What was the most telling moment for Israel in 2016? It’s neither knife-welding Jihadists in the streets in the opening months of 2016, nor the stab-in-the-back from Obama at the UN at year’s end.
In fact, the best reflections of ‘the real Israel’ beyond conflict-driven headlines can be found among the nutty news stories ‘hiding’ in the back pages of the Hebrew press over the last 12 months, featured year-long by Chelm-on-the-Med Online. The best gems are candidates for the Annual Chelm Awards – now in its 8th year.
The winner this year for Ground-breaking Decisions by Government Ministries is the Ministry for Social Equality for championing an amendment to the Veteran Citizens Law - 1989 that will allow anyone age 80 and above to ‘jump the queue’ at pharmacies, post offices, theatre and movie box offices, and even supermarkets by flashing their Senior Citizen card.
And speaking of movie theatres, parliamentarian MK Shuli Moalem-Rafaeli (Jewish Home party) – a mother of seven kids and still counting – is the recipient of Chelm’s ‘Landmark’ Legislation Award for the bill she sponsored that seeks to prohibit movie theatres from charging for ‘lap tots’ taken to the movies – arguing such small children are no different from babies flying free-of-cost. Moreover, kids are not viewers since they don’t understand the plot, reasons the MK.
Ofakim is the proud recipient of the Quirkiest Move by an Israeli Municipality in 2016, thanks to the Negev town’s Chever Kadisha (Burial Society) which decided to solve the problem of finding a grave in the town’s 12.4 acre municipal cemetery by posting street signs between sections…named after 15 deceased members of the Burial Society.
Last year’s award for thinking out-of-the-box went to the folks behind solar-powered air conditioners for Israeli lifeguard stations; this year’s Israeli Ingenuity Award was a shoo-in: artist Gilat Orkin who sculpts prominent Israelis – from politicians to pop stars, all out of … pita.
And the Jewish state’s Green Spirit Award? It belongs to 11 students who studied how much chewing gum gets stuck under desks, harvested 20 kilograms from a thousand desks in their high school, dissolved the yucky globs, and turn the ‘product’ over to a factory that recycled the chewing gum as an ingredient in sticker glue.
And speaking of sticky…Israelis’ inclination to instantly bond in sticky situations is legendary, particularly how perfect strangers feel responsible for one another’s fate, epitomized by Yonatan Aziahav who took this sense of solidarity to the hilt, winning both the Gutsiest Israeli for 2016 and Chelm’s Honorable Menschen Award hands-down: Stabbed in a liquor store in the Petach Tikva shuk by a terrorist, Aziahav pulled the knife out of his own neck after fleeing the scene, then went back into the store … and fatally stabbed his Palestinian assailant in the neck and chest as the attacker grappled with the store owner.
The incident won Yariv Oppenheimer a close second for incredible chutzpa after the executive-director of Peace Now charged that the 40-year old Breslov hassid’s actions in the grocery constituted “an extrajudicial execution”! But, after much consideration, the Chelm Award for Chutzpa for 2016 went to a Bedouin metal scavenger who entered an off-limits IDF training ground on an ATV and was injured by a tank shell in the course of weaving in and out among maneuvering tank formations and artillery units in a military drill using live fire… then had the gall to try and sue the State of Israel for bodily injuries.
The 8th Chelm Award for the Strangest Court Case in 2016? It goes to David Shushan who dragged the Almighty into court ‘for stalking him.’ After logging ten complaints with his local police precinct that “God had begun to treat him badly,” an exasperated cop told Shushan “to request a restraining order from the courts”…which is exactly what he did! While the presiding judge wrote dryly that “the petitioner is not in need of the assistance of the courts, but rather the assistance of other agencies”, the bench duly noting for the record that the ‘defendant’ in the case had “failed to appear”… A close runner-up in the strange law cases category was a class action suit that found Insurance Direct (Bituach Yashir) guilty of breaching the Basic Law Human Dignity and Liberty - 1992 after the company began charging men 80 NIS ($21) if they called a tow truck to change a flat tire, while providing women drivers with the road service free of charge.
The Only-in-the-IDF Citation could easily double as a ‘what-were-they-thinking award’: Senior brass at an IDF air force base who let their enthusiasm get the better of them, thinking it would be a good idea to line up hundreds of personnel on the runway on a broiling hot August day to spell out ‘GOOGLE’ flanked by two fighter jets…to create a ‘souvenir aerial video clip’ for visiting Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt.
No annual Chelm Awards would be complete without a Religious Oddities Award. The winner in the Corporate Category goes to the Ministry of Religious Affairs that established a forth three-digit emergency dialing code (in addition to the police/ambulance/fire department shortcuts everywhere): Dial 120 for a death in the family. Why 120? Because in Genesis it says the Almighty “numbered our days” to 120 years. The winners in the Indie Category are young religious women who are sitting or prostrating themselves on an abstract sculpture recently added to the Menashe Kadishman Sculpture Garden in Ramat Gan National Park entitled ‘Birth’ (Ledah), in the belief that the metal sculpture possessed mystical powers that ensure fertility and an easy delivery.
Last but not least, the 8th Chelm Awards most coveted award – the Best Only-in-Israel Story. It was a hard choice, there being so many such moments… Heading the short list was a bizarre reflection of a recent study that found Israeli men live longer, because they remain in good shape due to military service: When a balcony collapsed like a trap door in a 130 year-old building in Jerusalem, the 74 year-old flat owner came out unscathed from the five-meter free fall (unlike his daughter who broke a number of bones). “Once a paratrooper, always a paratrooper,” declared Yehuda Avshaom.. He’d “instinctively bent his knees for impact and went into a roll as soon as he hit the pavement”…
After careful consideration, the 2016 Chelm Prize for the Best Only-in-Israel Story was awarded to the CEO who at the height of the Jihadi Wave of 2015-16 sought to demonstrated the ‘effectiveness’ of his company’s new knife-proof vest by stabbing a news reporter in the back on camera, assuring the trusting journalist - “I’m the guarantor. If something happens, I’ll take care of you”…only to have the paper-thin protective slab in the prototype slip out of place just before the fourth stab, sending the reporter to the hospital (with a superficial stab wound) and the designers back to the drawing board.
Co-recipient to the Best Only-in-Israel Story is Israel’s Anti-Trust Authority that had to write special dispensations into the laws to clear rival companies that ‘cooperate’ during wartime of any suspicion of creating a monopoly or price rigging, after during the 2012 Cast Lead and 2014 Protective Edge campaign companies in the center of the country offered competitors in the south the use of their own production lines at night and other off-hours so beleaguered rivals wouldn’t loose clientele due to disruption wrought by rocket fire from Gaza.
Readers: To read more zany news from Israel, go to the Chelm-on-the-Med Online website, at www.chelm-on-the-med.com/ Sign up for free to receive regular Chelm-like-but-true news columns from Israel.
Photo credits: Ground-breaking Decisions by Government Ministries Ministry of Senior Citizens Israeli Ingenuity Award Golda Meir – on Gilat Orkin Instagram account Green Spirit Award Kiryat Haim High School Only-in-the-IDF Citation screen shot - IAF video clip Religious Oddities Award Wikicommons, Avishai Teicher Only-in-Israel Prize Arik Abuluf, Fire Fighters & Rescue Unit – Jerusalem / Mabat Newsreel