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CHELM-ON-THE-MED©, November 2010 - Column 2


   There were once Jewish immigrants to France who adopted French-sounding names. Now, a generation or two later, some offspring are galled by such acculturation and want to reclaim their family's original name. But there's a catch. French law has a host of caveats.

   To qualify for a name change, the applicant's name must either be absurdly funny or grotesque, or involve taking a more French-sounding name. Last but not least, changing a French name into one with a foreign ring is against the law, rendering many reversals prima facie - irreversible. Moreover, all family members have to agree to a reversal- setting the stage not only for intergenerational strife but also a sibling free-for-all of Let's You and Him Fight.

   One Jewish family that took the name Rimbaud finally succeeded in convincing French bureaucrats to let them reclaim their former name - Rubinstein... but there was a proviso: the clerks - in a stroke of poetic justice, perhaps - required the family to add parentheses: "Rubinstein (pseudonym)" as if they were Whoopi Goldberg....

   A group of French Jews is seeking to set enough legal precedents to make such reversals to one's ethnic roots a hassle-free procedure.

 * Some Israelis are doing the same with Hebraized names - adopting hyphenated names such as Daniel Zohar-Zonshine or Ephraim Yaar-Yuchtman, although in Israel, name changing is simple, with a nominal fee even for 'reversals.' 



   Tomer Berda (34) raked in $825,976 in prize money in a Las Vegas tournament - the semifinals of the 2010 World Series of Poker Circuit. While he undoubtedly played his cards right, what's truly amazing is that the Israeli from Yehud, who owns a high-tech company in the USA, only began playing poker three years ago.

   Asked to develop a poker software program, in the course of learning the principles of the game, Berda realized he could be a good poker player. Fed up with high-tech, he began playing poker professionally. The newbie-from-nowhere soared from ranking 4,431th in March 2009, to 211th place in June 2010. The rest is history.

   His latest tournament put Berda in fifth place among the top 10 tournament entries. It also entitled the Israeli champ to a WSPC "golden bracelet" - the equivalent of an Emmy award or Olympic medal - bestowed in a ceremony complete with the playing of Hatikva, Israel's national anthem.

   To see Berda in the flesh - looking far from poker-faced - check out this interview at




   The Israeli government has opened a digital 'suggestion box' - an Internet site ( where anyone can register their opinion about bills placed before the Knesset, and suggest amendments to government regulations, ordinances and laws. Such input will be fed to the relevant authority, although no official response is promised to senders.

   Actually, some Israelis have gone straight to the top, sending 45,000 e-mails to the prime minister over the past year with suggestions as to how he should run the government.

   Several thousand were sent by kids on vacation. While more than one correspondent sent their own harebrained plans for making peace, Ron Solomon from Haifa sent an out-of-the-box plan to improve sustainable energy production in Israel.

   The kid would require inmates at penal institutions to ride exercise bikes connected to the electric grid. Strange and unusual punishment, or a healthy win-win solution? The unflappable third-grader added that his plan was not limited to those serving time:  individuals convicted of minor offences could get off easy with the option of returning their small debt to society by peddling away their time rather than paying a fine.




   Ask any freelancer: going to work in a robe is a recipe for sloppy work, but the chief administrator of the Israeli court system thinks otherwise. He requested that the Israeli Bar Association collaborate to alter judicial procedures and require attorneys - not just judges - to wear the signature black robes of their profession in magistrate's courts, not just in higher courts of appeal. (Appearing robed in the lower courts is optional.) The chair of the Israel Bar Association supports the motion. Both men argue that donning robes will add dignity and restore decorum - reminding everyone where they are.

   In highly informal Israel, can clothes really make the man (or woman)?

   To date, Israeli courts have been a genuine reflection of irreverent Israeli society - epitomized by the female judge who was recently reprimanded for calling a male solicitor motek (sweetheart) in her court.

   So will robes help? The jury* is still out - at least aphoristically.     

* Israel doesn't have a jury system.



   Is there such a thing as a Yiddishe kop - Jewish brainpower?

   Ask the Indonesians.

   Eran Katz won accolades from Indonesians for his book on intelligence and memory enhancement entitled Gerome Becomes a Genius. Even a website devoted to the Koran wrote that the Israeli writer and lecturer offers "enjoyable ways of learning from rabbis and Jewish business persons... with a fascinating cultural perspective on Jewish wisdom."

   A few free words for the wise?

   Talmudic study of never-ending questions and answers led Katz to recommend: "Never take anything for granted and never feel that you have 'arrived' and can rest on your laurels." Extrapolating on an observation of Rabbi Yehuda Halevi's that "imagination is stronger than logic," Katz tells his disciples: one should "always imagine the impossible."


* 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.