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


         Israelis are used to weird specials* at holiday time, but the cash-and-carry combina (combination deal, in Hebrew) offered Galilee Muslims at the BIG Shopping Mall in Tiberius on the eve of Eid Al-Adha or the Festival of the Sacrifice in late November presented a one-in-a-lifetime spectacle.  Forget about a stuffed frozen turkey, folks - this is the Middle East, not America.

         Happy shoppers could be spotted loading massive plasma televisions into the back seat of their cars, then stopping (or stooping as the case may be) to pick up the bonus they'd been promised....stuffing the DIY freebie into the truck: at least 55 kilograms (121 pounds)  of lamb chops and leg of lamb.  Still on the hoof. 

         A week before the holiday, a discount appliance store offered anyone spending 7,890 NIS ($2,254) on appliances, a free full-size lamb for the holiday feast** (a 2,000 NIS value), perks that were 'parked' in a makeshift holding pen at the edge of the parking lot. When the regional veterinarian objected to such close quarters, the store owner went the extra mile, 'home delivering' the bleating lambs gratis to customers.  


* Many match food and appliances - only in reverse. A 2000 classic that will appear in an upcoming book - a Chelm-on-the-Med© anthology covering 1987 to 2007 -- relates how buying a certain brand of fresh Israeli salads made shoppers eligible (or perhaps one should say "edible") for up to a 40 percent discount on major household appliances by a certain manufacturer.  This created some very funny over-the-counter encounters, with buyers shoving almost commercial quantities of eggplant salad and humous that no family could possibly consume, into the laps of astonished sales reps at the appliance store next door. 


** Muslims families traditionally slaughter a lamb for the occasion which commemorates the Sacrificing of the Ram by Abraham in the Bible.



         Recently, for the second time in one month the same six winning LOTTO numbers came up in Israel's National Lottery.

         Come to think of it, what is no less amazing is that 125 winners - betting on a winner, chose of their own free volition to gamble on 13, 14, 26, 32, 33,and 36 after the same six numbers already won first prize two weeks earlier.  Suffice it to say, all were hand-written submissions, not "LOTTOmatic" tickets where numbers on the buyer's ticket are randomly chosen by a computer that would never give anyone such odds in a million years - or once in 10,000 years*, to be exact.

            Normally, the chance of winning the lottery is 1 in 18 million; but the probability of the same numbers coming up twice in the same month? It's one to 4,000,000,000,000. The fact the numbered balls fell in a different sequence demonstrates this could not be a technical glitch, just a rare statistical oddity said the Lottery's statistical consultant evenly. A mathematician from Bar Ilan University piped up to clarify: Actually, the chances of the outcome being 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 are identical to the chance the numbers will be 13, 14, 26, 32, 33 and 36. 


* Ironically, the same thing happened in Bulgaria a month earlier - two weeks in a row, causing quite a stir!



         Religious communities are peppered with hundreds of ad hoc welfare initiatives, group and family charity frameworks called GAMACHIM* that provide free services for those in need, as a personal mitzvah. One celebrated affair stocks wedding dresses on loan to those who can't afford to buy one.  A far more modest family GAMACH keeps a dozen pacifiers in a shoebox outside their apartment door for any desperate parents whose toddler decides to flush his pacifier down the toilet in the middle of the night, then had second thoughts.   

         Israelis insatiable craving for tomatoes (agvaniyot, in Hebrew) is legendary, thus when calamity struck in late fall and the price of tomatoes shot off the charts - spiraling from 2-3 NIS a kilo to 15-22 NIS a kilo (from 27 cents up to $3.15 a pound) a well-established Bnei Brak charity charged into the breach: Purchasing half a metric ton of tomatoes, they established an ad-hoc " "GAMACH Agvaniyot", divvying the tomatoes up into one-kilo bags to make sure not one soul in Bnei Brak would have to go without this absolute Israeli necessity. 


* an acronym for gmilat chasadim  - a principle in Judaism that requires every Jew to exhibit compassion by personally 'helping others' as a religious duty.



         Israelis eat doughnuts to commemorate how a small flask of oil lasted eight nights rather than one night, right? Well this year, in a twist of fate, a celebrated chef from Poria Elite (a hamlet overlooking the Sea of Galilee) who was testing out some innovative doughnut recipes just before Chanukah, burned her kitchen to a crisp. Her pot runneth over, the boiling oil sloshed over the sides of the pot onto the cook top and ignited the kitchen cabinets.

         Osnat Lester said philosophically in the aftermath that miraculously she had been able to save the family's five dogs - including two pups paralyzed with fear hiding just off the kitchen, before most of the house went up in smoke. And she was grateful to find her engagement and wedding rings in the metal canister among the ashes, where she'd put them for safekeeping before kneading the dough.

         Those making doughnuts for the Festival of Lights need to know that it's not quite true that a watched pot never boils over. Lester cautioned homemakers to go light on the oil, and keep a fire extinguisher on hand.