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Remember the story of the biggest Torah ark in creation?  Well, now it's time to create the smallest Torah on earth....or in the Mediterranean, as the case may be. 

What for?  Well, up until recently, the Israeli navy didn't have Torah scrolls on its subs, because there were no religiously-observant submariners in the IDF.

After several hesderniks* (and even one haredi** soldier) decided to take the plunge and volunteer for Israel's submarine fleet, the navy took the plunge and mobilized a donor to underwrite scribing a custom-made Torah scroll no bigger than as shoebox – that can be stowed in the cramped quarters of a Dolphin class submarine, so the guys can read from the Torah on Mondays, Thursdays and Sabbath, when out at sea for extended periods.

Another sign of the times?  While all permanent bases have Torah scrolls, the appearance of religiously-observant pilots whose families live on base has led to another IDF first: the building of the IDF's first 'military mikvah' (ritual bath) at an isolated Negev airbase, since the nearest civilian mikvah was 100 kilometers (62 miles) down the road.  

* hesdernik: member of a special program in the IDF for religiously-observant personnel who extend their service time to dovetail active duty with Torah study. 

** haredi: ultra-Orthodox


Tu B'shvat (Jewish Arbor Day) took a unique turn this year when settlers from Efrat (p. 7,200)  – a township 12 kilometers south of Jerusalem in the Judean Hills, and Arab villagers from the adjacent Palestinian village Jumat joined forces to plant a grove of trees* on the village's land

The collective endeavor was designed to shield the Jewish townies and Palestinian villagers from airborne wood particles (and noise one suspects) from a Palestinian sawmill nearby. A wall around the plant - erected by the sawmill owner Abu Taled – constituted an ugly impediment for all concerned. 

Now the head of the Efrat Local Council Oded Ravivo has offered Abu Taled another gesture towards peaceful coexistence. Efrat's neighborhood patrol offered to moonlight for Abu Talad, guarding the Palestinian's factory against theft at night.

* The incentive looks like a local extension of an enterprise started by Tzav Pius to get religious and secular Israelis to plant trees together, hoping the get-together would plant the seeds for mutual understanding and coexistence.


A group of Sudanese refugees from Eilat leaving Israel for newly-independent Southern Sudan received a parting gift from the State of Israel: Courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Red Magen David*, eleven men have been treated to a ten-day first aid and CPR course – delivered in their native Arabic by a Red Magen David paramedic – Osama Abu-Mukh, before the Sudanese left.

It is hoped that the basic life-saving techniques will allow the returnees to save lives in their native land. From the looks of it (reports of spreading intertribal violence to settle old scores, now that the 30-year civil war between north and south is over), the newly-minted life-savers will have their hands full.  (Yediot Aharonot and the BBC and International Herald Tribune

* Israel's Red Cross


We've all heard of calls for 'a man with a van', but how about calls for 'a man with a motorcycle'? 

Indeed, delivery services can get some strange requests – at least in Israel. The veteran owner of a courier service revealed that the weirdest request he fielded in twenty years at the beck and call of his regular customers was a veteran client with some "unfinished business" who called him to deliver an emergency roll of toilet paper to his flat. Another courier described how a stressed-out Tel-Aviv executive stuck in a major traffic jam on the way to an important business meeting in Natanya called and asked him to pick her up on his motorcycle, and deliver the damsel in distress to her destination. Completing the mad dash in the nick of time, the motorcyclist waited until she finished her business and took the lady back to her own pricy vehicle which the high-powered exec had ditched at the side of the road.


The Israeli justice system has adapted a behavior code – a move that is supposed to put some limitations on the free-for-all milieu of Israeli courtrooms – a move that shouldn't come as a surprise for veteran readers who remember the story of the judge who called the defense lawyer pleading his case before her bench motek (sweetheart). 

What are the dos and don’ts?

Among others, judges are not to constantly interrupt lawyers when they are talking, or pressure the sides to reach an agreement out of court. Lawyers should not engage in a verbal altercation with the bench and should accept the court’s decision gracefully. Not only lawyers are forbidden from approaching the bench without an invitation, so are members of the public who are also explicitly forbidden from fiddling with their cell phones and laptops during hearings.


While boys' choirs are a common sight in religious communities, among kids who attend regular state-run public schools glee clubs are viewed as "totally uncool" for guys.

Among pedagogues, however, idolization of the tough Israeli sabra* is definitely 'out'. The Israel Ministry of Education plans to establish a statewide network of boys' choirs for third to fifth graders.  Bannered by pedagogues as "male empowerment," the educators hope the glee clubs will break down macho stereotypes and combat bullying at schools, not teach the boys to sing on tune - a truly unique form of preaching to the choir.

* term for native-born Israelis, named about the prickly pear cactus said to be "prickly on the outside and sweet on the inside."