Owen Alterman on the air.
Owen Alterman on the air.

Metro Detroit natives end up with careers in Israeli media.

Aaron Poris is an “accidental” journalist. So is Owen Alterman.

Both are Detroiters who had different professions before making aliyah to Israel and whose first jobs in Israel were not in journalism.

Nathaniel Warshay
Contributing Writer

Prior to making aliyah in 2015, Poris, ILTV’s anchor, reporter and editor-in-chief was a full-time art teacher at Our Lady of Mercy High School in Farmington Hills. “I studied art education … every medium you can think of, from jewelry and printmaking to drawing, painting and graphic design, and educational psychology.”

Poris, a Wayne State University and North Farmington High School alumnus, is K-12-certified in art.

For Alterman, i24 News senior diplomatic correspondent, traveling with prime ministers, meeting kings and reporting from war zones is a far cry from what seems to be a normal, pretty unexciting childhood in suburban Detroit in the late 1980s and 1990s. Growing up in Bloomfield Township, the Bloomfield Hills Andover High School graduate left for an Ivy League education and has not looked back.

Living in Israel never was a foreign concept to Poris. “My mother is Israeli, and my parents met in Israel. My father is American, but he made aliyah when 18 and did the army.”

He said his father brought his bride back to Detroit before beginning a family and spoke Hebrew at home. “When I actually started going to kindergarten, I didn’t speak any English. I had attended the JCC for preschool, and they didn’t know what to do with me.”

So, it was no surprise to his mother when he told her he was making aliyah.

“I always just felt very attached to the country and to the culture and to the people. I remember when I told my mother finally,” he related. “I said, ‘You know, I’m going; I think I’m going to move.’”

Poris continued, “She said, ‘I figured that if any of the kids would have done that, it was you’ who would make aliyah.”

Explaining his passion for Israel, he said, “I’m also quite Zionist in terms of politics. I obviously don’t agree with everything that the country does, but I do believe in the core fundamental ideology behind Zionism that this country should exist and would like to see it continue to exist.”

Alterman took a more circuitous route to Israel.

After graduating with a B.A. in Near Eastern studies from Princeton University, the now 45-year-old headed to Eastern Europe with the United States Peace Corps for two years, where he “taught English, among other things.” Economically, “Romania was a basket case,” he said.

The 1990s were unkind to Romania after the fall of the Iron Curtain and the 1989 Romanian revolution. The nation experienced a decade of economic decline and instability. The government’s goal consistently was to join the European Union, taking the first formal steps only five years after the fall of the Soviet Union, and culminating in joining along with neighboring Bulgaria in 2007.

Alterman was there in the midst of the structural economic reform. According to the official government Romanian Statistics Office, the country’s GDP rose a healthy 7% as he was leaving two years later. It has since grown more. “Being in the E.U. has helped a lot. It’s a different place than it was 25 years ago,” he said.

Graduating from Harvard Law School in 2004, he went to Israel, “… for a year at the Supreme Court [as a foreign law clerk] and then [at the Reut Institute], a think tank. I went to New York after that in 2005 to a big firm.”

After five years doing high-priced litigation at Allen and Overy LLP, Alterman made the decision. “I moved here; I made aliyah.”

Pressed about his “moment,” his decisor, he responded simply. “I love it and I believe in it. There is a one-hour speech, but at the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to” after actually considering the move for 16 years, he said.

Poris’ story is a bit different. Coincidence, Hashgacha Pratit/Divine providence/fate stepped in, directing him about when to make aliyah. “It’s like the chips just kind of fell in the right place at the right time as well. I was working at Mercy High School, and I had been heavily thinking about it. A couple of months later, my department head came to me and said, ‘Hey, we just got the budget for next year and we can’t afford you.’”

Yet, that was not all, “… even my phone bill expired on my [aliyah] schedule. Yeah, like I said, it was by total chance,” he said.

Life in Israel

Like Alterman, Poris’ aliyah was not his first time in Israel. “When I was growing up, we would come to Israel every other year or so to visit family. Right after university, I actually came to Israel for eight months. I worked in the Ilana Goor Museum in Jaffa’s Old City, which is both a gallery and Ilana Goor’s home. I was the resident jeweler there,” he said.

“I knew I didn’t want to go directly into the workforce from school,” he said. “I wasn’t tied down and I wanted to spend some time in Israel; I wanted to travel while I could and see what it would be like to live there.”

He arranged an internship in Tel Aviv based on his interests at the Ilana Goor Museum. “I was immersed in Israeli life. I didn’t teach. I worked for an amazing, dynamic artist, Ilana Goor, and had the best time.”

Goor is an Israeli artist, designer and sculptor who displays more than 500 of her works and those of other guest artists in the 18th-century structure, a former hostel for Jewish pilgrims, she turned into a refuge for herself and her art. She held her first one-woman show in Los Angeles in 1972, and her jewelry designs were sold in many New York department stores. While she never has been to Detroit, Poris displayed and showed his jewelry designs refined during the internship at local multimedia showcases.

“So, I was here in Israel after I graduated university, working in the gallery as the resident jewelry artist.” His job included “the interpretation of Ilana Goor’s style into new and revitalized jewelry designs, using her original jewelry sculptures. I made a number of pieces for her under her instruction,” he explained.

“She had certain pieces that I was there to re-create; I kind of likened it to playing with expensive Legos, because she had all the different pieces. She would tell me to make new compositions with my work, wearable pieces, and things like that [as part of the training],” he said.

“I created all the pieces that were her designs. And I kind of made some new compositions based on her work and her style. After that, I came back to the States and I started teaching full time,” he added.

Neither Poris nor Alterman’s pre-aliyah employment were predictors for their media careers.

Entering the Profession

Making aliyah in 2010 as a single 30-something, Alterman worked as a researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). The Tel Aviv-based independent research institute and think tank addresses security studies and impact on strategic issues relating to Israel’s national security. These include military and strategic affairs, cyber warfare, military balance in the Middle East, terrorism and low-intensity conflict, according to the INSS website.

“I would be on TV as part of my job at the think tank; I was good at it and I loved it,” he said, noting “at one point, as part of my INSS work, I was going on a 24-hour news channel three or four times a week. So, I told the station I wanted to put something on my resume that would say something like ‘24-hour news analyst’ or ‘contributor.’ They said that was fine, but I needed a meeting with the head of the channel. A week later, I signed the contract for my current job.”

He was hired as i24’s senior international affairs correspondent and since has been promoted to senior diplomatic correspondent.

The news station, i24, is an English-language format, but Alterman uses his Hebrew when doing the information gathering and reporting. In his role, he has traveled considerably. “I’ve been to the European elections three times in France, once to Singapore for the [President] Trump-[South Korean President] Kim Summit, the White House lawn to the signing of the Abraham Accords, Russia, China, Kazakhstan, a bunch of European countries” and others, he recounted.

Poris’ entry to the profession was a little rockier.

“When I made aliyah in 2015, I started off working at the Islamic War Museum a couple of days a week while looking for something full time,” he said.

In job hunting, he noted, “Israel is a really interesting place. It’s not like in the States, where you’re asked questions as a big prerequisite to many, many jobs, such as: ‘Whom do you know?’ or ‘Where did you go to school?’

“In Israel, the startup mentality is such that they don’t care about that. They care whether or not you can do the job. The other stuff is not relevant,” he added.

“So, I was on Facebook, where I saw a post for a brand-new news company [ILTV]. At the time, ILTV didn’t even really exist yet. And the post was put up by Natasha Raquel Kirtchuk, the original anchor, who now works at i24 News. She said to me that she was looking for somebody to write, sit with the video editors and put things together, edit my writing a little bit, sit in the control room, etc.,” he said.

“And my skill set just fit,” he said. “I had experience as an art teacher teaching video editing. Also, speaking Hebrew, visiting Israel regularly and having family here helped me be knowledgeable about politics in Israel, the functioning of the government, the cultural atmosphere and the society as a whole. So, that all fit because that was actually a bit of a blind spot for her at the time,” he added.

His teacher training, both at Wayne State and in the classroom, likewise, prepared him with writing and editing.

“I was working about 14 hours a day doing the job, screen tests and learning everything that I didn’t know from staff at Channel 20, where we rented space. Slowly, we built up the company. A couple of months went by, and then we started on the air,” he said.

Aaron Poris, his wife Tirzah and daughter Elli
Aaron Poris, his wife Tirzah and daughter Elli

Poris said he made ILTV his life. “I was the first person in the office and the last one to leave,” he said. “And as I remember, I was underpaid at the time.”

“They were paying me around 4,000, 4,500 shekels a month, which was below the minimum wage. I was working crazy hours, so after about three months, I told my boss, ‘You’re going to have to bump this up to eight [8,000 NIS] now, otherwise I’m out,’ ” he said.

“And he [my boss] said to me, ‘Here’s your raise.’ And I said, “No, it’s a correction. We’ll talk about a raise in a couple more months,” he recounted.

“Because that’s how it’s done in Israel,” he said.

“After a couple more years, I was writing and doing some story packages, but mostly I was doing production work. The channel was looking for somebody to be able to join Natasha on screen to relieve some of the stress on her and to bring another face and voice to the show. She suggested that I do a screen test,” he recalled.

“I had taken Second City improv classes in Detroit as a teacher, and I was used to public speaking and presenting information in front of people. I was winner of the screen test,” he said. Poris had a new job.

He would solo as anchor while Kirtchuk was on vacation or on assignment. When she left ILTV for good, the station auditioned several potential anchors to join Poris. He ultimately was awarded the lead anchor position.

Outside of Work

Poris said he still works in art. “One of my favorite things to do is to interview people while I do their portrait.” He also is working on launching his own podcast focusing on promoting more positive things, he said.

He and Tirzah, an immigrant from England, were married in 2019, and she gave birth to their daughter Elli in October. They live in Tel Aviv and they visit Detroit fairly often for family and friends. They last were in town in May for friends’ weddings.

While “friends in Detroit and Thanksgiving remain important” for Alterman, Petah Tikvah is where he calls home, along with his wife, Talya, and two young children, Tohar and Naveh.

Talya’s work keeps her closer to home. The sabra, who grew up in Ariel, “works in special ed, has a business doing chocolate workshops for kids with special needs, as well as in schools and in other community settings. She trained as a chocolatier and is certified, and has a degree in special ed,” he noted.

Other Detroit-bred Israeli Media

Poris and Alterman are not the only Detroit-bred Israelis in the media. Several have taken to the keyboard or camera professionally since making aliyah.

Aviva Zacks
Aviva Zacks

Aviva Zacks, who made aliyah in 2006, writes about Detroit olim (immigrants) in Israel for the Detroit Jewish News. A former teacher at Yeshivat Akiva/Farber Hebrew Day School, she spends most of her days as “an Israel-based interviewer, marketing writer, editor and Hebrew-to-English translator,” according to her LinkedIn profile, which says that she “expertly translates Hebrew-to-English documents, blogs, articles and marketing materials.”

Idele Ross
Idele Ross

Idele Ross spent most of her media career as broadcast journalist/editor at the Israel Broadcasting Authority “after the Munich Massacre in September of 1972,” she said. Her most recent 9-to-5 job was as media services coordinator at MediaCentral, a Jerusalem-based nonprofit media liaison service center for journalists based in or visiting Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the region. She also worked for Ynet news, according to her LinkedIn profile. Today, the Michigan State University alumna is “a freelance writer and translator who is part of the group trying to establish a seniors co-housing project in Israel. Pioneering for the third age.”

Zev Chafets
Zev Chafets

Pontiac native Ze’ev (or Zev) Chafets, who made aliyah immediately after the Six-Day War and now lives in Tel Aviv, was founding editor of the Jerusalem Report. He served as director of the Israel Government Press Office and has written 14 books, according to various sources. In 2008, he was recognized with the Wilbur Award for nonfiction books for A Match Made In Heaven for excellence by individuals in secular media in communicating religious issues, values and themes, according to the Religion Communicators Council, who presents the award.

Susan Lerner
Susan Lerner

Susan Lerner has worked as an editor at Bloomberg News, business editor at the Jerusalem Post and a reporter for MarketWatch, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Nathaniel Warshay, who made aliyah in 2019, also works in the media, writing for the Detroit Jewish News. He previously was managing director of the Media Line, the nonprofit American Middle East news agencycovering the Middle East for the past 20 years.

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