Askew

Joel Schatz

Joel Schatz offers a slightly off-center look at the news.

Askew

Kosher bacon, harrowing horas, and a record-breaking Shabbat

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Dinner plans?

If you're not busy, maybe you can stop by for Shabbat dinner. And bring a friend. Or several. The more the merrier.

That's pretty much the attitude of the folks organizing the World's Largest Shabbat Dinner, set for June 13 at Hangar 11 in Tel Aviv Namal, a major event venue overlooking the Mediterranean. There will be challah, wine, a full catered meal and, of course, an official Guinness World Records adjudicator who is flying in from London, just to make sure everything is completely kosher, world-record wise.

"This is no gimmick," the organizers, White City Shabbat, insist. "Our epic Shabbat dinner will be a true show of Jewish Unity and community spirit … attended by individuals, families, groups coming from many different types of communities, all under the banner of Am Yisrael presided over by our Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Rav Yisrael Meir Lau."

The event really is open to everyone, and you or your entire group really can attend. Just RSVP at www.WorldsLargestShabbatDinner.eventbrite.com. There is a suggested donation "of 50nis (New Israeli Shekels), or 80nis, or 18nis, or 100nis, or FREE."

But if you plan to go, there's none of this "fashionably late" stuff. Everyone must be in his or her seat on time at 6:30, the invite stresses, "so you can personally be counted as officially part of this beautiful act of CHUTZPAH."

WARNING: Horas may be hazardous to your health

The New York Post  and Tablet Magazine report that 69-year-old Michael Douglas - yes, that Michael Douglas - suffered an apparent "hora-related injury" while celebrating at his son Dylan's bar mitzvah.

"I'm hurting," the limping actor told a reporter several days later. "I don't know whether it's my groin or a hernia. I got carried away at my son's bar mitzvah this weekend. You know they put you up in the chairs over the top - I think something happened there."

Bacon. Now in the kosher aisle.

Iconic Ritz Crackers has introduced its latest variety: Bacon-flavored Ritz. And, like other Ritz products, it's certified kosher. O.U.

Tablet Magazine reports that, through the magic of chemistry, the bacon-flavored snacks contain no bacon, nor any other trayfe. So the O.U. says they're OK.

Ritz is hardly the first to offer such a counter-intuitive option to the kosher market. Remember Bac-os bacon bits? Kosher. And there are plenty of others. Jewcy's Elissa Goldstein provided a roundup.

Why limit your market?

Just to be clear, there is absolutely no suggestion that Manischewitz is working on bacon-flavored matzo. Quite the contrary.

Rather than searching for ways to make trayfe products kosher, the new management at the 126-year-old firm is looking to make "kosher" the hot new label among consumers who aren't concerned about religious dietary laws.

Just before Passover, Manischewitz was taken over by a subsidiary of Bain Capital. (You may remember them as the private equity firm Mitt Romney used to run.)

"It's a pretty powerful certification to be kosher, because it means you are holding your product to a very high standard," newly appointed CEO Mark Weinsten told the New York Times. "Why is that not applicable to people who don't keep kosher?"

Quartz.com noted that "if the kosher designation can be pitched as a byword for quality and care, it could garner more mainstream appeal, especially among health-conscious shoppers." Several years ago, Manischewitz started rebranding its matzo as "a low fat, additive-free cracker instead of a religious product."

Going forward, broths and macaroons could have the broadest appeal to mainstream consumers, a company spokesperson told Bloomberg Businessweek.

Builders and sons

There are plenty of cases of children following in the footsteps of their parents, becoming performers or artists in their own right, but artist Mosh Kashi (link is to a video in Hebrew) recently recalled how he felt the same sense of preserving a family tradition in 2005 when one of his paintings - Tree without Roots - was hung on the wall for exhibition at the Israel Museum. Things had come full circle.

Was his father a famous artist?

No, but Mosh could say he was nevertheless a chip off the old block: The elder Kashi had spent 35 years as a manual laborer working for Solel Boneh, the construction corporation that had built the Israel Museum. When his son's work was exhibited, the elder Kashi returned to the Israel Museum for the first time, in order to see his son's handiwork hanging on one of the very walls he himself had erected forty years earlier.

Courtesy www.chelm-on-the-med.com

Hamas, Apollo, Sruli and Yankel

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Hamas seizes Greek god Apollo

A Gaza fisherman caught way more than he expected last August.

According to Reutershe scooped up an 1,100-pound bronze statue of the Greek god Apollo from the bottom of the sea, tossed it on a donkey cart and headed home, apparently having little sense of what he had caught.

But as word spread, others sensed that this was something special, and suddenly it appeared on eBay, listed at $500,000 – far less than archaeologists believe the incredibly rare 2,000-year-old work of art is worth. Most such surviving works are marble or other types of stone.

It didn’t stay there long, however. Police from the Islamist group Hamas, which controls Gaza, seized the statue and carted it off, holding it for investigation, the Reuters report said. Frustrated archaeologists haven’t had a glimpse of it since, save for a few photos of it laid out on a Smurf blanket.

Can he handle the truth?

A year ago, a video of 4-year-old Sruli Muschel became a bit of an internet sensation (a designation so universal today that Andy Warhol's remark may have to be revised to "Everyone will be world-famous for 15 seconds") when he delivered Jack Nicholson's "You can't handle the truth" monologue from memory while sitting in a bathtub full of water.

Now he has taken to a whole new stage. The one on the “Jimmie Kimmel Live” late-night show. Sruli is still in the bathtub, albeit fully clothed and immersed in bubbles. But the speech this time is Matthew McConaughey’s “First rule of Wall Street” lecture from “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

Perhaps reflecting the breadth of his television audience, Kimmel didn’t ask Sruli to perform one of his other presentations: the 39 categories of work prohibited on Shabbat.

With or without it, though, Elissa Goldstein reports on Jewcy.com, Sruli still is adorable.

That’s not supposed to happen

The Royal Guard’s soldiers at Buckingham Palace are known worldwide for their stoic nature. Absolutely nothing fazes them. 

Except, perhaps, Yankel.

JTA reportsthat in yet another posted video, the otherwise unidentified Yankel, presumably a young tourist dressed in traditional Orthodox garb, edges up beside one of Her Majesty’s finest and begins weaving a colorful tale of the lifelong relationship he and his new besty have shared since they began school together.

At first, the soldier holds true to protocol and maintains his composure. As the fanciful details of their mythical past continue, however, there is first a crack of his lips, and then an outright smile.

Yankel and his buds with the camera celebrate with glee, and then he dances away.

Milk, honey, whisky?

Think whisky – single-malt, to be precise – and the country that comes to mind is Scotland. But at a time when the popularity of the hard stuff is soaring, everyone wants to get in on the act – even six guys in Israel.

As the world’s largest whisky exhibition, Whisky Live, made its debut in Tel Aviv last week, one of the most popular displays was for a label that hasn’t yet produced a drop.

According to Daniella Cheslow, writing in Tablet, the Milk and Honey Distillery in northern Jaffa was started in 2012 by six friends, and it hopes to produce something drinkable by late 2018. Since those first bottles will go to the crowdfunding backers who got things going, it will be some time later than that before the label shows up on shelves anywhere.

As Cheslow noted, Scotland’s climate is wet and cold, while Israel’s is largely arid. But Milk and Honey co-founder Simon Fried told her that’s actually an advantage. The whisky will age more quickly, and will be ready in three to five years, rather than 10 to 12 for the Scottish varieties.

We won’t know until then whether the results are comparable.

Chutzpah Lane?

Shabtai Tsur, deputy mayor of the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, recently asked the city to rename a local side street after him.

The thoroughfare currently is known as Hayl Hayam Street, a name honoring the Navy, the Times of Israel reports. Tsur’s boss – the mayor – and the city committee in charge of such things already have signed off on the switch, and the city council was expected to approve it this week.

Fall guy

A Bat-Yam, Israel, resident who tripped and fell due to an uneven sidewalk went to the doctor, who ordered tests and then sent the patient for physiotherapy. 

In the course of suing the city for $1,142 in damages, the victim sought to turn the mishap into a cash cow by targeting 10 other localities, suing each city hall (with different lawyers) for identical accidents. The victim used copies of the medical reports from the first fall, which, due to an oversight, failed to mention the site of the mishap.

Three municipalities fell for the bait and sought to settle out of court for a tidy $4,286 each – provided the injured party drop the charges. But it turned out two of the three cities were covered by the same insurance company, which put two and two together and blew the whistle.

Courtesy www.chelm-on-the-med.com 

 

Debunking Danish history, disinfecting rappers, and Abby Hoffman’s gefilte fish

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It's not what you thought, but it might be better

It turns out, the story you heard about Denmark in World War II isn't true. But the one you haven't heard may be even more amazing.

According to Alexander Bodin Saphir, writing in Tablet Magazine, the oft-told tale of the King of Denmark and Danes throughout the kingdom donning yellow Jewish stars when the Nazi occupiers ordered all Jews there to wear them - thus thwarting plans to identify the Jews and send them to camps - simply didn't happen.

But the Jews were, indeed, protected by the Danes through the "Miracle Rescue," which ferried nearly all 8,000 Danish Jews to safety in Sweden. The rescue was triggered not by the Jewish star subterfuge, but by the warning the Jews got that the Nazis were about to round them up.

And that warning came directly from the brutal Nazi leader Werner Best - the so-called "Butcher of Paris" - who was supposed to carry it out.

Bodin Saphir's tale, which he has turned into a play, is rooted deeply in the history of his own family. His grandfather and his grandfather's brother-in-law worked in the family tailor shop where one day, against all Nazi orders prohibiting dealings with Jews, SS Chief Best came for a suit. And they were the ones warned by him of what was to come, and that they must flee.

As improbable as the tale may seem, Bodin Saphir says there is both documentation for the story and rationale for why the man charged with wiping out the Jews of Denmark would be the one to save them. Check out the Tablet story for all the intriguing details.

Viral video: The anti-virus

Maybe the best way to stop viruses is to go viral.

Medical experts all over the world have been trying to cut down on hospital-acquired infections that make patients sicker than when they came in. It's a massive problem that affects hundreds of thousands of people every year. And by far the most effective cure is one of the most ancient - hand washing.

But getting the word out and changing staff behavior has been a constant challenge. There have been countless posters and protocols and in-service trainings. But Israel's Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem opted for a different approach.

Recruiting dozens of doctors, nurses and other staff members, Shaare Zedek produced a 3½-minute rap video, complete with break dancing in the OR, extolling the virtues of washing your hands.

According to Israel21C.org, "The hospital reworded lyrics to the popular Israeli rap song 'Raise Your Hands' and instead sings: 'So put your hands under the water, add soap and wash away the virus.' "

The revised lyrics are in Hebrew and are quite punny, Israel 21C reports, but "the video can be understood without knowing the language." Which is good, because the YouTube version has been seen more than 250,000 times.

No stitch, in no time

Forget the stitches. Forget the staples. The next time you have surgery, the doctor may weld you shut.

An Israeli start-up (who else?) has developed a cold-plasma device that closes surgical wounds in minutes, reduces the chance of infection, leaves minimal scarring, and doesn't require complex training for medical staff.

Plasma gas has been shown to have many potential benefits, according to Israel21C.org, "including tissue welding, control of bleeding, enhancement of tissue repair, disinfection and destruction of cancer cells." But the high temperatures it creates are a problem. The Israeli firm IonMed developed a way to use cold plasma in its BioWeld1 system, which eliminates the negative side effects caused by the heat.

The first likely application of the system could be for closing C-section incisions, company officials say. BioWeld1 would reduce time in the operating room and provide a better cosmetic result. Beyond C-sections, there are many other possible uses.

The system has had several successful clinical trials, but it still must win marketing approval, first from the European Union, and then from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

And now for something(s) completely different…

Love it or hate it, "Hava Nagila" has been much in the news in recent years, in no small part due to the documentary of the same name. But if you have a sudden hankering to hear its strains, and you don't happen to be at a wedding, bar mitzvah or have it on your iPod, we offer here a rendition you may have missed - performed by none other than the once-in-a-lifetime duo of Ray Charles and David Ben Gurion.

And in a very different, yet also nostalgic vein, perhaps you also missed this classic clip defining the cultural differences between Jews and non-Jews. It's a home video of counter-culture icon Abby Hoffman relating how he made gefilte fish from scratch for parenting icon Dr. Benjamin Spock. (Note: Very definitely rated PG-13, for language.) David M. Bronstein offers a bit of background in this article on Jewniverse.com.

The envelope, please

Our friends at Chelm on the Med, who provide some of the Israeli items you read in this blog, compile an annual list of favorites from the previous year. Among the 2013 winners are:

The Chelm Award for Chutzpa was earned by Haifa's mayor, Yona Yahav, for claiming that Israel's offshore natural gas fields Dalit and Tamar, situated 30 to 50 miles out in the Mediterranean, should be added to Haifa's "jurisdiction," thus giving his city the right to collect municipal property taxes for drilling or processing platforms established to bring the natural gas ashore.

The Chelm Award for Innovation went to Lee Trachtman, the school teacher behind a new hybrid species - the Pacifier Tree. The seed of the new variety was planted in the whimsical plot of Trachtman's best-selling children's book, "Etz Hamotzetzim," which revolves around a nursery school with a pacifier tree and 3-year-old Noa who, still beset by mixed feelings, has trouble separating from her pacifier. The motif has been adopted by countless non-fictional municipal playgrounds and nursery schools, each with a designated tree where children are encouraged to hang up their pacifiers for good, when they are good and ready to part with them.

Grave matters, ancient curses … and romantic pogroms?

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Grave matters

How do you find a grave if you have absolutely no idea where it might be?

As with most other things today, the answer, inevitably, is “check the internet.” There are sites specifically dedicated to locating the graves of Holocaust victims, fallen Israeli soldiers and many other types of heroes.

But Shelly Furman Asa realized one day that there was no such site for everyday Jews, the ones who might be heroes to someone (or not), but who hadn’t had a notable brush with history. So she created one.

According to Jewniverse.com, the site – Neshama.info – is a social network for the dead – not, of course, for the dead themselves, but for those seeking their final resting places. More than that, it is a site where the living can share their feelings and memories with others who have felt loss, and honor those who are gone.

Right now, Neshama, which is Hebrew for “soul,” has a database of 120,000 graves, complete with photos. All are in Israel and, while the website has both English and Hebrew versions, searches only can be done in Hebrew. That could change as more cemeteries participate.

Poor choice of words?

An ad on the website of a fancy-schmansy health spa in eastern Germany, the Kristall Sauna-Wellnesspark mit Soletherme, sought to entice couples to enjoy a “long romantic Kristallnacht” on Nov. 9 – the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the massive pogrom seen by many as the first violent act of the Holocaust.

On that date and the days that followed in 1938, thousands of Jews were attacked across Germany, hundreds were killed, 1,400 synagogues were burned, Jewish-owned shops were destroyed, and authorities stood by and did nothing, making sure the flames did not spread to non-Jewish institutions.

As news of the Kristall spa’s ad spread, the Jerusalem Post reported, it was quickly replaced by an apology: “We are ourselves ashamed of the mistake.” An employee insisted that nothing political was intended.

Curses!

Ancient words of wrath, invoking the Roman, Greek and Mesopotamian gods of the underworld. Inscribed in Greek on a lead tablet, written by a wizard. And unearthed, centuries hence – under a parking lot in Jerusalem. (Hey, that’s just the kind of place Jerusalem is.)

According to Israel Hayom, the tablet, neatly rolled and remarkably intact after 1,700 years, contained what apparently was a curse procured by a woman named Kyrilla against a man named lennys. It’s not clear what her gripe was, but her anger leaves little to the imagination: "I strike and nail down the tongue, the eyes, the wrath, the ire, the anger, the procrastination, the resistance of Iennys."

Archaeologists from Israel’s Antiquities Authority say the curse may have been a wishful metaphor, or it could have been a literal description of a magical act involving hammer, nails and a small figurine that, in another part of the world, might be reminiscent of a voodoo ritual.

A taste of war

Every war has secret weapons and tactics. But during World War II, the U.S. had one with a distinctly Jewish flavor: kosher salami.

The half million or so Jews in the military, whether in Europe or the Pacific, had an insatiable craving for the deli-cacy, Jewniverse.com reported – so much so that rabbis and chaplains at home and on the front lines did whatever they could to keep the troops supplied. Deli owners posted signs encouraging customers to “Send a salami to your boy in the Army.”

While salamis played a significant role in maintaining morale, their broader military potential did not go unnoticed. Stockpiles that lingered too long in storage or took a wrong turn on the supply route occasionally developed certifiable offensive capabilities.

Meeting their match

Employers around the world offer a creative list of perks for their employees, but Israeli public servants now enjoy a truly unprecedented perk if they are single, divorced or widowed: a matchmaking service for government employees.

Israel’s civil service is staging what are vetted as “laid-back and discrete social gatherings” on Thursday evenings and Friday mornings when government offices are closed, designed to bring together unattached employees “with the same status level and pay slips” – not a bad idea, considering few can live on the single income of the average low-salaried government clerk.

Courtesy www.chelm-on-the-med.com

Anti-Semite no more, breast diplomacy, and good guy finishes first

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Transformed?

So what exactly does an anti-Semitic political wunderkind do when he's booted out of his party because he discovered he was born Jewish?

Go to Chabad, of course. And start observing Shabbat. And take a stab at keeping kosher.

When we last looked in on Csanad Szegedi about a year ago, his public life was in shambles. He was a rising star in Hungary's Jobbik Party, leading the charge in condemning all things Jewish in his homeland. Then he found out his maternal grandparents were Orthodox Jews and Holocaust survivors. The party rejected him. His business partner quit. And Szegedi started to see the world in a whole new light.

Which isn't exactly an overnight transformation.

It's one thing to be accepted, albeit cautiously, by the local Chabad rabbi, Slomo Koves - whose parents, it turns out, discovered they were Jewish when they were teens. But that doesn't quite translate into being embraced by the rest of the Jewish community.

As the Times of Israel reported, "Szegedi joked that he was treated by some Jews 'like a leper' when he began attending synagogue. But he persevered, learning Hebrew and studying basic principles of Judaism.

" 'It changed everything. It is like being reborn, and the changes in my life are still happening. … I had this set value system that I had to change completely. … I had to admit that it was all wrong and to find the will to change.' "

" 'Csanad Szegedi is in the middle of a difficult process of reparation, self-knowledge, re-evaluation and learning, which according to our hopes and interests, should conclude in a positive manner,' Rabbi Koves said. 'Whether this will occur or not is first and foremost up to him.' "

Breast stroke

Speak of 'Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings'…

The advantages of breast feeding turned into a windfall for Israeli diplomacy. The webmaster of the General Health Fund discovered, much to their dismay, that out of 1.1 million hits on the HMO's series of instructional video clips with breast-feeding tips in Arabic, only 45,000 viewers came from Israel's Arab community.

Who were the other million plus viewers?

Well, 560,166 surfers were from Saudi Arabia, 168,900 were from Egypt, 89,000 from Iraq, 71,213 from Morocco and 65,505 from Algeria - and that doesn't count the rest of the Arab-speaking world.

For a change, talkbacks weren't the usual Israel-bashing tripe; surfers thanked the sick fund for the practical advice.

* In another stroke of good luck, an Israeli rap urging medical staff to 'wash their hands' to keep their patients' safe - produced by the 110-year-old Shaare Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem - went viral.

Courtesy www.chelm-on-the-med.com

A mensch's moment

Note to would-be social media superstars: Videos of cats and babies aren't the only things that draw eyeballs to the screen.

Sometimes a simple photo of a man sleeping on a subway can do the trick. Or, rather, of the kippah-clad man next to him who didn't flinch when his shoulder became the sleeping stranger's pillow.

That photo, posted on the Reddit website, instantly went viral, drawing more than a million "likes" in less than a week, nearly 200,000 "shares" on Facebook, and two thumbs up from his rabbi on Shabbat.

The response also drew the attention of the folks at the online magazine Tablet, who opted to profile Isaac Theill, the 65-year-old mensch who insisted his slumbering neighbor shouldn't be disturbed. Of course, Theill couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. For him, it was just an everyday act, one that family and friends confirmed was totally in keeping with his character.

Per the Tablet story: " 'Who lets a random stranger sleep on his shoulder in germ-filled New York City?' asked Theil's 32-year-old daughter Helah. 'But this is just typical of Dad.'

… 'Isaac's lovely act of graciousness towards a stranger on the train is emblematic of the life that he leads and behavior that he strives for,' said Orlee Zorbaron, a close relative. 'He is a kind and generous person who takes to heart the Jewish tenet of "do unto others."

Potato puffs go poof

No word yet on whether the worst is over, but for more than two months the nation has faced what may have been the greatest knish calamity in memory.

According to the Associated Press, a Sept. 24 fire at Gabila's Knishes in New York wiped out the line that produces the company's biggest seller, "The Original Coney Island Square Knish." How big a deal is that? Gabila's sells about 15 million of the potato- or spinach- or kasha-filled puffs each year. And suddenly, there were none.

Gabila's did expect to have things up and running again by Chanukah.

Is it in the jeans?

During Bibi Netanyahu's trip to the U.S. for the U.N.'s General Assembly, in an interview with the BBC World Service in Persian, Israel's prime minister presented a unique definition of what freedom is all about: Turning to Iran's young generation, Netanyahu declared that "if Iranians were free, they would expel this regime and [then] they could wear jeans and listen to western music."

His comments sparked a rise, but - alas - not an uprising: A wave of piqued young Iranians gave the PM a dressing, posting pictures on the Internet of themselves in their beloved jeans - including a woman in skinny jeans and sneakers under her tunic and sporting fashion sunglasses under a long headscarf. Another Iranian posted a photomontage of Netanyahu drawing a red line above the knees of a pair of fashionable women's jeans, instead of the now-iconic image of Netanyahu's anarchist's bomb poster drawing attention to the point-of-no-return on the Islamic Republic's race to get the bomb.

Courtesy www.chelm-on-the-med.com

More than fare, a study in contrasts, vegan correctness, and O, Jerusalem

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A remarkable ride

Huffington Post blogger Jim Higley called it the best cab ride of his life.

Just moments after pulling away from Terminal C at O’Hare, on the final leg of his journey home, Higley noticed the signs posted in the taxi he had grabbed.

“ATTN: JEWISH & MUSLIM PASSENGERS

“If you are hungry because you were unable to find kosher or halal food in the airports & airplanes, there are containers of kosher snacks under the back bench seat…”

There was more.

“ALL OTHER PASSENGERS: If your airline treated you like a peasant, fed you scraps and you are hungry, PLEASE help yourself. Do not be afraid to eat kosher food. You will not catch kosheritis.”

And then the closing line.

“(This) IS NOT AN AIRPLANE. NO CHARGE FOR SNACKS OR WATER.”

Higley searched for a catch, but there wasn’t one.The driver told him that travelers were arriving hungry, and this simply was his way to help.

Higley told him he was an inspiration, and then continued the ride.

Another fare in the backseat,” he wrote. “Nourished with kosher kindness.”

Follow the beat

The latest stars of Israeli TV’s hottest talent competition are wowing audiences with covers of “Hotel California” and “The Sounds of Silence.” Audiences scream with glee, judges give them thumbs-up, and viewer approval tops 80 percent.

The duo’s long hair and beards might not seem out of place with the music they play, if not for the side curls, kippot and long black overcoats that go with them. Welcome, if you will, The Amazing Rabbis – Arie and Gil Gat, middle-age ultra-Orthodox guitar pickers who are rockin’ reality TV in the Jewish State.

While performing favorites from The Eagles’ playlist live on prime-time television might appear to clash with their image, let alone their devout beliefs, the brothers – who are street performers by day – told the Associated Press they are doing nothing at odds with Jewish law. Granted, few in the Beit Shemesh community Arie lives in know of their sudden fame, and it is extremely unlikely many are casting votes, since hardly any Orthodox Jews there – the brothers among them – own or watch TV.

“We checked out the whole issue of participating in the show in Jewish law,” Arie told the AP. “It’s not like we jumped into rumbling waters without checking the temperature. … From the perspective of Jewish law, there’s no problem with what we are doing.” It even is acceptable for them to perform before women, he said, as long as the women don’t dance.

The contrast between their music and their lifestyle actually mirrors the arc of their life stories, AP reports.

They grew up secular, loving modern music. Arie learned to play guitar and, at one time, was a professional drummer. Gil used to perform at jazz clubs and blues bars in New York. It wasn’t until later that they turned religious.

As for blending the ways of the modern world with the traditions and mores of his chosen community, Gil Gat said, “Music brings down all barriers between secular people, religious people. There is this kind of love.”

 A tip of the hat

The Israel Defense Forces is well-accustomed to meeting the specialized needs and concerns of its highly diverse ranks. Its soldiers are religious and secular, male and female, immigrant and sabra, kosher and not, drawing from the cultures and peoples of many lands.

And now, the IDF has found a way to address yet another special need: vegan-friendly berets.

The beret is part of the army’s uniform. But the standard-issue version is 100 percent wool, according to Israel Hayom, and that is at odds with the beliefs of those who shun the use of animal byproducts, whether eaten or worn. Vegan soldiers asked for an alternative.

"A vegan beret is a beret made of synthetic materials, none of which are animal products," head of the IDF's Clothing and Footwear unit Maj. Dimitri Romnatzov said.

Black versions of the headgear became available last year. According to the article, several hundred already have been issued. By next year, green ones will be offered to those who need them.

O Jerusalem

The city of Brussels nixed the request by an Israeli couple to name their infant Jerusalem. The pair – born in Jerusalem but working in Belgium for the past three years – said they thought the clerk was pulling their leg, but were told they would need a letter from the Israeli embassy attesting that the name Jerusalem was not out of line and “wouldn’t harm the child.”

Adding insult to injury, the Belgian clerk suggested the Jewish couple name their kid Bethlehem instead…

Courtesy ChelmontheMed.com

Doubling up, a Mercedes fantasy, menurkeys and the Holocaust Queen

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Twice as nice

Israel is Number 1 in yet another arena: No country in the world has a higher rate of twin births.

Of every 1,000 births there, 51 result in twins, Israel21C.org reports. In Holland, the rate is 20. Germany, 18. France, 16. Britain, 15.

And just two or three decades ago, the number was between 2 and 3.

As with so many of Israel’s world-beating “achievements,” the dramatic difference has a lot to do with science. In this case, it’s the science of in-vitro fertilization, which is significantly more likely to result in multiple births. 

While IVF is offered in many nations, there still is the matter of why Israel is so far in the lead. It could have something to do with the fact that fertility treatments there are fully funded by the government.

Speaking of IVF…

Israel is a very family- and child-oriented society, and sensitive and open-minded Israeli courts are constantly stretching the limits of how one can have a family. 

Four years ago, the drive to have a child and the drive to have a grandchild were the catalyst for a unique bond, when the bereaved parents of an only child (who lost his battle with cancer six years ago at the age of 30, after optimistically freezing his sperm), latched up with a young woman in her mid-thirties who wanted more than “a child without a father” picked out in a sperm bank. She wanted a family. 

The three got the court’s approval to bring a child into the world together, based on the repeated “oral last wishes” of the deceased to father a child. Thus, while there are children who have been orphaned by tragedy before they were born, the daughter of this unique union is the first Israeli baby to be orphaned before she was conceived. 

Courtesy www.chelm-on-the-med.com

Danger ahead

Mercedes-Benz wants everyone to know it had absolutely nothing to do with an unauthorized and troubling commercial touting the intelligence of the collision-avoidance system on its cars.

And if you don’t want me to totally spoil it for you, click here to watch it before you read any further.

The student-produced, incredibly high-quality art-school project shows a driverless Mercedes cruising through the European countryside in the distant past when it suddenly stops on its own to avoid two young girls playing in the road.

A bit further on, we see a boy running with a kite. As he veers toward the road, we hear the car approaching. But instead of slowing down, the engine revs harder and the action speeds up. Suddenly, in a rapid-fire series of cinematic devices worthy of Hitchcock, an infamous portrait flashes past, a crow screeches as it flies from a haystack, and a mother screams her son’s name, “Adolf!”

As the car slows and continues on, it passes a sign revealing the name of the town – the one Hitler was raised in.

A tagline declares the Mercedes “Detects dangers before they come up.”

The closing shot shows the lifeless boy, his arms and legs twisted in the shape of that all-too-familiar cross.

Holiday shopping time

Thanskgivukkah is coming! Did you order your menurkey?

If you have no idea what that means, congratulations on not getting caught up (at least, not yet) in invented seasonal mishagas. But, at the least, you probably should know it’s coming because, after all, people will be talking.

For the first time ever, Thanksgiving (which is only 150 years old in the U.S.) will fall during Chanukah this year. That’s led to the inevitable truncation creation of Thanksgivukkah. And how do you celebrate Thanksgivukkah? With a menurkey, of course – a turkey-shaped menorah.

At least, that’s how 9-year-old Asher Weintraub and his dad, Anthony, hope you will see it. The ambitious fourth-grader decided the once-in-several-lifetimes overlap of holidays warranted a unique ceremonial symbol, so he designed the menurkey. 

Unlike other creative kids who might have left it at that, however, Asher and dad took it to a professional design studio, where they created a 3D-printer-generated prototype. Then they taped a video pitch to raise $25,000 on Kickstarter, the grassroots, person-to-person venture capital website. 

How did that go? At last check, they had more than $38,000 from 620-plus backers. 

So with cash for production and marketing, it presumably is full-speed ahead to get a menurkey into every home in time for the first night of Chanukkah, which this year also is known as Thanksgiving eve.

A beauty queen like no other

It’s hard to imagine that Bert Parks ever would have sung, “There she is, Miss Holocaust.” 

But nonetheless, last month at a beauty pageant in Haifa, 93-year-old Shoshana Colmer received the crown and title of Miss Holocaust Survivor, JTA reported.

While some may consider crass the specter of a beauty pageant for survivors of Auschwitz and other camps, this year’s event, the second annual, drew 300 applicants and thousands of spectators. The organizers, a geriatric psychiatrist and the director of a survivors support group, say it boosts the participants’ self-esteem and helps them deal with the issue of their survival.

Want fries with that?

You probably were wondering what to serve at the next get-together of your friends, who include a few vegetarians, some animal-rights activists and members of the kosher-keeping crowd.

Well, now the answer is clear: kosher cheeseburgers.

No, I’m not talking veggie burgers or soy cheese. These are the real thing. Subject, of course, to your definition of real.

Last month, JTA reports, scientists unveiled the first “cultured” burger, a 5-ounce patty of meat created from stem cells harvested from a cow’s shoulder muscle. The cells grew into tiny strips in a petri dish, and 20,000 or so strips yielded enough for the burger. 

For reasons best left to rabbinic experts, the end product is considered neither meat nor dairy – it’s parve. So slapping a slice of cheddar on top would be completely, well, kosher.

Of course, it may be a while before these show up at Mickey D’s. The prototype burger took $325,000 and two years to create. If it makes it to mass production, that could drop to a mere $30 a pound, backers estimate.

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