What was the most telling moment for Israel in 2015?

Declaration of a bad deal with Iran or the implosion of most Middle East polities? The spread of BDS on campus or singling out certain Israeli products by the EU as ‘tainted’? Or was it knife-welding Jihadists on the loose?

Of course not!

The most telling moments of 2015 are the ones reflecting the ability of Israelis to repeatedly embrace life to the fullest despite all the above. Indeed, the most definitive events of the past year were hidden in the back pages of the Hebrew papers – not in the front headlines.

And who are this year’s Chelm laureates?

The State of the Nation Award celebrating the zaniest aspects of Israeli governance was a tie. Unfortunately, discovery that there is nothing on the law books that states that the State of Israel is the State of Israel (declared in the Declaration of Independence but never passed into law) doesn’t quality; plans are now afoot in the Knesset to rectify the oversight, but that glitch occurred in 1948… Thus, the first recipient of the State of the Nation Award for 2015 was Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel (Jewish Home party) for suggesting the street cat population be kept in check and healthy by purchasing one-way tickets abroad to ‘transfer’ all stray cats of a single gender (all the males or all the females) to any country prepared to accept them, in lieu of spaying/neutering the strays – claiming all creatures were blessed by the Creator to “be fruitful and multiply.” Sharing the Award with him is fellow cabinet minister Gila Gamliel (Likud) who holds the broadest not to mention the wordiest portfolio in the government: the Jewish state’s Minister for Veteran Citizens, for Gender Equality, for Equality for Minorities and for the Advancement of Young People in Israel…in essence, authorized to address the grievances of nearly everyone in the State of Israel, except for Jewish men between the ages of 18 and 67.

On the local level, the recipient of the Quirkiest Municipality Award  is Rishon le-Zion whose municipal water works officially appointed the city’s sewer maintenance crews “first responders” – just like firefighters, after maintenance crews mobilized the ‘fragrant’ contents of their pump trucks to put out fires at a construction site, a garage…and a Rishon residence.

The Superpharm drugstore chain bagged the Chelm Award for Business Acumen for discovering the holy grail for savvy retailing: designing special shopping carts that recharge smartphones (and no, shoppers don’t have to keep circling the aisles to generate the juice, but it’s assumed customers will run up a charge at the cash register anyway in the 20 minutes it takes to reach 25 percent battery capacity).

El-Al took home the Oddest Labor Dispute Award for 2015 after Israel’s national airline ordered female flight attendants to wear high heels while on the ground, prompting male flight attendants to clarify that if management insisted on implementing the directive, the men would also show up for work in high heels, making El-Al the laughing stock of the airline industry.

This year’s In the Jaws of the Bureaucracy Award could very well be labeled in the subtext the ‘What Were They Thinking’ prize:  The winner? Ministry of Health clerks at the Medical Institute for Road Safety who administered a “psychological profile for risk assessment” exam on behalf of the Ministry of Transportation to applicants for a heavy truck driver’s license – a questionnaire that told applicants to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’  to statements such as “I never allowed myself to enjoy kinky sexual behavior”…with nary a question about how the subject would respond if the boss pressured them to work 14 to 18-hour shifts behind the wheel due to a shortage of drivers.

Israeli innovation knew no bounds in 2015. Chelm’s Israeli Ingenuity Award almost went to Electra Ltd. for designing solar-powered air conditioners, now being installed in Israeli lifeguard stations along the Med, but in fact, the Israel Air Force snatched the prize right from under their noses…also walking off with the Only-in-the-IDF Citation, to boot.  How? Thanks to the way the IAF responded to a warning from Lockheed-Martin that Israel’s aging F-16s needed to be dismantled to be inspected for unexpected metal fatigue: The IAF chucked the company manual and instead smeared the outside of the fuselage with ultrasound gel and employed a portable ultrasound device unit – the kind found in hospital maternity wards. Of course, there are limits to innovation, too: In one of the oddest cases brought before the Soldiers’ Complaints Commissioner (yes, there is such an institution), the IDF ombudsman banned an ‘application’ of What’s App dreamed up by some junior officers: ordering around soldiers through text messages such as ‘MORNING ASSEMBLY IN ANOTHER HALF HOUR’ …

Israelis may rank high on ingenuity but at times rate low on organizational skills – prompting a special 2015 Best Organizational Glitch award, epitomized by the results of a short moonlight off-road race in the middle of the Negev that turned into a genuine marathon when the race organizers failed to post a crew member with a stick light at a crucial junction to signal participants to turn left onto a paved road to the finish line, leading hundreds to just keep jogging headlong into the desert.

There were extraordinary acts of empathy and solidarity in 2015, as well: Chelm’s Honorable Menschen for 2015 goes to the army buddies of Dima Bakshi z”l who made aliyah from Russia and served in the Givati Brigade. When the former lone soldier dropped dead without any sign of illness, his mother – a woman of very limited means – requested his body be cremated and sent to Russia. Bakshi’s army buddies and an NGO of IDF vets called Ezrachim b’Mil (‘Citizens in Reserves’) collected tens of thousands of shekels to fly the bereaved mother to Israel to participate in a memorial service attended by her son’s army buddies and work colleagues, and to fly Bakshi’s coffin to Russia with her for burial.

And last but not least, the Best Only-in-Israel Story?  Goodness gracious, they’re endless!

For instance. The video clip gone viral of Hebrew University professor of organizational behavior Sydney Engelberg minding one of his grad student’s restless baby (without missing a line in his lecture) – a gem that subsequently revealed: plenty of university and college lecturers in Israel allow mothers to bring their infants to class and don’t think twice about pinch-hitting in loco parentis. But, forced to choose, this year’s top only-in-Israel item goes to a young Israeli couple who bought an old house in picturesque Ein Karem, on the edge of Jerusalem and in the course of renovating their new digs, discovered a 2,000 year old mikvah (ritual bath) under the floor. Now the owners have a one-of-a-kind ‘conversation piece’ (accessible by wooden trap door in the middle of their newly stone-tile floored living room: the first evidence that Ein Karem was not just the birthplace of John the Baptist, but apparently also housed a thriving Jewish community dating back to Second Temple times.

* Why Chelm? Life in Israel oft resembles an incredible-but-real version of the make-believe antics attributed to the inhabitants of Chelm – a genuine town in Poland that was the butt of Yiddish folk humor for generations.

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