Covering DC often frustrating for journalist
Former Jerusalem Post bureau chief seeks to educate Jewish audiences
As a principled working journalist for well over a decade, Rebecca Shimoni-Stoil believes her role is to dispense factual information, not her personal opinions. Nevertheless, she confessed, covering the Washington, DC, scene for the on-line Times of Israel is often “difficult, stressful, and frustrating.”
This is particularly true when dealing with the personal relationship between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama, she told NJJN in a phone interview.
“Nuance is very important,” she said. Sometimes, official transcripts deviate ever so slightly from what has been said — even in public forums. Meanwhile, she explained, “changing a single word can have vast policy implications.”
Central Jersey residents will be able to learn more about the future of U.S.-Israeli relations when Shimoni-Stoil addresses the annual Jewish National Fund Garden State Summer Brunch on Sunday, July 17. The event will take place at the clubhouse of the Greenbriar at Whittingham community in Monroe Township.
Shimoni-Stoil, 36, currently lives in Baltimore with her husband and three children, ages seven, five, and five months. In addition to working as a full-time reporter, she is a student at Johns Hopkins University, working on a dissertation for her PhD in American history. “My topic is the farm crisis of the 1970s and 1980s, about as far removed as I could make it from my daily reporting activity,” she said.
“Farming — and New Jersey — are part of my extended-family background,” she said. “One of my great-grandmothers owned a farm in the Freehold area, eventually letting it go in the 1930s and moving to Perth Amboy. And my maternal grandparents and other relatives were active in communal farming efforts in Norma and Alliance, two small towns in southern New Jersey.”
A native of Arlington, Va., who made aliya at 22 and served as a combat medic with the Israel Defense Forces, Shimoni-Stoil described herself as an “unintentional journalist.”
When she finished her IDF obligation, she explained, she was looking for any kind of job at all. “Thanks to my army experience, I could speak fluent ‘security language’ and translate official briefings from Hebrew into accessible English,” she said. “That helped me land a spot at the Jerusalem Post.”
After about a year, she was assigned to writing stories about police activity, terror incidents, and national disasters — “anything that bled.” In 2008, her beat was switched to the Knesset.
As an Israeli journalist, she provided front-line accounts of rocket attacks in Sderot, suicide bombings, and the Second Lebanon War.
Three years after that, seeking a respite from journalism, she moved back to the United States with her family and entered graduate school. In 2013, however, she was back in the news business.
“My former boss at the Post had become the founding editor of The Times of Israel, and he asked me to cover peace talks taking place in Washington,” said Shimoni-Stoil. That one-off assignment quickly evolved into a full-time position.
Covering Washington has taught her the virtue of patience, she said. “Many of the people I need to question — Americans and foreigners — are reluctant sources. Depending on what is going on, they may try hard to avoid members of the press. So I’ve gotten used to sitting in hotel lobbies, waiting for them to go out or come in. It doesn’t always work, but it does enough of the time to make it worthwhile.”
Asked why she has added speaking engagements to her busy schedule, Shimoni-Stoil said, “I will speak to meetings of Jewish organizations and college students whenever I am able. I believe in educating as many people as possible, and I try to do it as objectively as I can, without injecting my own opinions into what I say.
“We live in increasingly polarized times, and I believe we would be better off if we paid more attention to those things that bring us together than those that tear us apart.”