Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Judean Rose
by Varda Meyers Epstein

Yesterday I wrote the most beautiful piece about Yarden Gerbi, the Israeli judoka and bronze medalist. Yarden, you see, is auctioning off her Olympic back number. She's going to donate the proceeds to benefit children with cancer. It's the second time Gerbi's done that: auctioned off an important keepsake from an important competition for the sake of these kids.

And I just love her for that.

The truth is, I loved her already. I loved her wild and spontaneous leap into the stands—still sweaty and disheveled from the match—to hug and be hugged by the small number of audience members holding Israeli flags. I loved the way Yarden, with a shy smile, lovingly underscored with her finger, the Israeli flag on her gi, as if to say, "I did it all for you, my beloved Israel," knowing full well the cameras were catching the gesture for posterity, and not giving a damn that the world hates us, hates Israel.

She, Yarden, loves Israel.

And so I love her.

But back to the back number. This was a feel-good story about Israel that I had seen on Facebook and I realized it could be the perfect thing to write up for a website I've been trying to break into without success. Getting a piece placed on that website's a business thing. Something I do for work.

I write for a living, you see. Writing is actually my day job. And my job is to write articles with a tie-in to the work of the organization I work for, Kars4Kids. That means writing about parenting, education, nonprofits, and charity, for instance.

The pro-Israel stuff I write?  That's something I do on my own time. Because no one pays bloggers to write about Israel.

But yesterday, I came across that story about Yarden Gerbi and not for the first time I thought, "Wouldn't it be awesome if I could kill two birds with one stone and write up a story that both shows Israel in a good light and has a tie-in to my org?"

So I went back to that website, the one I've been trying to break into, and I did what I call "deep reading." I read about 15 articles on the website to get an idea of the type of articles they offer, and the tone of the writing itself. While there were many articles on celebrities and home beauty treatments, there were also pieces about the U.S. election and yes, several stories about the Olympics.

I saw no articles on Israel or Yarden Gerbi. Whether by intention or accident, I didn't know. But clearly, I'd found a niche not yet covered. Which I saw as a good thing. It meant I had a higher chance of placing my story there. Maybe.

I noted the website had a strong feminist bent, and lots of feel-good stories. I decided the Gerbi back number story, written in the informal chatty style of the website, was actually exactly the kind of thing that would fly.

Well, that's not quite true. I knew that the typical reader there was bound to be liberal left. And Israel is, shall we say, not exactly beloved by the liberal left.

But that's not always a bad thing. Controversy generates reader engagement so it's good for page views. And there was nothing in the story about Gerbi that anyone, liberal or otherwise, could find offensive. Except for the fact that the story is about Israel and Israelis.

What can I say? I'm a cockeyed optimist. Seeing nothing that could possibly offend in the story itself, I ran with it. I wanted to think that liberal left readers would exercise tolerance.

And seriously? It was a gorgeous story about a strong woman with a generous heart.

So I wrote it up. I included the back story. I'd noted that many of the articles on the website had gifs in them so I looked for a video of that wild leap into the stands, and then created a gif on Giphy. (It was something I'd never done before and I was kind of proud of that. Heck, I'm 55. And I can do cool things on the Internet.)

I included Yarden's Facebook post.

And I provided a better formatted quote of the English part of her post:

Three years ago, when I won the World Championship, I auctioned the special back number I was awarded with the title of world champion. The winner of the back number was Tal Keidar, and together we managed to raise $3800, all of which was donated to the children's oncology ward of Ichilov Hospital.
I decided to auction my signed Rio Olympic back number (the auction will close on the 29th of August).
In addition, if the winner of the back number is Israeli (the auction is open worldwide) I will gladly hand over the item personally. Once again, all the money raised will go directly to the same ward in Ichilov – child cancer patients. I don't know how much money I will raise, but I know that any amount will help.
When I visited the ward with Professor Bickles I met amazing kids who are heroes, doing their best to fight and keep high spirits.
I recently found out that Liran Or, a sweet and loving girl with whom I was in contact with, had passed away. That's the reason I decided to donate to the same ward.
Please, share the link and spread the word about the auction. And most importantly, keep healthy.
Yarden Gerbi
I further noted that the bidding (on e-bay) had reached, $13,000—about three and a half times the amount Gerbi  raised with her World Championship back number, with several days left to bid. And I mentioned that Israel's private giving comes in second only to that of the United States, with a link to a study by Johns Hopkins on the subject (True fact: Israel's private giving is 1.34% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), compared to the U.S. at 1.85% while for context Japan stands at 0.22%, and Germany at 0.13%)

I called my piece Yarden Gerbi: Bronze Medalist, Heart of Gold, because that's really how I see her and what I wanted to say about her. She's the epitome of feminine strength, but she's got this warm, loving, generous heart and soul. To me, she models a certain feminine ideal and is someone to emulate for her love of country, hard work in the ring, and charitable work on behalf of sick children.
Anyone else would have wanted to keep that back number as an important keepsake. Something to display on the wall of your den, something to show your children and grandchildren.

But that's not important to Yarden. Sportmanship is what matters, caring for others, and love of country.

Those are the things that matter to her.

So I finished up my piece. I looked it over once, twice, three times. Played with a line here, a line there.

Then I submitted it and crossed my fingers (well, not really, but you know, I hoped real hard).

I submitted it as a breaking news story, because it's a time-sensitive story. Today, it's already old news.

I waited an hour, two hours, three. And I imagined that if I were editor, I'd tell my staff to always keep an eye on breaking news submissions. Because the other stories can wait.

But still more time went by.

So I dropped them a line and said, "Hey. This is a time-sensitive piece. If you can't use it let me know so I can submit it elsewhere."

Not long after I heard from the editor.

Dear Varda,
Thank you for thinking of (______), and for sending us "Yarden Gerbi: Bronze Medalist, Heart of Gold" to consider for publication. We're going to have to pass this time, as we are very full on content these days and have to be extremely selective. We encourage you to pitch this elsewhere and to keep pitching to (______) anytime!
(Jewish-sounding name)
As rejections go, this one is encouraging. She's telling me I can write and she welcomes further submissions. But something didn't pass the smell test for me.

Now, maybe I'm oversensitive but I'm always concerned that a rejection means more than it appears on the surface when I'm dealing with a liberal-toned website. And when I do get something printed, I am always a little nervous when I tell a publication where to send the check (Israel). So I decided it was time I did some research on this particular editor, who by the way, connected with me on LinkedIn after my first submission, which further encouraged me to keep pitching her.

Google informed me this editor had worked for The Daily Beast, which was Peter Beinart's former blogging home and a place where I'd received a thrashing by Amy Schiller in 2012, in a piece called, The Pro-Holocaust Vote:

There’s a special kind of bracing refreshment when a commentator proclaims outright that a vote for Obama is a vote for the Holocaust, as Varda Epstein did in her op-ed in yesterday’s Times of Israel. Epstein brings in the ultimate manipulation trump card to make her closing argument for Mitt Romney, vis a vis his allegedly tougher stance on Iran: “All Americans need do to prevent a nuclear Holocaust of 6 million Israeli Jews is to pull a different lever on Election Day."
In a single sentence Epstein manages to exemplify everything that has gone awry with Israel’s perceived significance in U.S. politics. The Holocaust (Epstein would do well to note that it’s only capitalized in reference to an actual historical event, not a hypothetical future scenario) is the most profound trauma for the Jewish people and many others in recent history. Yet to equate the totalizing genocide of the Nazi regime with Iran’s as yet hypothetical development of nuclear capability Is irresponsibly, crudely alarmist.
(From a distance of four years on and many Iran deal violations later, I'd like to ask Schiller: How's that JPCA thing working out for ya?)

Having established that the editor of (______) formerly worked alongside people like Beinart and Schiller, I did some more sleuthing. I googled her name with the words "Jewish" and "Israel." Only one item came up. It was an article she'd written a year ago. In it, she mentions being able to speak Hebrew and having attended a Jewish day school. So far, so good. But then I found this:

I felt oddly defensive, kind of like when non-Jews criticize Israel, even though I'm about as left on the topic politically as you can get.
And the light went on. I had my answer. Here is someone who believes that Israel occupies and oppresses another people. Here is someone who is ashamed of her people and believes the land God bequeathed her and her children belongs to another people.

Here is the reason my article was rejected. The real reason.

And then I wondered why she encouraged me. And whether she knows that I live in Judea, which she likely thinks of as the "West Bank."

Does she really like my writing and think I might someday write something she can use? Or is she just gathering intel?

I told myself to stop imaging things. But I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, and couldn't sleep.

I submitted my piece elsewhere, and haven't heard back. And now it's old news, so probably wasted work.

But maybe not wasted time. I learned something here.

Even if I'm not quite sure what it means.

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