JERUSALEM (JTA) — Here are some recent stories out of Israel that you may have missed:
‘Pilgrimage of Thanks’ for Chilean miners
The rescued Chilean miners are following a visit to Mickey with one to Masada.
All but two of the 33 miners rescued after spending 68 days trapped underground are coming to Israel with their spouses on what is being billed as a "Pilgrimage of Thanks," Feb. 23-March 2. Israel’s Ministry of Tourism is underwriting the trip.
The Chileans are now visiting Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., following visits to in recent weeks to Hollywood and Beverley Hills, Calif., and to a Premier League soccer match in England.
In Israel they will tour many of Jerusalem’s holy sites, including the Via Dolorosa, Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Garden of Gethsemane and Room of the Last Supper, as well as the Western Wall and King David’s Tomb. In Jerusalem they will be welcomed by President Shimon Peres in an official reception at his residence.
They also will visit the Dead Sea and Masada before traveling north to visit the Church of the Annunciation, the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, the Mount of Beatitudes, Caesarea and Tel Aviv-Jaffa. The pilgrimage also will include a visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
The Chileans, who will be accompanied by journalists from their country and the regional governor of Atacama, are scheduled to plant trees for peace and coexistence, according to reports.
Due to the trauma of spending more than two months underground, the miners will not visit sites that include tunnels or caves, according to reports.
The visit is going ahead despite Chile’s official recognition last month of the potential unilateral declaration of a state of Palestine.
In his invitation issued in October, in the days after the men were rescued, Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov wrote that "Your bravery and strength of spirit, your great faith that helped you survive so long in the bowels of the earth, was an inspiration to us all. It would be a great honor for us to welcome you as our guests in the Holy Land."
Supersize me — with chickpeas
As if being able to purchase a falafel on nearly every street corner in Israel isn’t enough, McDonald’s in Israel has introduced the McFalafel.
The product has been "adjusted to the Israeli taste," said McDonald’s Israel CEO Omri Padan, and will be sold in the chain’s 36 kosher and 124 non-kosher restaurants throughout Israel.
The McFalafel is served on a lafa, or Iraqi bread that wraps, and the falafel are more like flat disks than balls. Word on the street: surprisingly edible.
No word on whether you can supersize your McFalafel.
A Jerusalem woman has given birth to her 18th baby — her ninth son to go with nine daughters.
The newborn already is an uncle of two, according to Ynet.
Rivkah, 44, a member of the Belz Chasidic sect, told Ynet that the family has two washing machines that run 24 hours a day. She also said that, after the birth of her eighth child, her husband began helping out: He now makes the kids’ sandwiches for school each morning — a chore that takes nearly an hour.
The family does not have a car.
"I believe that you need to get up every morning and thank God for each and every soul he has given us," Rivkah told Ynet. "They are all healthy and whole, and that only gives me strength, it doesn’t take it away."
Rivkah has a special bracelet stamped with the names of her children. It has room for three more names.
Macy Gray’s motorcycle
R&B and soul singer Macy Gray brought more than her gift of music to Israel.
Gray, after asking fans in a Facebook message whether to cancel her concert dates in Tel Aviv, performed two shows as scheduled over the weekend. At the end of her Saturday night concert, Gray presented a $25,000 first-response motorcycle to United Hatzalah.
The rescue vehicle, with state-of-the-art first aid equipment, is meant "to save the lives of Jews, Christians and Muslims," Gray told the Hatzalah volunteers who joined her on stage.
Gray had received thousands of responses to her Facebook message, which read "I’m booked for 2 shows in Tel Aviv. I’m getting alot of letters from activists urging/begging me to boycott by NOT performing in protest of Apartheid against the Palestinians. What the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians is disgusting, but I wana go. I gotta lotta fans there I dont want to cancel on and I dont know how my NOT going changes anything. What do you think? Stay or go?"
Several days after posting the Facebook message, Gray sent a Twitter message advising: "Dear Israel fans. Me and the band will be there in 20 days. Can’t wait. See you then. Peace."
Gray issued a special statement at the end of January, following a meeting in Los Angeles with Israel’s Consul General Jacob Dayan, saying that "I am choosing to perform in Tel Aviv because I believe in the power of music. I believe that it brings people together, and offers magic and escape and laughter and the opportunity to feel good and dance."
Gray performed in Israel in 2008 and 2009, as well as in 2000.
Meanwhile, French singer Vanessa Paradis canceled a performance scheduled for last week at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center. She had been scheduled to arrive in Israel with longtime boyfriend Johnny Depp and their two children, as well as an entourage of American and French celebrities from the music and film industries.
Bibi the biggest loser?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is down 22 pounds, but it looks like Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer has him beat in the quest to be known as the biggest loser in the Knesset.
Ben Eliezer’s loss — 66 pounds.
Both have been on a diet for six months. Netanyahu has been running six miles every morning and working out twice a week in the Knesset gym, according to Ynet. The prime minister has been eating plenty of breakfasts of low-fat cheese and lunches of skinless chicken or fish.
Ben Eliezer has a similar diet and walks 40 minutes daily, plus drinks lots of water, according to Ynet.
Netanyahu last summer banned pastry and bourekas from government meetings and replaced them with fruit and vegetables. Several other government ministers also took up Netanyahu’s charge to exercise and, coupled with the change in government snack food, has led to even more shedding of pounds in the Cabinet.
Israeli parents want to use dead son’s sperm
The parents of an Israeli man who died in an accident have asked Israel’s attorney general for permission to use his sperm to father a grandchild.
The sperm were taken from Ohad Ben-Yaakov following a work accident in September, according to Haaretz. Ohad, 27, reportedly did not leave either a written or verbal request indicating that he wanted his sperm used to bring a child into the world. He was not married or dating anyone at the time of his death.
Parents Mali and Dudi Ben-Yaakov agreed to donate their son’s organs after he was declared brain dead following two weeks in a coma after the accident. They also requested that his sperm be collected.
According to legal precedent, collected sperm are the property of a man’s partner, not his parents, and may be used only by his partner.
"If we were entitled to donate the organs of our son, why are we not entitled to make use of his sperm in order to bring his offspring into the world? This is what he would have wanted," the Ben-Yaakovs told Haaretz
Ohad’s parents would like to find a woman who is willing to have Ohad’s baby and raise the child as a single parent, but welcome the involvement of the paternal grandparents.
There’s no place as expensive as home
Housing prices in Israel have soared by 30 percent in the past two years.
A shortage of available housing is the main reason given for the jump, according to a report published last week by the government assessor.
Meanwhile, in order to help first-time house buyers, the Israeli government is considering a bill that would raise the ceiling on exemptions from sales taxes on home purchases. Taxes also are being increased on the owners of two homes, considered investors.
Still, according to the assessor, the Bank of Israel expects home prices to rise further, despite a raise in the interest rate and the tightening of conditions on mortgages in an effort to lower the demand for homes.
Healthy food seal of approval
With the launching of a nutritional seal of approval, Israeli consumers can now easily find the healthiest alternatives when they visit the supermarket.
The seal indicates that a product meets the nutritional standards of the World Health Organization, according to Haaretz. It is sponsored by Choices Israel, an affiliate of the Choices International Foundation; Israel is one of seven countries to have the program.
The standards take into account added sugar, trans fat, saturated fat and sodium.
Participating companies pay between $5,000 and $50,000 to participate in the program, and another nearly $1,000 per product that bears the seal, Haaretz reported. Only three Israeli companies — Shemen Industries, Angel Bakeries and Unilever — have agreed to participate so far.
Israelis get their MTV
Israelis can now watch Snooky and the rest of the "Jersey Shore" gang on MTV’s new Hebrew-language channel.
The channel is now available 24 hours a day for Israeli subscribers to cable and satellite television — more than 2 million of the country’s households.
In addition to a steady supply of popular music, the Israeli channel also will feature favorite MTV series such as "Jersey Shore," as well as "Punk’d" and "Pimp My Ride."
An MTV Israel website was launched, too, with Hebrew-language content such as news, gossip, polls and event information for online fans.
Israel becomes the 64th country to receive a localized version of MTV.
Holy Land hoax
Videos that have surfaced online showing a UFO hovering over Jerusalem’s Temple Mount have been debunked as a hoax.
Expert Benjamin Radford wrote on LiveScience.com that "all signs point to a hoax."
The videos show a bright light hovering over the Islamic mosque the Dome of the Rock, which then flashes and flies away.
Radford pointed out that the half-dozen reports of the UFO were posted anonymously on YouTube, and with thousands of people likely in the vicinity of the Temple Mount on the night of the sighting, that there should have been more reports.
Other experts said the flash of the UFO did not reflect off the dome.