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CHELM-ON-THE-MED©, March 2010 - Column 1


   Towards the close of 2009, El Al inaugurated a wacky scheme designed to fill El Al planes arriving with Christian pilgrims on the aircraft's return leg to Europe to pick up more tourists during the Christmas to New Year's rush. The airline offered anything-goes Israelis flights to Europe for as low as $100 without telling the passengers where in Europe they would be landing until they were already at the airport. Such flights were so successful, the deal continued though most of the winter. Not entirely new - ‘flights to somewhere' follow another El Al first: ‘a flight to nowhere': Seeking to optimize its fleet's hours-in-the-air, years ago El Al offered do-anything-once Israelis ‘a movie theatre in the sky'* that never took off - perhaps because it didn't include duty free privileges. Only popcorn.
   Now El Al plans to compete with Arkia on flights to Eilat by flying to the southern port via Jordan rather than the Arava corridor... without actually landing - thus gaining duty free privileges for passengers. So they say. Whether Israeli customs will recognize this strange ‘international flight plan' as grounds for customs perks remains to be seen...

* flying in circles, offshore over the Med.


   Carmel Shamah has an image problem. Everyone and his brother thinks the junior MK from the Likud is a Druze.* In fact, he's not only a Jew, he emphasizes, he's a kohen.**
   Not only a majority of fellow parliamentarians thinks Shamah is a minority representative. The media seeks his opinion ‘as a Druze' on a host of controversies: Arab-sector lobbyists collar him in the corridors... and even an unknown number of Likud party-members apparently voted him into a realistic spot on the party list during the Likud's primaries thinking he was a candidate from the party's Druze supporters.
   The mix-up boils down to a toss-up in pronunciation. Is he Carmel ShaMAH? Or Carmel SHAma? Carmel - whose father is Iraqi and mother is half Syrian, half-Turkish - is amused by some of the weird situations he finds himself in and understands the confusion, saying, "My looks aren't exactly Swedish..." But now Shamah's toying with changing his name to Cohen.

* A small non-Muslim Arab minority in Israel living mainly in the Carmel region (also found in Lebanon and Syria)
** Jews descended from the priestly class


   The owner of a grocery located (appropriately) on the main drag in Netanya, called ‘Svitlana's Groceries and Other Goodies,' turned out to offer more than chocolate bars in the goodies department. Cops swept down to collar the proprietor of the joint for selling pot along with the cottage cheese. They not only found fingers of hash cached in a hollow broomstick near the checkout, they bagged a larger stock of hash stashed between the cold cuts and the pickles.


   These are not good days for poker enthusiasts in Israel. First it was the police who decided that the local championship playoffs in an international poker tournament constituted gambling - forbidden by Israeli law. Ignoring the testimony of a math professor that poker required mathematical and analytical skills, including agility in changing strategies, the Law rigidly refused to issue a license for the event, doggedly declaring that "poker is based on chance rather than skill."
   If that wasn't enough of a downer, an insurance company recently argued that a vehicle owner wasn't entitled to reimbursement after her car was stolen because she had been playing poker at the time...
   The underwriters claimed - poker faced no doubt - that the lady had declared she was a housewife, but in fact was "running poker games" that "involved money" because she bought refreshments. Had they known, they would have considered her a shady customer and would have rejected her request for a car policy. But this time Lady Luck was on the poker player's side: Judge Edo Rosen ruled that the insurers dealt her a dirty hand - and ordered the company to pay up - declaring that hosting a friendly poker game in one's house with a few cronies was entirely above board.


   Israel finally consummated a long-overdue competition called Kochav Ivri Nolad (A Hebrew Star is Born). The contest had nothing to do with the sound-alike Israeli equivalent to ‘Britain's Got Talent' - Kochav Nolad.
   The competition was launched by the Hebrew Language Academy and designed to finally choose Hebrew names for the outer planets Uranus and Neptune. The final vote was conducted in cyberspace. The winners, respectively: Oron and Rahav.
   The twins never had Hebrew names like the other planets - Kochav (Mercury), Noga (Venus), Ma'adim (Mars) Tzedek (Jupiter) and Shabtai (Saturn) - because Uranus and Neptune weren't known in antiquity; they were only spotted* after the invention of the telescope.
   The real question is: what took the Hebrew Language Academy so long? With stellar performance, the Academy scrambles to pounce on any foreign word that threatens to root itself in Hebrew - from escalation (haslama for escalatzia) and feedback (mashov) to hyperlink (kishurit). Eliezer Ben-Yehuda** rushed to give a Hebrew name to the comely hairbrush (mivreshet), but failed to endow Uranus and Neptune with Hebrew names. Go figure.
Where's Pluto? Oh, it was demoted in 2006 to "dwarf planet" status.

* Uranus in the year 1781, Neptune in 1846
** the revivalist of Hebrew as a modern tongue


* Copyright© 2010 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.