Long green, grass and a ‘Glee’ showcase


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Here are some recent stories out of Israel that you may have missed.

Costly storm recovery

A winter storm that brought much-needed rain to Israel will cost the Tel Aviv municipality more than $2 million.

The city’s finance committee last week approved a budget of $2.3 million to recover from the storm, which damaged many businesses along the waterfront, destroyed lifeguard stations, and damaged the boardwalk and other beach facilities. Port damages alone have risen to at least $280,000.

Heavy rains and winds of up to 75 miles per hour caused huge waves to wash up on Tel Aviv beaches, breaking restaurant windows, tossing cafe furniture and scattering a thick layer of sand along the Promenade in Tel Aviv.

The storm also damaged antiquities in Caesarea and along the Mediterranean coast, and brought snow a month early to Mount Hermon in Israel’s North.

Immediately following the storm, the municipality began repairing Tel Aviv’s famous boardwalk, as well as fixing the sewer system and rooftops.

Agam’s brush with greatness

A painting by Yaacov Agam set a record for the highest sale price for any Israeli artist in history.

“Growth,” an oil painting on wood panels in 12 parts, was sold for $698,000 during an auction last week in New York organized by Sotheby’s.

Agam was in the auction hall during the sale, Haaretz reported, where he received a round of applause. The sale was 179 percent higher than estimates had predicted. 

Works by Marc Chagall and Reuven Rubin were sold during the same auction.

The previous record for a work by an Israeli artist, living or dead, was set by Mordecai Ardon for “Timepecker,” which was sold during a Christie’s auction in Tel Aviv for $643,200.

Make mine marijuana

Israeli police raided and shut down a nonprofit organization that grows and distributes medical marijuana.

The Tikun Olam organization, which provides medical marijuana to the majority of patients permitted by the Health Ministry to use the drug, is accused of selling more than the prescribed amount of cannabis after a three-month sting operation, according to reports.

The Tel Aviv-based organization is the official grower and supplier of medical marijuana in Israel.

As part of the sting, an undercover agent posed as a patient with a valid prescription and repeatedly asked for more than the prescribed amount, saying it was not helping her. A saleswoman eventually gave her extra cannibas.

“Only someone who knows the need for the drug understands someone else’s need,” a Tikun Olam employee told the Israeli daily Haaretz. “The people working here are sick and only they know what it means to suffer. The policewoman took advantage of that.” 

Thirty grams a month is the maximum allowed by law for the clinic to dispense. The clinic serves about 2,000 patients annually.

“The association distributes four tons of cannabis annually, and if after an undercover police investigation all the agent managed to steal was 10 grams, then we must be the world’s most secure drug company,” Tikun Olam attorney Ronen Schein told Haaretz.

‘Glee’ sings praise of Israeli innovation

An Israeli invention got its 15 minutes of fame on the popular American drama “Glee.”

A robotic exoskeleton that helps wheelchair users to experience walking and was created by Israel’s Yokneam-based Argo Medical Technologies was featured on a recent episode titled “A very Glee Christmas.” 

In the episode, paraplegic West McKinley High School student Artie Abrams walks for the first time using the device, called ReWalk. 

“It was invented by some guy in Israel,” Artie explains of the anonymous gift found under his girlfriend’s tree — but we all know it was from the school’s football coach, nicknamed “Beast.”

The ReWalk device is expected to go on sale in January and cost about $100,000, Israel 21c reported.

Dr. Amit Goffer, an Israeli electrical engineer who was left a quadriplegic after an accident, invented the device. Goffer cannot use his own device, however, because he does not have enough use of his hands to control it. 

Let’s (not) do the Time Warp again

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” will end its 15-year weekly midnight showing in Israel at the end of the year.

The 200-plus costumed movie-goers that the cult film used to attract has dwindled to a few dozen, which is not enough for the Kochav Cinema in Ramat HaSharon to continue the screenings.

The film  was released in 1975 and soon became a cult favorite. It did not hit Israel until the 1990s, Haaretz reported.

The last screening will feature the best local audience participants of all time, as well as Israeli actor Dudu Zar, the host of the classic Israeli children’s television program “Parpar Nechmad,” or “Nice Butterly.”

Leo Tene, founding president of the local Rocky Horror fan club, told Haaretz that a new generation of “Rocky Horror” fans would last about 18 months before a new one came along. The current batch of supporters has been around longer and no one appears poised to take their place.  

“I’m not giving up on Rocky,” Tene told Haaretz. “I hope he’ll be back soon.”

It takes green to go green

Israel has discovered that it isn’t easy — and in fact is quite expensive — being green.

The government will invest $610 million in reducing greenhouse gas emissions following recent Cabinet approval. The investment, to take place over the next decade, will put Israel more in line with its commitment at the Copenhagen Climate Summit in December 2009, in which Israel pledged to adhere to a 20 percent emissions reduction target beginning in 2020, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Under the plan, nearly $333 million will be allocated to dispose of environmentally unfriendly air conditioners and refrigerators. Another nearly $175 million allocated by the ministry will support investments targeted at the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the industrial, commercial and public sectors. Some $11 million will be set aside to promote pioneer projects for new and existing green buildings.

Millions of dollars also will be set aside for education and information projects to increase awareness and promote electricity savings and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by the public, and to integrate Israeli technologies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the coming two years.

Also under the plan, the minister of finance will introduce taxes to promote the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, especially for motor vehicles. 

“For the first time, Israel’s government is promoting a multibillion-shekel plan based on concrete steps aimed at advancing Israel’s contribution to greenhouse gas mitigation,” said Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan.”This is a practical plan which relates to the life of every citizen and to steps which will support industry, technological innovation and a response to the universal problem of global warming.”

Information, in Arabic, please

Tel Aviv has invested more than $1.4 million in recent years to upgrade its website and launched its new Tel Aviv-Jaffa Hebrew website last week.

The new site is “to make City Hall more accessible and to expand Internet services such as dynamic maps, online payments, and some 30 [other] online services,” according to the city’s 2010 budget.

An updated Arabic site is expected to launch at the end of the month, a municipal official told Haaretz. The Arabic-language site has been neglected for years.

Arab speakers make up about 17,000, or 4.3 percent, of the city’s population. Some $5,000 was allocated in 2010 to translate and upgrade the Arabic site, according to Haaretz.

Meanwhile, Arab businesses in eastern Jerusalem may be required to add Hebrew signs, if the municipality’s Signage Committee decides to enforce a 5-year-old law that requires all of the city’s stores to have signs in Hebrew, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The law also could apply to western Jerusalem, where many signs in the downtown area, especially near the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall, have signs only in English, to appeal to tourists.

Cell phone cold turkey 

What is being called the worst crash in the history of the Israeli cellular industry drove the call traffic on land lines up by 20 percent.

The crash of the Cellcom network earlier this month affected some 3.3 million cell phone users.

Customers had difficulty sending and receiving calls. Texting was not affected by the malfunction, but because many customers turned to texting as an alternative to phone conversations, the system overloaded, frequently disrupting the messages.

Israelis who had trouble going cold turkey on their cell phones flooded Cellcom call centers, which could not provide much information beyond the obvious.  

The company has announced it will refund customers one week’s worth of calls and messages. 

Recommended from JTA