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A week with journalist Eglash covers gamut of Israel’s news
August 31st, 2012
Journalist Anton La Guardia in his 2001 book “War Without End,” wrote that the sheer pace of events in the Middle East makes the region “a book writer’s curse,” but a journalist’s “blessing.”
If you want to see how much of a “blessing” Israel is for journalists, follow Ruth Eglash for a week. That is what she invited an audience of about 70 to do during her presentation at Temple Menorah on July 30.
Eglash, formerly the assistant editor of The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, is now the social media editor and deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post, Israel’s English-language newspaper.
But while she holds editorial positions, she still covers events and writes stories, particularly, though not only, about social and economic issues — including women’s issues, immigrant absorption, and housing — “topics that you probably don’t hear about a lot outside of Israel,” she said.
Her husband, Milwaukee-native Michael Eglash, and their two children left for the U.S. for the first week of their planned four-week vacation. Ruth stayed behind for what she hoped would be a relatively quiet week that would allow her to do stories she had wanted to write, but hadn’t been able to get to.
These included an article about a member of one of the some 700 families of South Lebanese Army soldiers that had helped Israel during its invasion of Lebanon and that had moved into Israel when Israel left Lebanon in 2000.
However, on the Saturday after the rest of her family left Israel (July 14), thousands of Israelis took to the streets to mark the first anniversary of last summer’s demonstrations against the high cost of living. One of those Israelis, Moshe Silman, set himself on fire to protest his situation. (He died of his burns a few days later.)
“My week completely changed” because of that event, Eglash said.
The next day, she had to do “what is probably the most hated part of any journalist’s job” — call members of Silman’s family and ask them “very tough questions” about what they thought caused Silman to commit suicide that way.
The day after that (July 16), Eglash attended a Knesset hearing on the state of public housing in Israel, which was “the core” of the reason for Silman’s suicide, she said.
“I go regularly to the Knesset,” Eglash said. “I’ve never seen such a stormy session.” It was so intense that she feared some people might set themselves on fire right in the Knesset building.
Then on July 17, two or three more Israelis tried to imitate Silman. Eglash said she had to struggle over this: Should she write about this at the risk of giving others the idea? Ultimately, she felt she had to. Normally, she said, the Post doesn’t write much about “straightforward suicides,” but “This seemed like [part of] a national struggle,” as there are so many Israelis “facing desperate situations.”
July 18 started as a more pleasant day. Eglash drove to Tel Aviv to meet with the Post’s technical Internet staff members, who are based there. “One of my roles,” Eglash said, “is to bridge the gap between the mainstream journalists and the new journalists” of the Internet and social media.
At this point, Eglash shared some numbers: Some quarter of a million people visit the Jerusalem Post’s website daily; the Post has some 55,000 followers on Twitter, and about 20,000 “likes” on Facebook, she said.
But as she drove back to Jerusalem, Eglash said she heard on the radio about the suicide bomber who attacked a bus of Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, killing seven and wounding more than 30.
On July 19, Eglash had to write about how the government was planning to assist the survivors of the attack. She added that she managed to avoid another unpleasant duty of Israeli journalists, attending the funerals of the murdered victims.
Nevertheless, she defended the practice. “There is this sense of Israel as one big family,” she said. “I don’t see [reporters at such funerals] as paparazzi prying.” Instead, Israelis “want to feel we know” the victims and to “share the suffering” of the survivors, she said.
Finally, on July 20, Eglash and her Internet and social media team “put into practice” their plans for trying to cover “in real time” the aftermath of the Bulgaria attack, using many of the Post’s specialized reporters.
The defense reporter provided updates on security. The political reporter got comments from political leaders. The health reporter gave updates on the injured. All of this was reported on Twitter as it was happening.
In addition to all this, Eglash said she is often contacted by news media from other countries to provide insight and analysis — not only the British Broadcasting Company from her native England, but also from Muslim countries like Turkey and Afghanistan.
“That was my quiet week,” Eglash said.
Her appearance was co-sponsored by the synagogue, the Milwaukee chapter of Hadassah, and the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Israel Center of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.