My top four work highlights of 2015- freelance writer, editor, translator, blogger…

22 Feb

New year’s resolution for 2016: I’ve been working as a freelance writer, editor and (French-to-English) translator for a few years now, and 2016 is the year I’ve decided for ramping up my business.

Stage 1 in this process is a good dose of self-promotion – so allow me to introduce my professional self, through my top four work highlights from the last calendar year (and a it) – further information on what kind of work I do and my contact details follow below:

1. Launching into B2B copywriting 

Being a trained journalist and editor, I’ve recently branched out into the field of copywriting for the corporate sector, and was hired for a great job in 2015, writing marketing copy in the form of case studies / success stories for a multi-national business training company.

2. Translating a full-length cookery book for an avant-garde French chef into English

I have translated lots of shorter-length materials before, including website copy, academic writing, news stories and features, but 2015 was the year I translated a whole cookbook into English: A different perspective on cooking, written by Jérôme Fesquet, a French chef with a penchant for healthy eating. It was a satisfying and intellectually stimulating job.

3. Seeing the end-result of a memoir I’ve been working on as writing coach and editor

An ongoing project I’ve had in the last couple of years has been working as writing coach and editor for a New York-based client writing a memoir on healing from an eating disorder. Well, late 2015 saw the book finally complete – and both of us happy with the end-result. She is now putting the final touches to the book and pitching it to agents and publishers. Here’s hoping to see the memoir published in 2016.

4. My first ever cover story as a freelance journalist:

I’ve written a fair amount of arts reviews and features in the last few years, but it was only last year that I got my first ever cover story – for Jewish Renaissance magazine– about “This Place”, French photographer Frédéric Brenner’s huge collaborative project exploring the complexities of Israel and the Palestinian territories. It was a great moment opening the magazine when it arrived in the post and seeing the front cover.

Here’s a link to some of my other published work as a freelance journalist.

Finally – where do YOU come in?

Please get in touch to discuss your writing or editing needs (or if you know someone who is looking for some help, please send them my way too). Here’s the kind of work I specialise in:

  • Website copy
  • Case studies
  • Press releases
  • Blog entries and news stories
  • Translating from French to English
  • In-depth copy-editing and proofreading
  • Writing coach
  • Freelance journalism – writing interests in the arts and women’s issues

Feel free to contact me any time via email: rebeccaschischa at gmail dot com  – or directly on this blog via the comments section.

 

 

 

I’m back

15 Feb

I know, I know, I went quiet – yet again. But what to do? I get writer’s block, I get lazy, I lose inspiration, I find it again, I move to Africa, I leave Africa and sojourn back to the place where it all began, the area in North West London where I grew up (is it all just too familiar to write about???)…

So here I am, back in good old grey misty London, having spent most of my adult life to date gallivanting across Tel, Aviv, Paris, New York, Nairobi….and I’ve suddenly woken up to the fact that rebeccainspace needs to resound – with at least a modicum of feverish writing activity – once more.

So to crank things up on this dormant blog once again, allow me to present two arts features I’ve had published since I last posted.

Most recently, I wrote for Jewish Renaissance about Art Kibbutz, a unique international Jewish artists’ colony that a New York-based friend, Patricia Eszter Margit, set up. Here’s a link:

Creativity blooms at world’s first art kibbutz

And in late 2014, I had my first ever COVER STORY (beam), also in Jewish Renaissance, which looked at French photographer Frédéric Brenner‘s collaborative photography project This Place, focusing on representations of Israel. Here’s a link:

Frédéric Brenner: Israel under the lens

Enjoy reading 🙂

Polygamy, cheating husbands and wife-beating – is this still the fate for women in the 21st century?

10 Nov

I haven’t posted for ages – but wanted to come back to post the last blog entry I wrote for Times of Israel before we left Kenya earlier this year. This dates back to May this year when there was a big uproar in Kenya about a new polygamy bill of law that was introduced. Suffice it to say, the proud feminist that I am felt compelled to write in horrified response!

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Polygamy, cheating husbands and wife-beating – is this still the fate for women in the 21st century?

Times of Israel, May 11, 2014

From the time I – white, Jewish, feminist, western woman – heard on the car radio a male DJ recommending his listeners to get a woman blind-drunk so as to be able ‘to bed her’ on a first date, I’ve been wondering about levels of equality between men and women in Kenyan society.

I received a confirmation to the negative recently when President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law a bill legalising polygamy, with a particularly hostile-to-women amendment:

The bill “brings civil law, where a man was only allowed one wife, into line with customary law, where some cultures allow multiple partners.

Controversy surrounded an amendment to the bill, supported by many male MPs, allowing men to take more wives without consulting existing spouses. [my emphasis]

Traditionally, first wives are supposed to give prior approval.”

(BBC News, 29th April 2014)

What left me particularly speechless was this amazingly demeaning-to-women amendment. Not only does an existing wife apparently have no say in her husband choosing to take more wives, but he isn’t even obliged to have the courtesy to inform her that he is planning to bring into their home a second/third/fourth wife.

The BBC quotes a couple of male MPs who justify this amendment:

“When a woman got married under customary law, she understood that the marriage was open to polygamy, so no consultation was necessary.” (MP Samuel Chepkong’a, who proposed the amendment)

“When you marry an African woman, she must know the second one is on the way and a third wife… this is Africa,” (MP Mohammed Junet).

Kenyan female MPs stormed out of parliament in protest, but as they are a minority, were unable to stop the passing of the bill.

I’ve spoken to a few Kenyan women about this bill and they are horrified – but at the same time, feel utterly powerless to do anything about it.

Some local newspaper reports I read justified the developments by stating that polygamy is an effective way to combat men’s propensity to stray from their wives. In other words, if a man is allowed by law to take as many wives as he likes, he will no longer feel the urge to cheat on his partner.

Great news for women, then.

A Facebook group I joined for Nairobi mums has also opened up my eyes. Frequented by, from what I can tell, mainly middle-class Kenyan mums as well as expat (aka white, foreign) mums living in the Kenyan capital, what has struck me most is how much the Kenyan mums discuss straying husbands and issues of adultery. On Valentine’s Day, one woman posted a depressingly twee little poem giving all a blessing that their husbands should stay faithful to them on this ‘day of romance’.

At the same time, a Kenyan woman I know showed me scars on her wrist where her husband had attacked her with a broken bottle when he returned home after a drunken spree. She said he gets blind-drunk on almost a daily basis these days. And Kenyan newspapers are full of reports of drunken husbands turning violent.

As a white, Jewish, feminist, western woman, I’ve been caught in an ongoing philosophical battle with myself for the last I don’t know how many years. The two sides of my brain argue as follows:

Me A: Yes, I need to shout out against this treatment of my fellow women.

There are universal standards of justice and equality that all societies should strive towards.

Me B: No, the constraints of cultural relativism demand that I butt out and accept that ‘this is Africa’ [substitute Middle East, ultra-orthodox Jewish society etc etc], it’s not up to me to change other people’s cultural norms.

Luckily for Me A, the fact that Kenyan women themselves are angry gives me permission to express my own distaste at this anti-woman trend that hits me in the new culture I’ve found myself living in these last nine months.

In the meantime, as the wife of a rabbi of an orthodox Jewish synagogue here in Nairobi, I haven’t even broached the subject of how my feminism plays itself out in this communal role.

That will have to wait for another blog.

Gulp – is being a rabbi’s wife not so bad after all?

11 May

Having been thrown into the thick of the most rabbi-wife-like activities – coordinating a communal Passover Seder – I realised that I was actually kind of, dare I say it, having fun.

Read more at my blog post on The Times of Israel:

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Gulp – is being a rabbi’s wife not so bad after all?

Times of Israel,  April 12, 2014

Somehow, somewhere along the line, I’ve got roped into doing more and more full-on ‘rebbetzin-esque’ duties at Nairobi Synagogue, where my hubbie is rabbi. My guerilla anti-rebbetzin campaign, it seems, is all for nought.

It started a month or two back. Margarita, a good friend in the community (yes, somehow, I seem to be finally gaining some friends along the way too), asked me casually if I’d join the Passover Seder planning committee. Imagining it would involve just a meeting or two to discuss just a matza ball or two, I said yes, of course, no problem.

Scroll forward to last week. Somehow, over 80 people have now reserved a spot at the Seder; somehow, the menu now involves a vast array of intricate dishes, most of which can only be prepared at the last minute; and to top it off, somehow, all the people on said committee seem to have left Nairobi temporarily and disappeared overseas.

Leaving just two of us ‘fryerim‘ (as the Israelis put it so eloquently), Margarita and me, to direct the multi-faceted operation and ensure that a three-course banquet, involving table hiring, flower arranging, seder plating, volunteer gathering, staff managing, market shopping and vegetable chopping will be prepared in time and the evening will go off swimmingly.

And the weird thing about it all – I’m enjoying every minute of it. Weeeird.

The whole process has been really entertaining – we’ve spent half the time giggling, and the other half haggling raucously at the fruit and veg Hawkers’ Market in central Nairobi with bemused market vendors, or cooking up a veritable storm in the synagogue kitchen, while debating vigourously over the sweetness levels of our haroset (me – too sweet – M – not sweet enough) or the garlic levels of our vegetarian main (me – too much garlic, M – not enough).

Man, I’ve even enjoyed making gargantuan vats of GEFILTE FISH. What is happening to me? (Although I did make sure it was Marg to get her dainty paws stuck into the gefilte mixture, meaning she would be the one to scare off her nearest and dearest that night with that overpowering heimishe whiff of chopped fish and not me).

In the meantime, the synagogue’s new back-up generator is experiencing birthing pains just as Kenya Power has decided to wreak particular havoc on the power supply to our part of town, people keep trying to book spots for the Seder at the last minute, and instead of going to bed so as to be wide awake for the last two daunting days of the cooking marathon ahead of us, I’m sitting here blogging.

Well, happy Passover to anyone out there, from here in the heart of East Africa.

It’s lonely being at the top

27 Apr

Belatedly catching up on my reblogging. Here is my post on the Times of Israel about feeling a bit friendless (but kind of enjoying it) being a rabbi’s wife:

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It’s lonely being at the top

Times of Israel, March 12, 2014

RBS — my hubby and incumbent rabbi at Nairobi Synagogue – studied at YCT Rabbinical School in New York City — oh so many light-years away from East Africa — where open-minded, open-orthodox males study to become even more open-minded, open-orthodox rabbis. We do like them open.

Many of the students are already married and most, if not all, of their wives are highly educated professionals. So there was always going to be some degree of irony to the fact that YCT offers students’ spouses their very own ‘wives’ club’.

The idea is that being wife of a trainee rabbi, and even more so, of a real practising rabbi, has its own particular status and challenges, and there was stuff that we wives would have in common and wish to discuss and delve into.

It was always entertaining to attend these wives’ meetings. Without exception, every get-together involved at least one of the highly educated women present protesting about the existential fact that this very meeting existed; we were highly educated women and what on earth were we doing being in a ‘wives’ club’. A couple of my peers seemed particularly outraged — not sure why they kept coming to the meetings, bit of an attraction-repulsion thing going on? — and would always go off on an irate rant on this theme.

I personally didn’t always see the point of the meetings — and certainly did enjoy joining in at times with the aforementioned feminist outrage. On the other hand, being a newcomer to the States, I found it a great opportunity to meet other like-minded women.

One thing I did take away with me from those encounters were words which now resonate strongly with me, as I’m living the life of a rabbi’s wife out in a far-flung community. Women already out in the field would guest-star at these meetings and one thing they all described was a particular kind of loneliness they felt in their role as rabbi’s wife.

We are caught in a kind of Catch-22 position. Are congregants able to see us as a real friend or someone to be friendly-with-but-keep-their-distance-from because we are the rabbi’s wife? Conversely, do we, as the rabbi’s wife, have to maintain a distance of our own, not join in with the gossip (ha ha), never complain? This is probably one reason, among many, why I have such an aversion to the title ‘rebbetzin’. Having a title necessarily creates distance, and I’m still just Rebecca. I’m the same person, so please approach without trepidation.

I discovered I was feeling this very loneliness when I looked at my mobile phone the other day and realised that it had not rung for something like 48 hours. I suddenly had a visceral craving for a massive gossip session with my good old mates from London (where I grew up). The irony, of course, is that RBS, the Eeyore to my Tigger, now has to spend far more time on the phone than I do, speaking to congregants, dealing with community affairs and generally doing the sociable thing that rabbis have to do.

But it’s not all doom and gloom — some, if not many, congregants have quite effortlessly broken through that psychological barrier and are quite comfortable treating me as Rebecca, calling RBS by his first name and generally relating towards us as real friends. Also, being parents of a very cute child is definitely helping us win friends and admirers.

Now, if someone could just pick up the phone and give me a call.

Quirky Jews and corrupt cops

13 Mar

Some musings in my blog on Times of Israel on how the unfamiliar becomes familiar – including bribing policemen – now that I’ve spent six+ months in Nairobi:

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Quirky Jews and corrupt cops

Times of Israel, February 26, 2014

Last night, RBS, my hubbie, and I were driving up Valley Road, a key thoroughfare in central Nairobi, and he did what seemed like a potentially dodgy turn. Before the words had even left my mouth for him to watch out as corrupt Kenyan cops are always on the prowl around those parts (this being the exact spot where I was hauled over on my very first day of driving on the crazy streets of Nairobi), guess what, a corrupt cop pulled us over.

 Without losing our cool, we entered into the now-sadly-familiar game of negotiation, flattery and sheer absurdity with Mr Corrupt Cop. We used all the tools in our haggling armoury – RBS was a ‘man of God’ (being a rabbi), he was not a regular ‘muzungu’ (Swahili for ‘white person’) who comes to Kenya to make money as he was here to minister to his flock, it was his birthday (it really was), and so on. We came away from the negotiation quite pleased with ourselves – this time, we were only down 1,000 shillings (around 10 US dollars) in bribery costs.And off we sailed to visit our friends as if nothing untoward had occurred.

It’s the same thing back at the vicarage. I’m slowly getting used to being wife of a rabbi with all that this entails. I certainly never could have imagined myself in such a role, but in spite of myself, my sociable ways are proving quite helpful in settling into this unfamiliar life. Nearly every Shabbat we end up with random and often fascinating guests who share with us their adventures and snapshots into the lives that they lead in all corners of the world.

And then there are the real characters who pass just briefly through the synagogue – and our lives – but who leave a lasting impression – like Mr Shofar So Great, who came into the synagogue one day and blew not just one, but TWO shofars simultaneously, harmonising one with the other, creating the most beautiful melodies you simply could never imagine a shofar could sound.

The Nairobi Jewish community is pretty quirky to begin with (guess that’s how such a quirky rabbi and spouse ended up here in the first place). It’s been around for over 100 years with some founding families (hailing from Europe) still here some four generations later. Now it’s a hodge-podge of Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Orthodox, traditional, Conservative, Reform, old, young, English-speaking, Swahili-speaking, Hebrew-speaking characters, who all, in spite of themselves, continue to coexist in one unified community structure.

And here I am, in the midst of all this community life, somehow finding myself in a quasi-public position that I didn’t choose for myself. And in spite of it all, the unfamiliar is becoming familiar.

Ant invasion at the vicarage, as vuvuzelas trumpet outside

26 Feb

Here’s the second blog post I wrote on Times of Israel – all about feel ambushed with protesters roaring outside our house and ants invading on the inside. (These are the opening paragraphs to the post, click here to go to the full article):

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Ant invasion at the vicarage, as vuvuzelas trumpet outside

Times of Israel, February 5th, 2014

As I recline on my couch balancing my laptop awkwardly against my raised knees, I experience a moment of horror. An ant meanders across my arm — as another one casually saunters up my leg — as a mosquito buzzes stentoriously in my ear. I wail to myself.

The ants are on the march and are steadily taking over my home. They first started peeping out from under the fridge, next they moved stealthily across the kitchen, now they are brazenly making themselves at home in our living room. Where next?

Outside, I hear the increasingly familiar sounds of an unruly crowd roaring and vuvuzelas being sounded. What is the reason behind the latest protest, I wonder?

Ants and protesters are closing in on me. I feel ambushed.

Never a dull moment living in our rabbinical residence smack bang in the heart of downtown Nairobi.

Indeed, since we arrived here in September 2013, when RBS (Rabbi B S, aka my husband) took up his position as rabbi for the Nairobi Hebrew Community, life has become very restive, to say the least.

Seeing the smoke rising as four terrorists are busy mowing down innocent Kenyan shoppers at the Westgate shopping mall just down the road; student riots on our doorstep in which we hear Kenyan police fire repeatedly at the crowds, killing one student in the process; driving alongside maniacal matatu (think rickety Israeli sheruts circa 1980s belching out black exhaust fumes and roaring music) drivers on the pothole-ridden streets of the city; paying bribes to corrupt Kafkaesque policemen, and as a pedestrian, learning to wander casually à la Kenyan across immense ten-lane highways as trucks hurtle towards you because there’s no safe place to cross.

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