Askew

Joel Schatz

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

Askew

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.

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