dinner was Benji Davis, a young American-Israeli who grew up in Los Angeles and made aliyah in 2009.  He has a degree from George Washington University in Washington DC in Middle East Studies and History.  But his experience working as a volunteer in Sderot for a semester prepared him well for his role of assistant to the Spokesman of the Defense Ministry in Israel.  He has been criss-crossing the south of Israel, dodging the missiles and reporting on the current situation.  In doing so he is engaging in the "new" form of journalism.   Whereever he goes he documents the situation, of rockets hitting apartments, of people under stress or injured and getting killed.  He uses his advanced cell phone to take videos or stills and put them online, he tweets and he updates his facebook page and adds to the online listing of missiles attacks.  He also helps journalists by taking them to key places, being interviewed himself and arranging interviews with local people. 
Now we have instant communication of photos and text, instead of a diabolically slow vetting and decision making process.  Before, any formal response had to be passed by the IDF media department, thru the PM's media office and often be looked at by the legal department.  Now its all done in the touch of a button.  Benji had been present when rockets hit, when people (and he) were running for cover, when Iron Dome anti-missiles were fired, and when people were killed and injured.  All of his stills and videos go straight online and are widely distributed, some even reached the western press (although they prefer to show blood and bombs in Gaza).
It was very quiet while he was speaking, while ca. 150 English speakers listened intently to his stories about the war going on 100 kilometers (60 miles) away.  It was a privilege to hear directly from the horse's mouth what is the latest situation and what being there is really like.
(Note: This was written before the ceasefire.)


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