Backpage News from the Front

May 2016 Column 4


May 19 – May 25, 2016

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.


Israeli makeup artist Matan Merhav turned the Israeli adage “barbering on someone else’s beard” (learning at someone else’s expense) on its head — to ‘profit at someone else’s expense’ — and not just anyone: Merhav took a selfie of himself with prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu not merely for vanity’s sake or as a personal memento.

Much to the prime minister’s embarrassment, the makeup artist posted the results of the impromptu photo opp on his Facebook page…spilling the beans* that Netanyahu puts on makeup before appearing in public — to be exact: “a moisturizing base, brushed highlighting as a concealer, an eyebrow pencil followed by a transparent mascara”…to his eyebrows. (Yediot)

* Netanyahu sacked the tactless makeup artist on the spot.


Israel HaYom features a weekly ‘ask the rabbi’ column that culls and republishes questions fielded by rabbis in online forums.

One reader asked where roasting potatoes in the bonfire came from…and got a scalding reply. “Lag B’Omer bonfires are not campfires,” retorted the rabbi. “Roasting potatoes in bonfires (i.e., which mark the death of 2nd century talmudic sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai or RASHBI) is about as appropriate as roasting a marshmallow on a toothpick over your grandfather’s yahrzeit (memorial) candle”…  (Israel HaYom)


Would it have been advisable to stock up on ear plugs — in preparation for Lag B’Omer* eve (Wednesday night, 25 May)? Perhaps not this year but maybe next…

According to Israel’s noise pollution laws singing or playing musical instruments after 11 PM in residential areas is forbidden …except on Purim, Israel’s Independence Day and Jerusalem Day.  But, the Knesset is deliberating adding Lag B’Omer (and the Moroccan post-Passover fres  – the Mimoona) to the list of exceptions when celebrants will have license to keep their neighbors up all night long.

As it is, environmental laws that ban burning combustible materials in the open air are suspended on Lag B’Omer eve…and Environmental Protection Ministry data shows pollution of fine particles in the air in Israel on Lag B’Omer skyrockets to 18 times the average on a normal day… (Israel HaYom)

* The Jewish holiday that leaves Tel-Aviv looking like London during the Blitz.

* In 2015, Government environmentalists debuted in Bnei Brak (with the blessings of city hall) a smokeless ‘green’ three-meter high bonfire made out of light bulbs lit up by…a circle of avid Jewish ‘peddlers’  (


What municipality has the most Mercedes in Israel?

Ceaseria?  Kfar Smariyahu?  Savyon?

No — Netivot.

While so far Netivot has been unable to kick its image as a dusty Negev development town where the patron saint of Moroccan Jewry — the Baba Sali — is buried, in fact, Netivot also boasts an extraordinary abundance of successful building contractors.

With zero job opportunities, countless ambitious native sons turned to the building industry to make their mark — the reason Netivot has also become the Mercedes capital of Israel.  Not per capita…in absolute numbers! One hundred and eighty Mercedes in a town of 26,700 residents… (Yediot)

* For a peek at such native sons’ grandiose digs, check out this story about the unknown ‘great houses’ in the Israeli South… (


Natural sponges are living organisms that only live in a salt water environment…or so it was thought.

Edo Granot, a professional diver who was fixing a boat on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee found a colony of 40 cm. diameter sponges attached to the rocks in a boat docking facility near Tiberias. The diver sent photos to Professor Moshe Gofen — an expert in the ecology of the Sea of Galilee — who labeled the find “extremely rare.”

Where did the sponges come from…and had someone dump the contents of their aquarium in the drink…or are the ‘newcomers’ somehow related to sponges that once lived in the Hula Swamp in the Upper Galilee?  And how do the sponges survive in the sweet water environment of the Sea of Galilee…or is this an ominous warning sign that the Sea of Galilee is becoming salty?

Gofen has ruled out the second concern.


In a truly incredible case of identity theft, a Polish goy claimed to be an Israeli Orthodox rabbi called Jacob Ben Nistell from Haifa, boasting he had a son in the IDF nonetheless…Yup, this in still rampantly anti-Semitic Poland*, leaving the impression perhaps the Pole needs to get his head examined…

On the other hand, the impostor, decked out in full ultra-Orthodox attire managed (much to the embarrassment of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland) to get himself officially appointed ‘Chief Rabbi of Poznan’ (which only has a couple of dozen Jews). Alas, a member of the Jewish community began to suspect something was fishy after he spied the volunteer ‘rabbi’ holding up a Torah scroll upside down… (Israel HaYom) \

* Polls show 65 percent of Poles believe there is a global “Jewish conspiracy” and 46 percent still view Jews as “Christ killers”…

** Jacob Ben Nistell turned out to be a Catholic ex-cook from Ciechanow named Jacek Niszczota.


In Israel, it is mandated by law that there be a defibrillator in every building with an occupancy of 500 people or more. Six thousand persons in Israel experience heart failure every year, but where on earth is the nearest defibrillator located??? Go find it in a three-storey ‎150,000 square meter (1,600,000 sq ft) mall like the Azrieli Mall…when every second counts.

Four med students at Ben-Gurion University have come to the rescue with an app called Man-Med — being developed together with Google — that will map the location of every defibrillator in the country…along with an explanation of how to apply the device, in a crux. (Yediot)


Israel has one of the youngest officer corps in the world — lieutenants in their late teens and captains in their mid-twenties, and full colonels in their mid-thirties — a phenomenon that inevitability carries with it the danger that junior offices and NCOs in their late teens and early twenties will overstep boundaries. One only needs to recall the story of the soldiers wakened by remote control — text messaging orders by ‘inventive’ junior commanders. Well there are worse things that could happen.

An ‘inventive’ NCO has some serious explaining to do after he decided to encourage* his company of draftees to get out of bed on the double for roll call by rolling a tear gas grenade into their tent… ((Israel HaYom)

* Perhaps because remote control texting (see “Just Following Orders!”) was banned by the Soldiers’ Ombudsman?








About the Author
Daniella Ashkenazy is a bilingual Israeli journalist and the founder and CEO of Chelm-on-the-Med Online, a news outlet in English of zany news from Israel culled from the Hebrew press, designed to transform preconceptions about Israel – one chuckle at a time