JERUSALEM — According to a Jewish maxim, “Not every day is Purim.”
But when it comes to life in Israel, there’s a steady stream of reasons to laugh year-round. Just open the Hebrew papers on any given day for at least one incredible snippet of what passes for normalcy in the Jewish state. Antics aren’t limited to those with harebrained schemes or dumb-witted crooks. They include officials from court judges down to pencil pushers courting trouble.
That includes a man from Beit Shean, a town in the northern Jordan Valley, who likes to strut about dressed as a high-ranking army officer — and not just on Purim.
Michael Levi, 38, was hauled into court last November by local cops and charged with impersonating an officer and “disgracing” the uniform. The public defender and the state’s attorney took one look at Levi and agreed: Since everyone and his brother in Beit Shean knows the flaky defendant is a fake, Levi could continue to masquerade to his heart’s content year-round, provided he promised to keep his shenanigans within city limits.
These and other wacky stories are detailed on the Chelm-on-the-Med Web site (www.chelm-on-the-med.com), which collects and publishes weird man-bites-dog stories from the Israeli press.
There is no shortage of such yarns.
Some clerks at the Jerusalem Rabbinate wrote a short, humorous marriage manual to be handed out to new grooms, but they decided to dress up the manual by comparing married life to a fish. The result was a genuine kettle of fish that roiled everyone from feminists to the Orthodox. One passage said a husband should compliment his wife five times a day, “even if you have to lie,” because a woman who doesn’t receive a steady stream of daily compliments from her hubby will be “like a fish out of water.”
Another gem warned newlyweds that living with the in-laws or even in close quarters to one’s mother-in-law would undermine building their couplehood. Even “the tastiest fish begins to stink after a while,” the manual warned.
The red-faced Rabbinate announced that the manual was “an unauthorized private initiative” by some low-level pencil pushers.
During Purim, alcohol flows like water. But what constitutes alcohol in Israel? Five years after Israeli police inaugurated breathalizer testing to establish intoxication, an independent lab test ordered by a traffic court established what many drivers had suspected for years: The device wasn’t accurate. In late 2009, 14 days of intensive testing by an analytical chemist determined that the breath-analyzing apparatus was over-sensitive to humidity and identified orange juice as alcohol.
But the most fantastic news story ever tied to Purim in Israel belongs to a yellowed 2002 classic from Yediot Ahronot. Thirty professionals — engineers, silversmiths, and sofrei stam (scribes of holy texts) — banded to create what undoubtedly is the most pricey Purim noisemaker since the Big Bang — or at least the fifth century BCE, when the Purim story took place.
Hardly for paupers, the 65 designer groggers made of silver, silver with gold embellishments, or silver-plated brass were priced between $11,860 and $23,260 each and marketed as collector’s items. No wonder: Not only did they contain a handwritten scroll with the entire Book of Esther, but also a tzedaka box, offering buyers an ingenious way of recapping their investment.