Backpage News from the Front

February 2016 Column 4


February 18 – February 24, 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. 


Changing reality has taken a unique form in settlements that hug Gaza – since the Disengagement in 2005, increasingly scarred by a bumper crop of ugly squat prefab mobile shelters every 100 meters, special windowless concrete bus shelters where children can take cover from mortar and Kassam rocket fire and towering high modular concrete walls at strategic points that now protect residents from Palestinian cross-border sniper fire and shoulder-held rockets*.

Giving a new meaning to the term ‘landscape artist’ Elyasaf Miara, a local farmer from moshav Shokeda and self-taught street artist decided to spruce things up a bit and help “acclimate the structures” to their surroundings with a series of Grandma Moses-like paintings of fields and trees and powder blue skies with birds in flight that blend into the pastoral surroundings and improve the psychological climate.

Miara’s work over the past eight years – a work still in progress – documented in a photo exhibition by photo journalist Abir Sultan entitled Edut Mikomit (Local Testimony). Actually Sultan went to the area to photograph buttercups and stumbled upon the budding artist’s body of work by chance…  (Yediot)

* In April 2011, a 16 year old was critically wounded by an anti-tank missile from Gaza that targeted a school bus in Kibbutz Nachal Oz. (Walla)


The following tops my all-time-favorite new item about a repossessor who rather than walking off with a needy family’s half-empty frig, took one look around, scribbled on the sequestration order ‘nothing to repossess,’ opened his wallet and handed the head of the household a 100 NIS ($26) bill and walked straight out the door…

A passenger on the commuter train from Lod overheard a teary girl soldier on her cell phone begging the Electric Company not to shut off the power and give her strapped mother – a single mom – a few days, ‘til her financial aid check from National Insurance arrived, to settle their overdue electric bill.

The perfect stranger got up, took the phone from the distraught soldier and paid the 1,950 NIS ($513) outstanding bill on the spot with his own credit card. Another young draftee sitting nearby, Daniel Danino, was so touched by the spontaneous gesture that she snapped a picture of Ofir Yitzhak and posted the story on her Facebook page where the story went viral.  ( – Maariv)

* Who was this angel in disguise? No millionaire, just a run-of-the-mill Israeli with a big heart. A bit of Internet sleuthing by The Chelm Project matched the snapshot of Ofir Yitzhak with a video clip of the young man graduating from Sela Technology College in the summer of 2015 from a course in information systems and cyber security. 



Everyone is familiar with regulations that prohibit travelers from carrying fresh fruits and vegetables from county-to-country to prevent the spread of plant diseases. Yet that wasn’t the reason a group of Israeli tourists was detained at the airport in China after customs officials found jat leaves in their possession – a mildly-addictive and slightly narcotic shrub native to Yemen* with a chemical structure similar to amphetamines. that Yemenite Jews habitually chew like bubble gum.

It turns out China banned jat (sometimes spelled khat or qat and even gat) in 2014 as a ‘controlled substance’. Luckily officials didn’t throw the Israelis out on their ears; they only confiscated the jat leaves and without even chewing-out the offenders, sent the group on their way to the Great Wall of China for their next euphoric jag. (Yediot)

* a lucrative surplus-resistant cash crop, jat constitutes 40 percent of all cultivated crops in Yemen 



Minister of Domestic Security Gilad Ordan ordered his Ministry and the Rescue & Fire Department Authority to work towards ending the current practice of citizens paying a fee* – ranging from hundreds to thousands of shekels – for calling for help putting out fires. Currently the bill is based on a number of parameters including how many fire trucks responded to the fire, the distance from the fire station…and the amount of water used to put out the fire – giving a new meaning to what constitutes water damage.

Ordan said the fire department is “an essential public service  that the state should provide citizens with” adding: “We need to make things easier for people whose houses went up in smoke, not burden them.” (

* The move must be approved by the Ministry of Finance, Interior and Environmental Protection. Loss to the budget: 20 M NIS ($5.3 M) in fire bills. 



We’ve all heard of blood banks and skin banks, and harvesting human organs from corneas to hearts, but how about ‘a feather bank’?

The Ramat Gan Safari’s Wildlife Hospital has just such an operation: Thus, when a scrawny and exhausted Common Buzzard was brought in with one wing missing most of its feathers, Dr. Yigal Horwitz glued on a ‘spare set’.

The left-wing feathers’ were meticulously and precisely re-sized and affixed – cut-and-paste – to fit their new owner and to mirror the bird’s right wing, each feather reinforced with a tiny bamboo splint inserted into the hollow shaft. The labor-intensive transplant procedure that took hours gives a new twist to the saying ‘to flaunt someone else’s feathers’.

The ‘temporary fix’ will serve like a spare tire on a vehicle: It makes it possible to release the bird of prey into the wild as soon as it regains its strength, well before the buzzard sprouts its own replacement feathers, a process that can take up to a year. (Yediot)

* The bank is based on ‘harvesting’ sets of feathers from injured patents who didn’t survive.



Is the two-page feature in Yediot about more and more Israeli kids becoming vegans – mainly due to concern about animal welfare, an overstatement or a genuine trend?

The McDonald’s chain in Israel has dumped after a six-month pilot its vegan tomato hamburger – the McTomato* dreamed up by Michelin-starred chef Moshik Roth – due to lethargic sales.  (Calcalist)

* The McTomato conjures up memories of my father’s vegetable garden when I was a tot, where he grew what I thought were ‘steak tomatoes’; I only recently realized that these whoppers – served cut in thick juicy slices, were stake tomatoes ((today’s ‘vine tomatoes’ supported by trellising). 



Every parent worries about the credentials of the new babysitter, but imagine if you are the parent of a child with special needs. Such parents are reluctant to leave their kids with a babysitter, period.

The situation was solved – at least for Jerusalemites – by an alumna of David Yellin Academic College of Education – Naomi Avner. The graduate of the program for teaching children with complex disabilities also has a six year-old mentally-challenged child herself. Together with the program director Dr. Orly Ido, a data base of students who want to serve as babysitters for such parents was created. In a win-win exchange, the students gain experience with children with complex disabilities charging deeply discounted babysitter rates – 20 NIS/hr ($5.25). Eighty signed up. (Yediot)









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
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