The Chelm Project is a pro bono endeavor. Your donation is greatly appreciated. Your support helps balance overly conflict-driven news that warps perceptions of Israel.

Donate in Shekels


Donate in Dollars

Subscribe to our list

Email Format

Join us!

Are you a publisher or literary agent?

Click HERE

Savor Classic Oldies from 1987-2007
Click HERE

Share this post

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google BookmarksSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn

CHELM-ON-THE-MED©, January 2009 - Column 1


    How many tourists came to Israel in 2008? Like the question ‘Who is a Jew' - who is a tourists hinges on who you ask.
    Official data published by the Ministry of Tourism and the Israel Bureau of Statistics say there were three million visitors - 2.5 million of them tourists. The other half million visitors are just passing through, Arabs headed for Palestinian Authority areas, travelers-in-transit and day trippers off Mediterranean cruises.
    Critics charge the data is inflated: If there were 10 million nights spent by tourists in hotels in 2008, and if the average tourist stays 8-9 nights, ‘do the math' they say: There were only 1.25 million genuine tourists to Israel.
Where did the others disappear to?
    A handful are clergy, diplomats and UN forces. But a whopping 17 percent of all visitors to Israel are in essence freeloaders disguised as tourists - passengers who on entry declare they've come to Israel to visit friends and relatives and end up sleeping and eating and spending most of their stay as guests in the homes of Israelis, hardly opening their wallets.



Was the theatergoer over-righteous or was the play over-realistic?
    At the height of the first act of August: Osage County staged by Habima, a member of the audience suddenly stood up and dramatically demand that actress Gila Almagor throw out the script for the unhinged cancer-ridden protagonist she was playing and stop chain-smoking cigarettes on stage because "smoking is forbidden by law in public places".
    Almagor, took a very deep breath and told the fuming theatergoer he'd gone off half-cocked: Not only had she stopped smoking 15 years ago; the weed she was smoking nonstop was not tobacco.
What it contained she didn't say, but Almagor underscored - the contents were not detrimental to the health of the actors or the audience. A round of applause indicated it was time to get on with the show.



    Working on a tip, a drug squad crashed the marble-working workshop of a tombstone-maker from the Negev town of Dimona rumored to be pushing drugs as a sideline. While his workshop was clean as a whistle, the detectives' drug-sniffing dog led the cops straight to one of the graves in the cemetery where a sole of hash was stashed inside a memorial candle niche. The pooch then ‘homed in' on an adjoining but unembellished tombstone that was as smooth as a baby's behind. Hesitant, but unable to leave this particular stone unturned, the cops slid the slab aside - finding, beside the deceased, a five-kilogram cache of hash, leaving the 24 year-old tombstone-maker in grave trouble...and not only with the Law.



Who said there are no free lunches?
    In January 2009 the Hula Nature Reserve in the Upper Galilee began a two-month project distributing four metric tons of corn a day to convince some 25,000 European gray cranes to winter in Israel. Enticing the long-legged birds to stay-put is viewed solely as leverage, a marketing ploy to attract winter tourists to the sanctuary, but the Hula Authority is aware free meals might also be a mercy mission for the birds since far too many of the declining world population of 250,000 gray cranes who do migrate south are ending up serving as someone else's free dinner in Africa and Asia.
    Picking up the tab for the cranes' grain - visitors to the Reserve in January and February are being charged a two NIS entrance fee. The small ‘crane tax' is not expected to raise so much as a squawk among bird watchers coming to gawk at the graceful birds.

* less than 50 cents



    For years, the lucky public figure who got the cushy job of chair of the Mifal HaPiyis - the state-run lottery - raked in 2.5 M NIS ($658,000) an annum during a seven-year tenure without even buying a lottery ticket. Not surprisingly there are always plenty of volunteers vying for the position, but now the Piyis board of directors wants to make the chair a salaryless position...perhaps a reflection of ‘performance pay": The last two dominant chairs interfered too much in professional decision-making and undermined revenues, charged the directors. Since January 2008 when the last well-padded chairperson was put out to pasture, no replacement has been appointed, yet Piyis revenues increased by six percent.



    When Israel troops pushed into Rafiah in the second week of the Cast Lead campaign, they expected to engage armed Palestinians but unexpectedly found themselves facing two thoroughly frightened and very famished lions - luckily still in their cages...
    It seems goods smuggled into Gaza via tunnels under the Philadelphia Corridor that separates the Gaza Strip from Egypt came in all shapes and sizes*. There was not only a booming business moving GRAD missiles. Smugglers were perfectly game to arrange delivery of a pair of young lions which were trundled underground on carts from Sinai into the Gaza Strip, tranquilized and wrapped like mummies in gunnysacks. Bought in Egypt for $3,000 a head, the two were part of an entire $40,000 zoo ‘imported' by a local Gaza entrepreneur named Shadi Fi'ez.
    Feeling fate had cast him somewhere between a modern-day Daniel and the Lions Den and a makeshift Noah without an Ark, the brigade commander frantically sought a safe way to gingerly move the lions (and an ostrich and several other birds) out of the war zone.
     While the IDF has a host of weird posts, including one soldier who served as ‘IDF magician' for three years**, it never occurred to military planners that they might need a lion trainer. One idea is to mobilize several Ramat Gan Safari personnel into reserves, on special assignment.

* Gaza residents claim that a giraffe got stuck and died, blocking a tunnel.
** See the December Column 2 in the Archives



* Copyright© 2009 by Daniella Ashkenazy. All rights reserved worldwide. For limited usage, see FAQs. All stories are completely rewritten by Daniella Ashkenazy from news items gleaned from Yediot Aharonot, unless another news source is stated.