Laura Kelly is the new Capitol Hill reporter for Jewish Insider, an online newsletter with a focus on the nation’s politics, policies and business.
Now living in D.C’s H Street Corridor, the 31-year-old 2009 graduate of Fordham University has a passion for travel and adventure. Reporting has taken her to Israel, Gaza and Iraq. After a Birthright trip, she returned to Israel as a Jerusalem Post intern, then became a staff member. After four years in Israel, she came to D.C. in 2017 to cover health for the Washington Times. She spoke with WJW on a cold day over hot tea.
How do you make reporting for Jewish Insider different?
When I broke the story [for Jewish Insider] about Congresswoman [Ilhan] Omar [D-Minn.] saying the charges of dual allegiance at the D.C. event, which set off this whole chain of events. it was like Week 2 on the job — we drove the news cycle for the next week. We wanted to make sure that we were front and center of that story.
How do your thoughts about what you’ve seen in the Middle East affect your work?
There are real people with real lives in extraordinary situations that sometimes I think Americans don’t have an appreciation for, that it could be them. The closest approximation may be natural
disasters when they think, ‘I never thought that this could happen to me,’ or maybe even mass shootings in America.
We read reports from D.C. where a rocket was fired from Gaza into Israel and landed in an open field and there were no casualties, maybe one person was treated for shock. You don’t understand the before, during and after. To see these people — every day, they are walking around, their bodies tensed up, they are waiting for a siren and then they are going to have to run for shelter from a rocket attack. And in Gaza, this overwhelming sense of hopelessness, that no matter what you do, you will never get out of this situation that is completely out of your control.
How does that affect you?
My initial desire to cover Capitol Hill was that there seems to be this disconnect where the news is caught up in these back and forth things between certain people and incremental policy changes. You have to remember what the bigger picture is.
Were there times when you worried for your safety?
The only time I really worried for my own safety is so wild. I spent about three days in Gaza in October when the protests were occurring on the Gaza side and the communities on the [Israel] border were getting these firebombs and balloons. I was in Gaza, and the night before they shot off a rocket into Israel. When Israel retaliated with taking out some missile launching sites, I was sleeping — didn’t ever hear it. I was supposed to leave that day, and they closed the border because of this action, and I was like, what am I going to do? I am staying here for another day. A day later I had a feeling of much more risk that was much more potent, and it sticks with me.
Two days later, I was back in Israel. I decided to visit one of the kibbutzim along the border to see what they were doing with these balloons. I was standing at this overlook watching the Gazans demonstrate. I was [thinking], “Oh my God — If a rocket comes, it could land anywhere. I am really in danger standing here, more than I felt being in danger inside Gaza..” The Israelis are much more precise. Hamas is very, like, all over. That was one time when I was [thinking], I have got to leave this situation. I was driving and I saw a fire on the side of the road. I [realized] it was started by a balloon. I called the people I had
interviewed earlier in the day and said, “There is a fire outside your kibbutz.”
Your mother is Jewish, your father is Catholic. Tell me about growing up.
The community I grew up in [Mattituck, Long Island, N.Y.], there were not very many Jewish families. I had a few friends that maybe also had one Jewish parent. We just kind of focused on things that were hallmarks of childhood. It was really important that we had a great Christmas because everybody was celebrating Christmas. Every once in a while, we would try to mark Chanukah, but with five kids and
everybody was busy and sometimes we would forget to light candles.
With Judaism, is there is a path that you see for yourself?
I feel like my experiences have brought me so much closer to my Jewish side. Living in Israel and learning about being Jewish, what it means on so many different levels, makes me feel so much more connected in that sense. I feel that connection with other Jewish people as well when I meet them. That was something I didn’t have.
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Andrea F. Siegel is a Washington-area writer.