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            Israeli kids went back to school a week early – on the 27th of August* - which hardly put a dent in the paradox that pupils barely have time to warm their seats before they're off again for almost three weeks vacation during the Jewish Holidays…

            The opening of school was nevertheless marked by countless piquant-but-newsworthy stories tied to education. One highlights the story of a teacher whose eyes suddenly became so sensitive to light (natural and artificial) that she now** needs to teach in a specially equipped classroom with blackout curtains, leading her students totally in the dark. 

            Two years ago, the 43-year-old former elementary school teacher began teaching at the Bronco Weiss "Last Chance" High School in Ramle that specializes in remedial education.***  Her 17- and 18-year old students – many who fell between the cracks and never learned to read or write – may have to squint hard to see the printed page, but by the time they finish the year, her protégés testify that they're 'all thumbs' - able to text messages and tweet as fast as their peers and handle a Facebook account. 


* Part of a gradual move to cut the length of summer vacations – the legacy of an agricultural era when kids were needed to help bring in the harvest, and once un-air conditioned classrooms.


** At one point the Ministry of Health claimed she couldn't teach any longer and wanted to put her out to pasture, but a labor court ruled otherwise.


*** watch the 2010 award-winning documentary about Last Chance High School




The anti-infiltration fence being erected along Israel’s southern frontier with Egypt is presenting a special challenge to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. While most of the pasture of wild Negev ibex is on the Israeli side of the border, most natural water sources are on the Egyptian side, leading herds to wander back and forth across the international divide at will. But what will happen when the fence is finished late this fall?

            Worried about the ramifications, nature wardens are making a last ditch effort to entice the ibex to cross over and stay in Israel before the border is sealed, by placing extra munchies and water along well-trodden migration trails. Once the fence is completed, conservationists fear any ibex ‘trapped’ in the Sinai wilderness won’t just die of hunger, they’ll end up as succulent grilled steaks.




Sixty-five-year-old Menachem Steinmetz has a rather bizarre but noble pastime – donating blood. The resident of Rishon Lezion has 28 donor cards spanning 41 years to prove it.  

            Over the course of four decades, Steinmetz has donated blood 272 times – once a month to be exact – explaining he doesn’t do it for the Guinness world record.* It gives him a natural ‘high,’ he says: “Everyone in the hospital knows me. I always say to them: “My ‘cycle’ has arrived again. Just as a woman has a [menstrual] cycle, I simply have to donate blood once every four weeks. I mark the date on the calendar.”

            The law in Israel limits donors to those under 70 years of age, but Steinmetz – who, incidentally, is in the peak of health – says that in any case “he’d rather be on the giving end rather than the receiving end” of the IV.



* FYI: the Guinness world record is held by an American from Fort Myers Virginia – 79-year-old John Sheppard, who in 60 years has donated 315 pints of blood and is still counting.




Two men and a woman parked their car in the parking lot of the Tzalmon Minimum Security Prison and began lobbing hollow rubber balls laced with drugs over the wall into the exercise yard with a slingshot. It didn’t take much for prison guards to spot the unidentified flying objects and take the three ‘visitors’ into custody before they could highball it away.

            The charge sheet against the trio included not only “possession of dangerous drugs” but also “possession of a dangerous narcotic substance not for personal use” – to be more specific, intended for the brother of one of the men, who was serving time in Tzalmon.




Want to go to Harvard? Forget about the SATs. Just go to Rahat.

Seeking ways to upgrade the living standards of the Bedouin town’s 60,000 inhabitants, President Shimon Peres chose nothing short of the gold standard.

The president is determined to establish a university campus at the entrance to the Bedouin town as a gateway to higher education… and not just any old university. Leave it to Peres to press into service senior lecturers from Harvard to flesh out his dreams for a Harvard-of-the-Negev.

In a meeting with a delegation from Harvard, President Peres asked the Ivy League university’s movers and shaker to send Harvard lecturers to teach at the off-campus extension of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev that Peres hopes to establish half way between Tel Aviv and Beer Sheba.

Now that the Harvard men have agreed, Peres has brought UCLA on board as well. Who knows who’s next.




In military slang, one can hear a commander asking over a field telephone, “How many gafrurim are there in Sector Victor?” – gafrurim (match sticks) being the code name for “‘boots on the ground’ in American military parlance. But when Shachar Puni gets a call-up notice, the first thing he does is stock up on the regular sort of gafrurim – 200 boxes of matches, every time a call-up notice shows up in his mailbox.

            Over years of reserve duty, the Jerusalem architect, who works for the Antiquities Authority, has whittled away dead time while on active duty constructing hundreds of matchstick sculptures, from soldiers playing chess to a replica of the Greek discus thrower – even a plate of spaghetti – armed only with a nail file and a bottle of Elmer’s glue. Puni estimates that, all told, during 300 days of reserve duty over the past 18 years, he has consumed a sum total of some 200,000 matches.

            Now that he’s no longer required to serve in the reserves, will Puni continue to pursue his unique hobby or pack it up? He didn’t say.