My two weeks in writing

Last week’s newspaper was mainly taken up by coverage of the fighting between Israel and Hamas, and each day was spent posting up-to-date reports and news on our website. In the paper, I reported on Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell’s response to the escalating fighting in the region, which many criticised for drawing on long-established antisemitic tropes.

In more light-hearted news, I rounded-up the annual Jewish Film Festival, which it’s director said had been the best year yet, and spoke to a man whose long-lost great-uncle had been a Hollywood filmmaker in the era of the silent picture.

In Comment, I was delighted to commission Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of the British forces in Afghanistan, to look at how other countries than Israel have responded to similar threats on their doorsteps. And I wrote a piece sharing my thoughts and opinions on the situation in Israel, arguing that while there are strong emotions on either side, balance is important.

“Mothers on both sides are seeing their children caught up in a war they did not seek. Recognising that does not draw a moral equivalence between the two sides, or absolve Hamas of responsibility for actions that triggered another devastating battle.

We can highlight where the media has fallen short and we can question a paper for printing a cartoon reproducing established antisemitic tropes, without rejecting every uncomfortable report. We can stand up for Israel and make the case for its right to protect its people – and still acknowledge the tragedy of war. For Israel’s sake, we must.”

As the week turned into the next, I reported on a Lords debate about religion, in which the Chief Rabbi suggested that faith could “act as a counter voice to the siren song of a culture that sometimes seems to value self over others”.JC-Nov30

I also interviewed advertising star Nicola Mendelsohn, about her recent appointment as chair of the Creative Industries Council and found out why she believes the arts are so important to this country.

Continuing on the theme of culture, I reported on the plans to open an indoor Jacobean theatre beside Shakespeare’s Globe, and followed up on Beth Alexander’s ongoing campaign for custody of her two young sons in Vienna. And in what I hope is the last installment of my coverage of Batsheva’s UK tour, I spoke to Dance Consortium about why it has been one of their most successful tours yet.


My week in writing

On Tuesday I was at Brent Town Hall for the resolution of a case that has dragged on for several years. The Van Colles, a couple whose son was killed by a former employee who he was due to testify against, have fought for a long time for Hertfordshire Police to acknowledge wrongdoing.

Their son had warned an officer that his killer was threatening him, yet nothing was done. Despite a High Court and Appeals Court win, the Law Lords found against the family, and this week their case finally went to the European Court of Human Rights. Sadly for the family, the judges did not find in their favour. As they told me shortly after finding out the result, “we had to do it”.

I also reported on the latest – perhaps the final – stage in the dispute over the future of Glasgow’s only Jewish school, after the chair of the Parents Council announced his resignation. What it will mean for the future of the school remains to be seen. And as the Batsheva tour continued, with protests at every stop, I reported on the arrest of a man for making an anti-Jewish slur.

Elsewhere, I rounded up the winners and losers among the Jewish candidates who stood for election and re-election in the US last week, noting that Rabbi Shmuley Boteach failed in his bid. And I filled our regular “My Week” slot with a look at my trip to New York during the election and after the hurricane hit.

On Wednesday, just a few hours before we went to press, news came that a senior Hamas military commander had been killed in an Israeli air strike. From the start of Operation Pillar of Defence, I have been part of the team keeping the JC website up to date, with video and news coverage. On press night, I looked in particular at the war of words that broke out on Twitter between the IDF account and that of the Al Qassam brigades – more than just your average Twitter feud.

My two weeks in writing

I’ve been abroad for a week, despite the best efforts of a superstorm to stop my flight from reaching the other side of the Atlantic. While I was in New York, I briefly covered the view on the street ahead of the presidential election, finding mainly that voters were somewhat disillusioned with Obama but not wildly keen on Romney either. In keeping with the spirit of the election, I also wrote a piece for Optima ahead of the vote, assessing the position of First Ladies in US political culture.

Elsewhere, I wrote about a shoe designer who truly is deserving of the label “fabulous” for his creations that resemble just about anything – anything, that is, except for shoes themselves. My personal favourite? The coffee cup stilettos; surely worth getting up and out for.

I reported on the protests against the Batsheva ensemble as the Israeli dancers began their national tour, and covered laughable comments from Lib Dem MP Sir Bob Russell, who professed his desire to see Israeli medicines labelled. But, he explained, he had no problem using them to make himself better, if need be. A coherent approach, that one.

And in an enjoyable interview with Dr Giles Fraser, the reverend told me about his agonising efforts to learn the Hebrew language; a skill I have not yet mastered to a level beyond very basic.

Delta’s fantastic Frankenstorm social networking

With tickets to New York to fly last Tuesday night, at the first reports of the Frankenstorm (or Hurricane Sandy, for those not on Twitter) I started to question whether I’d get there. By the Sunday afternoon, with flights being cancelled all over the shop, evacuations of huge areas of land and states of emergency declared in several states, getting there looked even less likely.

So I decided to tweet Delta, the airline I was due to fly with, to find out how to proceed if my flight was cancelled. Their account looked fairly active (plenty of companies have Twitter accounts that haven’t been touched for weeks or even months) and I thought it was worth a try. At this point, my flight was still set to depart as scheduled, but I wanted to know their policy on refunds and rescheduling.

So far, so impressive. First thing on the Monday I did as they asked. More flights were being cancelled and the news about the storm wasn’t good, but my flight was still supposed to go ahead.

So I got on with my day, until late afternoon – with the news out of the East Coast getting progressively worse – when I checked my flight. “Cancelled” it read, in glaring letters. I followed the steps showing me how to reschedule online, but inevitably that didn’t work. After a lengthy period on hold, we discovered that having booked through a travel provider, Delta’s UK staff were not prepared to help. But the provider claimed not to know of the cancellation (then closed for the day, with no option for an out-of-hours solution) leaving us in a Catch 22 situation.

So I sent a tweet.

After another 40 minutes on hold, I checked my phone. Delta had replied, and I couldn’t have asked for them to be more efficient. After asking for my confirmation number, they soon responded with an offer of a flight for Thursday, with a stopover in Boston. Not only that, but they offered to extend our flight free of charge a day later than we were originally due to fly back. I asked for them to email a confirmation, and within 15 minutes I had one in my inbox. I checked my reservation online, and voila – my new details were in there.

The fact that I was able to change my flights – during the worst storm to hit the East Coast in a century – is a credit to Delta. But if I’d only tried via the phone line, I’m fairly sure I’d still have been at square one after the storm hit. The fact that I did this via a set of Twitter messages is fantastic. This is exactly why social media is so important for companies. Delta should be congratulated on a job well done.