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The wildest and wackiest news stories of 2014 about Israel never made the headlines, but they speak volumes about the true flavor of Israeli society

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OK, so 2014 was not a good years for the Jews… Foot-dragging on attempts to curtail Iran’s abilities to ‘nuke Israel.’  Reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, the rise of ISIS, and a two-month war with the Palestinians that unleashed an outpouring of antisemitic venom. Why already in September 2014 even a Haaretz (!) columnist crowned the Jewish New Year 5774 “the year of blaming the Jews.”

Are Israelis worried? Well, yes, but most of us continue to live life to the fullest through thick and thin. ‘How’ is reflected in the wildest and wackiest news stories hiding in the back pages of the Hebrew papers – fodder for the online columns of the English-language news site Chelm-on-the-Med. The best stories are recognized annually in the Chelm Awards – now in its 6th year.

And who are the winners of the 2014 Chelm Awards?

The overwhelming percentage of Israelis – Jews, Druze, and Arabs – continue to go about their lives despite ethnic and national tensions in the headlines, including this year’s recipient of the Israel Diversity Award – 43 year-old attorney-at-law Hamam Hleihel. The recipient is an Israeli Muslim born in an Arab village, originally married to a Greek woman who converted to Islam, now remarried to a divorced Christian immigrant from the former Soviet Union. The family (including a stepson who serve in the IDF) lives in an Arab house in the Jewish capital of Mysticism – Safed, where Hleihel heads a law firm specializing in family law for Druze, Muslims, Christians, and Jews…and if that’s not breathtaking enough, Hleihel himself is a renowned expert in Jewish family law who often serves as a fiercely pro-feminist voice representing Jewish women in rabbinical courts.

The Quirkiest Municipality Award for 2014 was a toss-up. Ramat HaSharon that inaugurated special bicycle paths on the sidewalk that oft end abruptly in the bushes or go smack-dab into a bus shelter had a fighting chance, but the award goes to Bnei Brak whose city elders approved a municipal budget with multiple pages printed in total gibberish due to a computer glitch…and nobody at city hall took notice.

Who deserves the Award for Chutzpa?  The winner in the corporate category for the most audacious conduct in 2014 is the Ramat Gan Municipality.  During the July-August 2014 Protective Edge Campaign, when motorists pulled over to the side of the road after sirens sounded warning of incoming Grad rockets, while occupants were laying flat on the ground next to their vehicles with their hands over their heads for protection, Ramat slammed drivers with tickets for illegal parking. The prize in the indie category goes to a homeless squatter who set up house in a Tel-Aviv park to protest housing costs, then refused the Tel-Aviv Municipality’s offer of a weatherproof tent that could keep him and his wife a bit warmer in January temperatures, charging city hall’s upgrade was totally inadequate because the accommodations were “too small to accommodate their double bed.”

The Chelm Award for Business Acumen belongs to Israeli District Court Judge Eitan Ornstein who approved issuance of an Appeal to the Public to help underwrite a civil law suit abroad by a court-appointed trustee who needs $1.5 M in ‘venture capital’ to try to recover $50 M in the hands of a London partner of a bankrupt Israeli businessperson…in exchange for a cut in any money awarded by the British courts.

Who walked off with the Israeli Ingenuity Award? The runners-up were Peek-a-boo Fashions that offers a sleek and sexy black maxi-length dress for new mothers that incorporates a hidden flap that can be opened to accommodate a hungry baby without looking like a frumpy nursing top, and ‘granny4rent’ a free matchmaking platform that allows unemployed/retired persons over 50 to find part-time work that’s not a minimum wage position guarding the entrance to a supermarket – providing overextended working parents with someone responsible to fill-in for half a day as a warm and loving, proactive and supportive parental figure. So, who took the prize? Sarit Asharov, a Raanana manicurist who invested three years nailing down the reasons people bite their nails and published a book about how to stop for good. The secret? Like alcoholics and smokers – total abstinence: Never never succumb to any contact between your teeth and your nails – not even one itty-bitty pinky finger or you’ll be re-hooked.

Chelm’s Honorable Menschen Award goes to residents of a small assisted living residence in Jerusalem called Tovei Ha’ir who banded together to collect money for typhoon victims in the Philippines; not nameless and faceless victims, the recipients were homeless relatives of twenty-five Philippine caregivers who live with the elderly Israeli residents. The seniors share the prize with Jewish brethren from Beverly Hills who pressed into the hand of the conductor of the Haifa Symphony signed ‘open checks’ as donations, leaving it to the Symphony to fill in the sum… (Although deeply touched, the Haifa Foundation returned the checks untouched asking the generous LA angels to fill in a sum themselves.)

In a piece of breakthrough medical research this year, it was found that the almost total absence of peanut allergies in Israel is linked to de-synthesizing sabras from an early age to peanuts by eating Israel’s most popular snack food: melt-in-your-mouth peanut-flavored Bamba, which brings up the 6th Chelm Award’s Only-in-the-IDF Award. The prize belongs to an IDF conscript who is suing the Ministry of Defence demanding disabled veteran status for life. The food available in boot camp, he claimed, failed to meet his special needs as a zealous vegetarian, complicating an existing medical condition due to avoidable stress, leading the soldier to fall into a depression and be discharged on psychiatric grounds. The disabling chain of events was the result of “being forced to subsist solely on Bamba during his entire period at boot camp.

An English teacher at a Tel-Aviv performing arts school that prides itself as an institution that believes “students must be given the opportunity to put into practice things which they have learned in class,” ran off with the Chelm Prize for Out-of-the-Box Pedagogy for sharing the poem “Richard Cory” with her class, then assigning her 11th graders to write a suicide note as homework.

El-Al’s chief rabbi (there is such a post) wanted to bolster El-Al’s practice of distributing the Tfilat HaDerech (the Traveler’s Prayer for a safe journey, with the help of the Almighty) along with the toothpicks at mealtime, making him a shoe-in for this year’s Chelm Award in the Religious Oddities Category. As an extra safety measure, Rabbi Yochanan Chaiyut ordered the Traveler’s Prayer be broadcasted over the cabin PA system before every take-off and landing. El-Al clarified the move was an “unauthorized personal initiative.”

Last but not least, the Only-in-Israel Award is shared this year by two stories: If one believes a warning issued by the Dead Sea Works, the Jewish state now faces a unique environmental hazard – that treated sewage water from the hotels that line the shoreline are “diluting the Dead Sea” undermining the conglomerate’s operations although the Dead Sea has one of the highest salt concentrations of bodies of water worldwide – 31 percent salt compared to three percent in the world’s oceans.

The second Only-in-Israel laureate for 2014 is parliamentarian Zahava Galon from the Meretz party who called for extending Israel’s generous absorption assistance package for new immigrants to another group for whom Israeli society is often just as foreign and confusing to navigate: Young people from haridi homes who abandon an ultra-Orthodox lifestyle (some 500 a year by her estimates) and find themselves cast into an unfamiliar world without marketable skills or a roof over their heads.

Oops, did we say last but not least???

In retrospect, the Chelm Awards for 2014 would not be complete without adding a special Blame the Jews Award for the most ‘original’ canard leveled at the Jewish state during 2014. Clearly, the most deserving demonizer is the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pallay who charged Israel is guilty of war crimes against civilians of Gaza because it refuses to share Israel’s Iron Dome ballistic missile defense shield with the “governing authority of Gaza” – Hamas, that was shooting rockets at Israel!

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