Working week 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Job description: Founder, prime mover and shaker behind Chelm-on-the-Med©, an
Internet website publishing wild and wacky news stories from Israel. We inspire
people to laugh about the funny things that happen in Israel instead of feeling
sad, anguished, disheartened, worried, disenchanted, uncomfortable, ashamed or
angry. The really funny thing is, all of it is true. I don’t even exaggerate.
Like the original Chelm, Israel is a very funny place.
Education: BA in
sociology from Temple University, Philadelphia.
1968, from Silver
Spring, Maryland.How did you get into this?
It’s in the DNA. As a
history buff and lifetime odd news junkie, I’ve always had a weakness for the
I’ve been a bilingual journalist for 23 years, writing features
and columns, two books and countless white papers and op-eds, during which I
became painfully aware of just how narrow the audience is for serious
advocacy. Instead, I decided that we need a laughter brigade, so I
founded The Chelm Project. Like any two-year-old, this baby developed a
mind of its own, and now occupies most of my working and waking
When I was eight, I went into my father’s workshop and
built a birdhouse. I was just putting the final touches on it when a neighbor
offered me $5 for it. That was a lot of money back then.Worst job:
the kibbutz, when I first arrived. They assigned me to work in the children’s
house. That wasn’t a good place for me.
When two major
Jewish US television stations said they wanted to air weekly Chelm segments
prime-time, that was good. Then, too, I love it when our Internet traffic
monitors show we’re attracting visitors not just from Israel and English-speaking
countries, but also from China and the Arab world. We even have readers in the
real Chelm, in Poland.Low moment?
Getting hacked by the Turks last
November. Perversely, though, it was a sign that the website was visible enough
– and important enough – to be attacked. Laughter is a dangerous thing and a
very hard act for Israel bashers to follow.Is Chelm a one-woman show?
No, the animated news wing involves three other people who designed/tweaked the
demo with me, including Avi Katz, who’s a Jerusalem Report
online news site has a skeleton crew – a paid editor and paid web
manager.Do you do anything controversial?
Where would I start?
Worldwide, odd news is popular, but here, the Hebrew press hides Israel’s best
incredible-but-true wacky news stories. Some readers complain – one keyboard
warrior sends me gibberish by banging on the keyboard to signify his
displeasure. A Jewish book publisher rejected our anthology, saying he
didn’t see any need to air our dirty laundry, like revealing that Israel’s
hookers were furious when the tax authorities went after them, trying – as the
hookers charged – to “pimp” off their earnings. Some stories draw objections,
but look, I’m a journalist. There is no censorship. Every sector of
Israeli society – religious or secular, Jews or Arabs, old-timers and new olim,
straight or gay – is fair bait. On the plus side, the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs said they thought the Chelm Project was good for Israel.Perks?
It’s fun to write this stuff. Where else can I play havoc with the English
language and get to chuckle at my own wit – like a Technion prize to encourage
teachers to be more empathetic to students that I dubbed “Honorable Menschen.” I
get to make people laugh. What can be better than that? Five years from now? I
expect to be working full-time on The Chelm Project and actually making a living
from the project rather than subsidizing it with other writing gigs. By then,
our other ducks will be in the water, and we’ll be on Christian TV stations as
well as Jewish. Maybe even CNN and Fox. Right now I’m looking for a sponsor. Do
you think Steven Spielberg reads this column? What’s your dream?
That the Chelm
Project will have transformed Israel’s image, showing that we’re a surprisingly
warm and amusing, human and life-embracing place, not the gloomy and dangerous
pariah state way too many news stories focus on. I dream that campus
publications and media outlets of all kinds will suddenly understand that Chelm
stories can be reprinted for free in their publications, with no writer’s fee.
That would make Chelm more widely read, and more people would be laughing with
us. Maybe we’d even get an Off-Broadway revue! Wouldn’t that be funny?