1,722 letters to the editor

Meet the cab driver who holds the Guinness Book of Records world record for the most letters to the editor published in the Israeli newspapers.

Udi Buch: Driven to write letters (photo credit: Courtesy)
Udi Buch: Driven to write letters
(photo credit: Courtesy)

Note to COVID-19: OK, virus, enough already. Let’s take a vacation from you this issue – at least, in this space. I wrote this column in early March, before you hit us hard. Now you’re back again. But I’m going to tell about my friend Udi Buch anyway. And right at the end, I’ll reveal why writing letters is a great way to express defiance of this awful coronavirus.
I was a big fan of public transportation, and, pre-virus, often grabbed a cab after taking the train or bus to my destination. As a journalist, I found that taxi drivers are an endless source of authentic information about what is really going on in Israel – far more insightful than the numbers I crunch as an economist.
That is how I met Udi Buch. Buch drives a cab in Haifa. He loves driving a taxi. And like many cab drivers, he is especially fond of chatting with his riders. In a short ride from Haifa’s German Colony to the Hof HaCarmel train station, I learned about his remarkable life story. Later I followed up by email and smartphone.
Udi, can you tell me your life story, in 400 words?
I am fourth-generation Israeli, born in Avihayil, a moshav in central Israel, near Netanya, with a population today of about 1,400. I finished high school there and served in the IDF orchestra as a trumpet player. I graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, with a BA in statistics and sociology. I then worked for nine years at the Central Bureau of Statistics, ending there as head of the Agricultural Statistics Department. Then I joined Negev Phosphates, where I worked for nine years as marketing manager and manager of logistics and shipping. Next, I joined the Ofer Brothers group. I worked there for 30 years, as a manager and director, including eight years abroad, four of them in Hong Kong, one year in Brazil and three years in London; the rest of the time I worked in Israel, at the Oil Refineries in Haifa, Israel Chemicals, and in shipping and real estate.
I am married for the third time, and have four daughters and six grandchildren. I enjoy life with my new exclusive taxi, and a daily gym workout at Holmes Place. I read newspapers and books on my phone and watch mostly the late news on Israeli TV.
I hold the Guinness Book of Records world record, 2004, for the most letters to the editor published in the Israeli newspapers – 1,722 of them! In 2007 I published my first book, in Hebrew, Letters to the Editor, and in 2008, my second book, International Missions.
When did you first begin writing letters to the editor? And what was your motivation?
My first letter was published in the [leading daily] Yediot Aharonot on November 9, 1997. The Yediot journalist wrongly criticized a group of Israeli visitors who flew El Al to London. I was in that group.
“As someone who was on that flight,” I wrote, “I attest that [the account in Yediot] has no basis in fact. The Israeli passengers behaved admirably during breakfast, like all the other passengers. Why slander them, when it never happened?” In 1998, for example, I wrote to Yediot, “More and more children and adults are being injured by vehicles backing up, mainly in parking lots or near home. Drivers who are backing up have the radio on and the air conditioning and are oblivious to their surroundings. There should be a law requiring that drivers who back up must open their window and turn off the radio.” Most of your letters to the editor were rejected – especially, after you published quite a few and editors recognized your name and perhaps did not want to print too many of them. What made you persist, despite many rejections?
Of this, I am most proud. They published perhaps one out of every 10 letters that I submitted. Still, when I sent a letter to the editor, I felt that I did my part and when they published my letter, I felt satisfaction. I realized that only if I continue sending letters, will some of them be published. So for that reason I did not stop, although it is extremely frustrating.
In Yediot Haifa, you noted that today you are focusing more on Facebook. Why?
Today most of the print newspapers do not have a letters to the editor section and Yediot Aharonot limits them to one or two a day. One cannot compare published letters to Facebook, but Facebook is very easy and I use it in parallel with letters to the editor.” Six years ago, Buch told Arale Weisburg, writing in Israel Hayom, that he rises at 5 am in his home in Haifa, surrounded by his computer, radio, TV and four newspapers, along with his collection of pipes. He chooses one of his pipes, jams it between his teeth, listens to the radio, checks the papers, and ideas emerge from his fevered brow. In moments, a letter to the editor is sent from his email folder. In 2001, no fewer than 131 letters to the editor by Buch were published.
Buch is careful to keep copies of his letters, both the original and a photocopy. This includes all the letters that were not published.
He told Weisberg that many people follow his letters: “I have a circulation list of 200 people,” he claimed, “who get my letters directly by email, almost in real time. Many people recognize my name and recall my letters. I often run into people who, when they hear my name, say that they know me through my letters. I’ve learned that many prefer short purposeful pointed letters, instead of the long boring articles of the experts.” What lies ahead for Buch?
“Many people tell me I should try for [the reality show] Big Brother,” he told Weisburg, “but from the very few minutes of the show that I watched, I doubt I will try to appear there. At the same time, I am not rejecting the idea of appearing in HaMerotz LaMillion [The Amazing Race, a reality game show that featured eleven teams of two who vied for the cash prize in a race around the world]. I have a lot of experience and I have seen the world.” Nor is Buch giving up writing letters. Here is one he published in Yediot on March 15, not long after the initial wave of the novel coronavirus hit Israel:
“It appears that the coronavirus epidemic fits the saying, ‘stop the world, I want to get off.’ The world is spinning too fast and the coronavirus has come along and put a stick in our spokes. When the epidemic passes, I hope that we will be more humble, with more love and mutual responsibility and with much better priorities. The world will also be much cleaner, with far less air pollution and global warming; a saner world, slower, with values, more friendly and humane. This is also an opportunity to start to make structural changes of things that are archaic, irrelevant and harmful. I hope we will be more modest, putting things in their logical proportions – and ‘me’az yatza matok’ [it’s a blessing in disguise].” - Udi Buch, Haifa
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By chance, just as I resubmitted this column to my editor, I spotted this op-ed in the July 16 issue of the New York Times, by writer Jordan Salama. “You should start writing letters”, he urges. Real letters. The kind you write with paper and pen.
“Zoom calls and texts are emotionally draining,” he writes, “but exchanging handwritten notes can be sublime… a letter is an unhindered way of working through anxieties, thoughts and emotions during a period of nonstop information and tremendous grief.” Buch knew all about the bounties of writing letters. We can learn from him. So let’s all go back to writing letters. Write to The Jerusalem Report. Write to your mom and dad. Write to me. And even – write to yourself: Dear me.
The writer heads the Zvi Griliches Research Data Center at S. Neaman Institute, Technion and blogs at www.timnovate.wordpress.com
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Israeli stars in Guinness
Udi Buch is not the only stellar Israeli record-holder in the Guinness Book of Records.
46-year-old graffiti artist James Ame, known as Ame72, is British born and has lived in Israel since 2006. Last year, Guinness announced that Israel had surpassed Saudi Arabia for the largest stencil artwork on the planet. It is displayed at the Elma Hotel and Arts Complex in Zichron Ya’acov and covers 267 square meters (about 2,700 square feet), or the size of a fairly large home.
Stenciling, by the way, is a technique for reproducing designs by passing ink or paint over holes cut in cardboard or metal, onto the surface to be decorated.
But my favorite Israeli Guinness star is not a person, but a rabbit. Shai Asor, who moved from Israel to Los Angeles, has a bunny and best friend named Bini. Bini made it into Guinness in 2017. Bini the Bunny holds the record for “the most slam dunks for a rabbit in one minute .” Bini uses his nose and paws to dunk a little basketball into a miniature net.
Bini practices every night before going to sleep. Asor calls him the “Michael Jordan bunny.”
Bini is five years old and has a strong social media following, with around 285,000 followers on Facebook and YouTube, including some 13 million views.