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According to elaboration on United Nations Population Division data, Israel ranks 100th out of 233 countries worldwide in population in 2015 – 8.3 million persons just under Switzerland (8.4 million) and Austria (8.7 million), having surpassed in population European countries like Denmark, Finland and Norway

            Why does Israel, now with a population of 8.74 million in September 2017 (according to the Israel Bureau of Statistics in an announcement in honor of the Jewish New Year) have such crowded classrooms, 32 to 35 pupils per class. Israelis like to bitch that Sweden, with 9.9 million population has much smaller classrooms.

            Actually, it’s a sign of vitality!

            Chalk it up to 166,450 babies born since the previous Jewish New Year, plus 23,770 new immigrants…56 percent of them traditional (mostly religiously-observant) to ultra-Orthodox (think, big families). Israel’s population growth according to the above UN statistics is 1.58 percent a year…and that’s the highest among OECD countries. *Is it any wonder Israel also has the highest number of students per classroom in the OECD, where the average is 22 pupils? (Yediot, Israel HaYom, Photo credit: Daniella Ashkenazy – Nitzan Ashkenazy


* population growth compared to Switzerland (.88 percent), Austria (.27 percent), Sweden (.74 percent). Population in more populous countries in Europe isn’t any better: the UK (.60 percent), Belgium (.62 percent), Germany (.24 percent), France (.40 percent), Spain (0.01 percent) Italy ( - .12 percent) and Greece (- .21 percent). And the European countries with smaller populations than Israel? They aren’t growing either. Norway (.96 percent), Denmark (.38 percent) and Finland (.37 percent),    



The Israeli public’s love of roasted sunflower seeds (and other pitzuchim – “cracking seeds” such as unshelled black watermelon seeds, white pumpkin seeds, pistachios and peanuts) is legendary. Perhaps this explains why Israeli visitors to the installation of the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s “Sunflower Seeds” at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem turned out to be irresistible. (When first debuted at the Tate “health concerns” changed the installation from interactive to a look-but-don’t-touch exhibition piece.*)

            An unknown number of Israeli found the 15 million ceramic, hand-painted seeds** so irresistible they were pocketing them as a souvenir figuring nobody would miss one or two. After the museum received several apology letters with a seed or two enclosed, the curator of the installation ordered a stock of ceramic seeds to be sold in the museum’s gift shop.(Yediot) Photo credit: Now AliExpress is selling exact ceramic replicas for 50 cents a piece in bags of 20 and up…  


* Originally, when the exhibit opened at the Tate in London in 2010, people were part of the installation, gathering up armfuls and rolling around in them like a gigantic sandbox, but that lasted exactly 48 hours… No, health officials weren’t afraid some kid would ingest ceramic seeds, or an adult would crack a tooth; it turns out porcelain dust is hazardous.  


** Don’t miss this documentary of how they are made…



Sober as a judge? Not the new chief justice of the Israeli Supreme Court. While recent presidents of the Israel Supreme Court appear austere and distant ‘insiders’ Esther Hayut (63) who just inherited the lofty position from retiring president Miriam Naor is a breath of fresh air. Born in a maabara* to Holocaust survivor parents, Hayut was raised mostly by grandparents in a poor immigrant neighborhood of Herzliya, and served in the army as a singer in an IDF entertainment troupe (and is still a member of the Whatsap group of her army chums in show business and is a Simon & Garfinkle fan). Moreover, in her 13 years on the bench of the Supreme Court (since 2003), she never missed an episode of Eretz Nehederet*. (Yediot)  


* refugee absorption camps with tin and wooden shack and Spartan services in the years of mass immigrations after the founding of the state


** “It’s a beautiful country” (said tongue-in-cheek) a classic political/social satiric series that debuted in 2003.



For two months, persons with disabilities in Israel have been demonstrating—blocking major intersections with wheelchairs and walkers---demanding disability allowances from the National Insurance Institute be totally revamped.* Police have been placed in the middle—even closing access to some major intersections to ensure the demonstrators could demonstrate and no one would get run over, while striving (not with a lot of success) to detour as much traffic as possible in advance to alleviate traffic jams.

      When on one particularly hot day in September, a group of demonstrators blocked the entrances and exits of posh Caesarea, local cops spontaneously turned over to the demonstrators the bottles of cold water and cooked ‘meals on wheels’ sent to them by superiors. Like the other cops, on-duty police officer Neta Shama (43) gave her lunch to Iris Haia Zigdon (66) from Bat Yam, but when Shama realized Zigdon couldn’t feed herself, the sergeant-major spontaneously went off-duty to make sure she ate. (Yediot) Photo credit: Zohar Shachar - Yediot


* an agreement was signed just before Yom Kippur that will significantly raise  disability allowances, but some of the demonstrators said they will continue their protests.



The commander of an insurgent militias fighting the Assad regime in Syria who captured an endangered Israeli griffon vultures that strayed over the border returned the bird to Israel through the auspices of Israel Flying Aid, an NGO that among its work worldwide, helps wounded Syrians get medical treatment in Israel. The bird—one of 19 griffon vultures left on the wind-swept Golan Height (see the August 2017 story “No High Five” about a less fortunate sibling) is recuperating nicely from a leg injury at the wildlife hospital at the Safari in Ramat Gan.

      Lucky for the bird, it fell into the hands of someone with a soft spot for birds of prey (after his men smashed the GPS on its back). The rebel leader contacted Israel Flying Aid. For weeks he took care of the Israeli vulture with instructions passed on from the Golan Gamla Nature Preserve in Israel* until the unnamed commander could transfer the bird—with a guarantee of ‘safe passage’, across zones controlled by three other militias—to a humanitarian crossover point controlled by the IDF.

      The release of the bird was apparently a gesture in return for treatment received in Israel by his own men. The IDF field hospital established on the border to treat Syrian refugees doesn’t ask the affiliation of the wounded…and sends critically injured Syrians to a civilian Israeli hospital in Tzfat. (Yediot, Channel 2 TVPhoto credit:  Screenshot – Channel 2  

* feeding the huge vulture hard-to-get raw chicken or turkey while his men ate mainly pita.