Comedy of Israeli errors

June 18, 2009 - 4:25 PM by · 3 Comments
Filed under: A New Reality, Blogging, History and Culture, Israeliness, Life, Pop Culture 

Daniella AshkenazyRaised in the metro Washington, DC area, Daniella Ashkenazy (pictured) has been living in Israel for over 40 years and working as a journalist for about half of that time., currently covering the environmental beat for The Jerusalem Post‘s weekend Metro section.

Launched a few months ago, Ashkenazy’s Chelm-on-the-Med website is an ever-growing collection if local soft news items – those curious, often humorous stories that would sound like they are urban legends if they weren’t in the mainstream news media.

Among Chelm-on-the-Med’s gems are the tale of a farmer who used his LoJack–like car theft recovery device to recover bales of hay that had been stolen from him, a Knesset proposal to combat the ever-lowering water levels of the Dead Sea by importing water from Turkey, and a Hassidic man who proposed throwing books of Psalms at enemy entities as a poetic response to falling rockets (because in Hebrew, the word for missiles, Tillim, is similar to the word for Psalms, Tehillim).

Chelm-on-the-Med’s beat is relatively similar to ISRAELITY’s in that both sites attempt to take Israeli life out of the realm of hard news and into the realm of real life. As Ashkenazy puts it in her FAQ….

Beyond life and death issues, Israel is an outrageously amusing and lively place to live, and it’s strange that Jews, famous for their humor from Charlie Chaplin to Seinfeld, haven’t a clue about the humorous side of Israeli life.

She also sees the site as a useful tool for spreading a positive image of the country, especially among Diaspora youth:

A lot of things that make some adults uncomfortable will be viewed as very cool by adolescents. In fact, I think the zany, irreverent intriguing encounter with Israel that Chelm-on-the-Med offers will make Jewish kids think Israel is a very neat place – a vast improvement from the image of a gloomy and dangerous…and yes, dead serious and humorless ‘tight-ass’ country that focus groups have found.

Although the site is relatively new, the concept is not. In the late Eighties, Ashkenazy launched the column under the moniker “Gleanings” in the now-defunct Israel Scene magazine, and it has run in a variety of additional publications under other names as well.

Scroll wars

The scroll seized by authorities this weekA sad byproduct of the tragic media war we’re currently engaged in is that Zionists and Palestinian nationalists seemingly can’t even agree on what the region looked like 2000 years ago. Forget about the possibility that we just might have common ancestors – if the “facts on the ground” are disputable today, then all the more reason to dispute what they were in ancient times.

Because for hard-core dogmatists, much of the “whose land is it, anyway” debate boils down to whose land it was back in the day. For many years, the Palestinians have been excavating the Temple Mount, with Israelis decrying the destruction that these excavations have allegedly wrought. Many have even posited that the digs have a goal of finding and destroying any evidence of a historical Jewish connection to the area, with a nationalist agenda.

Archeology and nationalism can go hand in hand easily. In the best cases, they can even build bridges of international cooperation, as we saw this past winter with the Italian government’s interest in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

But in Jerusalem, where high-stakes heists and sleuthery are known to rear their heads every now and then, sometimes the powers that be feel the need to exert their power in order to maintain an edge in the information war.

And that’s how it came to be that a crack team made up of several Israeli bureaucracies came together to put the sting on two area Arabs this week. The Undercover Unit of the Jerusalem Border Police, the Intelligence Office of the Zion Region, the Archaeological Staff Officer of the Civil Administration and the super-specialized Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery all worked together to recover what experts are calling a Second Temple-era Jewish legal document.

As the AP tells it:

Undercover Israeli officers foiled an attempt by two Palestinian men to sell an ancient, valuable papyrus document on the black market, police said Wednesday. The men were arrested at a Jerusalem hotel Tuesday after a sting operation lasting several weeks, police said. The 1,900-year-old Hebrew document, previously unknown and valued at millions of dollars, was rescued, and police showed it to reporters.

…. They are suspected of violating Israeli antiquities laws by illegally possessing and trafficking in archaeological artifacts and could face several years in prison if convicted. Police are trying to determine how the document fell into their hands.

This specimen of Second Temple-style Hebrew calligraphy (pictured), written on six square inches of papyrus scrolls seems to be from around the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and it could help (Jewish nationalism-tolerant) historians to better understand what life was like in the region some 2000 years ago, about 500 years before the birth of Muhammad.

Amir Ganor, director of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery at the Israel Antiquities Authority, explains:

“From an initial reading it seems that this document deals with the property of Miriam Bat Ya‘aqov, who was apparently a widow. The deciphering of the entire document by expert epigraphers and historians may shed light on how the people of the period managed their affairs and supplement our knowledge about their way of life. What we have here is rare historic evidence about the Jewish people in their country from more than 2,000 years ago, during the days following the destruction which sent the people of Israel into exile for a very long time – until the creation of the State of Israel.”


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