You can tell a lot about someone by what they read or view before bedtime. For Jan Jaben-Eilon, it’s printouts of the latest news from Israel. And no, it doesn’t give her nightmares, as her Israeli husband, Joab, a rabbi, is known to ask.
A dual citizen of Israel and the U.S., not to mention a world traveler, Jaben-Eilon knew since childhood she wanted to live in the Jewish state and be a journalist. Growing up in a Zionist family in Kansas City, Jaben-Eilon finally made aliyah in her 40s and met her husband there. Although she’s been writing the AJT’s “Small Town News,” among other pieces, she says her real passion is covering Israeli politics.
Most recently, her favorite stories were writing on deadline about the indictment of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the merger he brokered with a party including supporters of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane.
“I again feel the writer’s ink running through my blood,” she says about such breaking news stories.
Her love of Israel developed from a young age, hearing the stories of her family gathering guns not used in World War II to be sent to the Holy Land for Israel’s Independence War. “I always felt like it was my country.”
Her father died when she was 10, and her zayde six months later to the day. Otherwise she believes she might have moved to Israel at a younger age.
Meanwhile, Jaben pursued a journalism career that began when she was editor of her high school newspaper. She took journalism courses at the University of Connecticut while writing for the college paper, and then became a founding reporter in 1978 at the Atlanta Business Chronicle, which also began her world travels. She was later a stringer for The New York Times and Business Week, and her articles were published by such media as the International Herald Tribune and Consumer Reports.
The dream of living in Israel gained momentum when she visited the country for the first time on a group trip in 1986. “It was fulfilling a dream. I inherited $1,000 from my bubbe and I thought this was exactly what she and my zayde would have wanted me to use the money for.”
She was in Australia in 1995, serving as international editor of Advertising Age, when she heard former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was killed. “It was a turning point for me. I knew I needed to be in Israel. I was in a gorgeous hotel in Bali and watched CNN’s around-the-clock coverage of the funeral in Israel. I wrote to Ted Turner to thank him and I actually got a note back. Six months later I was in Israel,” she said, adding “I lived in Israel when Netanyahu was prime minister the first time.”
She never expected to move back to America, but her husband decided to become a rabbi after they married, studying first at Hebrew Union College in Israel and then in Cincinnati. He took a job in Cleveland before the couple decided to return to Jaben-Eilon’s former home in Atlanta, where her sister lives and her mother later moved.
“I still thought I’d go back.” But life got in the way. Jaben-Eilon is a 12-year survivor of ovarian cancer. “I only had a 30 percent chance of living five years after my diagnosis. So I’m a walking miracle!”
She attributes her good health partly to having been a runner, even running a marathon. Now she walks along the Chattahoochee River. That is when she’s not enjoying the couple’s Rhodesian Ridgebacks, which remind her of the horses she used to ride. Her multilingual husband, once a cultural attaché with the Israeli Foreign Ministry, now teaches biblical Hebrew online. “Almost wherever we go he speaks the language.”
Jaben-Eilon is looking forward to writing more for the AJT about Israel. “I used to go back more often.” Beyond the AJT, she is a correspondent for The Jerusalem Report and gives speeches in the community about the Israeli political system. “My heart is still in Israel. We still own a home there.” So you might say the door remains open.