March 2016 Column 1

GLEANED FROM ISRAEL’S HEBREW MEDIA

February 25 – March 2, 2016

by Daniella Ashkenazy

ABOUT THIS COLUMN: “Backpage News from the Front” is a series of weekly special reports ‘for the duration’ of  the Jihadi Wave of 2015/6 (for lack of a better name) that combines the regular odd and only-in-Israel Chelm-like-but-true news stories ‘hiding’ in the Hebrew media that are normally reported by this author twice-monthly in columns entitled “Chelm-on-the-Med Online” – antics that Israelis continue to do even in the worst of times, and piquant aspects of heightened conflict – from the galling, to the touching, to the downright bizarre.

WHO’S THE BOSS?

Exactly a week after Ehud Olmert began serving a 19-month jail sentence for misconduct, prison authorities were left scratching their heads how to deal with a kasher aval masriach* (entirely ‘legal but underhanded’) maneuver the ex-prime minister cooked up to enjoy unlimited visits from his closest cronies while in the clinker…

Olmert gave (so far) three people power-of-attorney to ‘represent him’ – his best friend Ronnie Bar-On, the former prime minister’s administrative chief, and his current business partner and former media advisor when in office – all three of  them lawyers by profession.

The law entitles all inmates to an unlimited number of visits with their lawyers – conducted in complete privacy (this in addition to at least three other attorneys who pleaded Olmert’s case in court…)

The loophole doesn’t set a limit on the number of visitors Olmert can arrange for behind bars, provided they are members of the bar. (Nana.com – Channel 10) Photo credit:  Israel Prison System, the ‘VIP Wing’ of Ma’asiyahu Prison

 

* literally ‘it’s kosher but stinks’ an idiom originating in an old classic Jewish joke about a woman who dropped a dish of meat in the toilet bowl. When she asked the rabbi whether it was still kosher, he replied: “It’s kosher but stinks”…

 

** BTW, one of the strangest amenities inmates in the Israeli prison system are allowed is permission to bring a pillow from home, a tidbit revealed on the eve of Olmert’s incarceration. (Yediot).

 

 NOTEWORTHY

It’s rumored that many world leaders never carry wallets…that aides pick up the tab when such VIPs are ‘out and about’ but Israel’s President is setting new standards.

When Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin grabbed a simple grilled tuna sandwich and bottle of club soda in the lounge of the Dan Carmel Hotel prior to an evening conference in Haifa he was to attend, the President of the State of Israel paid the 58 NIS bill out-of-pocket, but in the rush as he was ushered into the hall, President Rivlin forgot to tip the waiter.

When the event was over, the President set off on his own (much to the dismay of his security detail), darting into this and that corridor off the lounge in an attempt to locate the short-changed waiter, Asher Amir*, but was forced to leave his exceedingly generous tip for the oversight – a 100 NIS ($25+) note – at the reception desk. (Yediot, kikar.co.il) Photo credit: President’s Residence

 

* Amir was floored, and said it was the largest tip he had ever received in ten years on the job.

 

 DEAD RECKONING

We all know the shortcuts in time of emergencies (which just to confused things vary from country to country…): In Israel, dial 100 for the police (instead of 101 in the States). Dial 101 for an ambulance and 102 for the fire department (911 in the States).

Well, Israel now has a fourth three-digit access code for a service nobody else has! Dial 120 for a death in the family.

The round-the-clock answering service initiated by Minister of Religious Affairs David Azolei will operate seven days a week – including the Shabbat, providing guidance to next-of-kin about who* to call in such circumstances.

But why 120?

When someone has a birthday, the traditional congratulation in Hebrew is to wish the celebrant ‘ad me’ah ve-esrim’: [You should live] to 120.

And why 120?

Because in Genesis (Methuselah not withstanding) it is said that the Almighty “numbered our days” to 120 years; furthermore, in Deuteronomy 34:7 Moses is said to have died at the ripe old age of 120. (Israel HaYom)

 

* There are no ‘commercial funeral homes’ in Israel; National Insurance covers everything and the local burial society or hever kadisha handles arrangements.

 

 NEW CURRENTS

When the new proprietors of River decided to kasher the Raanana culinary institution renowned for its authentic Asian delights, Irit Diament  – the Left-wing ultra-secular Meretz party representative on the city council – snapped that she was “personally offended by the change” that involved closing for the Sabbath and called on the Meretz-Raanana Facebook page upon “free-thinking Raananans” to ‘boycott’  the establishment (!) in reprisal (prompting Raanana’s chief rabbi, Rabbi Yitzchak Peretz Shlita – in a masterful stroke of one upmanship – to come and personally nail a mezuzah to the front door).

But it turns out River is not alone.

More and more upscale/gourmet cafes and restaurants in Israel are seeking kashrut licenses…a leap of faith considering half the revenue of non-kosher eateries comes from Shabbat business.

While undoubtedly owners are relieved to be able to relax on the Sabbath like everyone else, the skip-the-shrimp menu and shortened operating hours aren’t a trade-off: Going kosher has fueled a 25 to 40 percent increase in overall revenues by attracting a growing class of classy observant and ultra-orthodox clientele with a taste for fine cuisine – including spring rolls and sushi carry-out on Friday’s for Shabbos dinner. (Yediot, Maariv)  Photo credit: River website

 

CAPTIVE AUDIENCE 

Israelis have learned in recent years to use their travel time on the train to snooze in the plush seats, read free newspapers picked up at the station, work on their laptops or surf the Internet on their smartphones  – thanks to tables, electric outlets…and free wifi which is an amenity on most trains and intercity buses in Israel. But, the quiet ambience was broken recently by…the railroad itself:

Commuters headed south early one morning found themselves ‘treated’ to some very irritating background music …after Israel Railways (whose motto is ‘Enjoy the Ride’*) rented out a railroad car exclusively to the Nahariya Rotary Club for an undisclosed sum…even posting a guard at the door to block ‘intruders’. The group proceeded to conduct a karaoke fest** all the way to Beersheva (a three-hour ride) accompanied by dancing in the aisle – backed up by an amplifier the partiers simply plugged into one of the above-mentioned power outlets. (Ynet) Photo credit: Youtube screenshot, Itai Strominger

 

** The racket was captured on his cellphone by a riled member of the ‘captive audience’ who felt he had been taken for a ride.

 

 NOW EVERYONE’S AN MK

As it is, Israel has a rollicking democracy: 120 Members of Knesset (MKs) submit no less than 3,500 bills to the Knesset annually – only a small portion of which make it on to the law books (see “Laying Down the Law”). This hasn’t stopped parliamentarians sponsoring a bill that will allow rank-and-file citizens to put bills before the Knesset, too.

“Not all the smart-alacks (chuchmalogim) are in the Knesset, so we decided to allow the public-at-large as well to participate in the legislative process,” quipped Yehiel (‘Hilik’) Bar (The Zionist Union), thus pushing the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ beyond estimating the number of jellybeans in a jar.

The bill which they label “the 121st MK” will allow any group of 50,000 voters* to present bills directly for discussion (‘in committee’) for a First Reading. (Israel HaYom, Yediot)

 

* The bills are limited to civil matters (regulatory issues, law enforcement, education, transportation environmental quality, etc.) They cannot address foreign affairs and defense matters, Basic Laws, pardons, tax policy or the State budget. The 50,000 sponsors would have to provide their names, identity numbers and signature to the document to avoid any ‘ballot stuffing’ on the sly.

 

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