The poop on diaper prices, plenty of pooches and millionaires

Here are some recent stories out of Israel that you may have missed.

Diaper wars

The cottage cheese wars in Israel may be over, but the diaper war is heating up.

Major Israeli supermarket chains have cut the price of Huggies brand diapers imported from Turkey in an effort to lure customers back to their stores. The diapers are reportedly not as effective as the Huggies Freedom diapers made in the United States.

The Turkey diapers are being sold at about 30 percent less than they had been, with the reductions continuing as major supermarket chains vie to offer the diapers at the cheapest price.

Meanwhile, several new studies are reporting that food in Israel costs more than 12 percent more in Israel than in Europe. And a study by the Knesset Research and Information Center found that food prices in Israel have risen at a rate alarmingly higher than in Europe and the United States.

In the past six years, food costs in Israel grew by more than 12 percent, while prices in 17 member states of the European Union increased by an average of 1.1 percent, the Israeli business daily Globes reported.

At the same time, a poll conducted by the Public Trust consumer organization in conjunction with Nielsen found that yogurt is 34 percent more expensive in Israel than in the United States, Britain and Australia.

Israeli dairy companies argue that raw milk prices are higher in Israel and the Value Added Tax adds greatly to the cost of dairy products.

Israelis love man’s best friend

Israel, it seems, is going to the dogs.

More than 387,200 are listed on the National Dog Register in the Agriculture Ministry, with some 50,768 new dogs registered in 2010 and the first half of 2011.

Lady is the most popular name for females, with 3,098 bearing that moniker, and Lucky rates for males, with 2,734 having the name.

Israelis like their dogs purebred, and the most popular is the Labrador Retriever with 20,490 registered. The rest of the top five: the Pinscher, German Shepherd, Pekingese and Golden Retriever.

Tel Aviv leads all Israeli cities in dogs registered, followed by Jerusalem and Haifa. Some 40,650 owners have more than one dog.

Who wants to be a millionaire? Many are in Israel

The number of Israeli millionaires rose by more than 20 percent last year, according to the recently released Merrill Lynch-Capgemini World Wealth Report.

The 10,153 Israeli millionaires in 2010 were worth about $52 billion, according to the report.

Around the world, the number of millionaires grew in 2010 by 8.3 percent, for a total of 10.9 million millionaires—defined as those with at least $1 million in liquid funds excluding their year-round home.

There were 99 Israeli multimillionaires—those worth more than $30 million, excluding debts.

Israel had the third highest rate of increase of millionaires after Hong Kong, at a rate of 104 percent, and India, at 51 percent.

Hold the (Shabbat) phone

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will now be able to reach his Sabbath-observant aides by phone if an emergency arises on Shabbat.

Netanyahu’s office, which employs the highest number of religious workers since Israel was established, according to Ynet, recently purchased 12 special Shabbat phones for its workers.

The phones, which cost about $330 each, use special technology to ensure that pressing buttons as well as answering them and hanging up do not automatically trigger an electrical current.

The Shabbat phone user acts only in an indirect way, which is permitted on Shabbat for essential activities, even if they do not involve a mortal threat, according to the Tzomet Institute, which invented the Shabbat phone. .

Some Sabbath-observing Mossad and Shin Bet security service members also have the special phones.

Shalom from Paul Simon

American singer-songwriter Paul Simon has spoken to his Israeli fans, even before landing in the country for his July 21 concert.

“Shalom, this is Paul Simon,” the singer said in a specially recorded message released on several Israeli news websites in early July. “I’m looking forward to seeing all of you on the 21st of July at the Ramat Gan stadium. See you soon!”

The greeting was in sharp contrast to Bob Dylan, the iconic Jewish singer who performed an entire concert recently without so much as a “Shalom” to his audience.

Standing-room only tickets for Simon’s concert reportedly have been limited to two per purchase in order to accommodate the demand from fans.

New day of rest?

Israelis are ready to add a second day of rest to their weekly schedule—Sundays.

Following a protracted political debate, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has established a committee to examine the pros and cons of moving the weekend from half a day on Friday and Saturday to Saturday and Sunday. Netanyahu’s chief economist, Eugene Kandel, is the chairman of the new committee, which no doubt will spend plenty of time examining how the move will affect economic productivity in the Jewish state.

The committee was formed after two Likud lawmakers, Ze’ev Elkin and Yariv Levin, submitted private member bills to make Sunday a weekend day. The concept was also championed by Natan Sharansky when he was part of the government.

The idea of changing the weekend from Friday-Saturday to Saturday-Sunday has angered the Arab community, which comprises approximately 20 percent of the population, since Friday is the Muslim Sabbath. Orthodox Jewish Israelis see it as an opportunity to take advantage of cultural activities and shopping, since they are unable to do that on Shabbat.

Kidney swap saves three lives

A “domino triple kidney-pair exchange” was performed at an Israeli hospital, the first of its kind in the country.

Under the exchange, unrelated donors offer their kidneys to others and in exchange receive a kidney for their loved ones.

Nine surgeons, five anesthesiologists, dozens of nurses, blood bank workers and other hospital personnel participated in the successful transplants at the Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus in Petach Tikvah earlier this month, The Jerusalem Post reported. 

The three pairs of donors and recipients met for the first time at the hospital just days before the operations

Facelift for a Tel Aviv fountain

The Yaacov Agam fountain in Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Square is slated for a facelift at a cost of nearly $600,000.

The work reportedly will restore the iconic “Fire and Water” fountain to its original condition, Haaretz reported.

Once the renovation is completed, the municipality has promised to resume the fire, water and music productions that came to be associated with the fountain.

Tel Aviv last year accepted responsibility for the cost of the renovations.

Agam and the municipality had staged a nine-year legal battle over the work. The artist demanded that the fountain be restored to its original state, with Tel Aviv picking up the tab, and the city countering that the renovations were the responsibility of the artist.

Agam donated the fountain to the city in 1986.

The fountain is scheduled to be repainted and reinforced, as well as to have repair work performed on its pumps, motor, lighting and electrical parts.

Up Front

It all started because of the theft of myautomobile. One sunny morning, while waiting for my car pool, Inoticed something in a storefront window across the street, justbehind some citizens standing at a bus stop. It was a monkey. In a diaper.

To my knowledge, I have never had a history ofalcohol or drugs, so I crossed the boulevard to get a better look atthis baby simian picking paint chips off the window sill. And there Iwas, separated only by glass, staring at this ape with the sad eyesand rabbinical beard, mesmerized (in stark contrast to the jadedpedestrians waiting for the bus).

Left, Brian Staples with his friends, Zach the macaw andBeijing the Asian Macaque, also pictured above.

So it’s only fitting that, two months later, myinterview with Brian Staples — the monkey’s owner — takes placehere at the Magic Castle, perched on the hills over-lookingHollywood. For Staples has led — quite literally — a magical life.A veteran magician, Staples is at home at the exclusive club where heis a member — he knows every staffer here, every twist and turn ofthe ornate, secret passage-laden mansion.

Ne’ Eitan Staples-Yosher 26 years ago, Staplestechnically grew up in Spokane, Washington, but, in truth, has beentraveling the world since he was six. Raised by — his words — “veryeccentric parents”, Staples followed their professional lead,performing with, and raising all manner of exotic animals. In fact,his uncle gave him a cougar as a bar mitzvah gift.

Billed as the world’s youngest magician, Staplesspent his teens touring Europe, Asia and South and Central America.He has met the king of Spain; the prince and princess ofLiechtenstein; and the chief rabbi of Israel. And through it all, hehas never lost a sense of his Orthodox Jewish identity, something heattributes to the lifelong influence of Rabbi Benzaquen ofSeattle.

At age 21, while dating a New York actressappearing in “Miss Saigon,” Staples was noticed by a casting agent.Money and a clause honoring Shabbat obligations lured Staples into alucrative side career as a ring-master. Some complications forcedStaples not to renew his contract and, after starting his own magicentertainment company — Landmark Productions — he wound up in LosAngeles, where he intends to finally settle down and establishroots.

Recently, Staples fashioned yet another career forhimself leasing his exotic animals to Hollywood, including hisdiapered monkey, an Asian Macaque named Beijing. The Staplesmenagerie in Washington state presently consists of tigers, lions,leopards, flocks of cockatoos and McCaws, and a brood of Macaqueslike Beijing. Staples is part of a privileged international communityof animal handlers with licenses to own exotic animals and travelfreely with them.

Staples’ primo primate employee is no ordinarydiapered monkey. Beijing has appeared in several major motionpictures and television programs, most recently featured on “MightyMorphin’ Power Rangers”, E! Channel’s “The Pet Shop”, and ESPN’s “TheJohn Force Show”. She has spent Passover seder with Keanu Reeves,picked bugs out of Kenny Rogers’ beard, and wiled away afternoonswith Staples’ buddy, Dustin Diamond (“Saved By The Bell”‘s Screech).Some other facts you should know about Beijing: She loves dogs, has apet rabbit named Harry, and is shomershabbat. Yes, Beijing keeps kosher, eatingalmost anything Staples eats (an aversion to pizza crustsaside).

Ahead for Beijing is more movie and commercialwork, including an upcoming Miramax production. And as for therestless and easily bored Staples, he is tackling a new challenge –acting — all while maintaining his businesses. In fact, he plans tofollow in the footsteps of inspirations like Robert De Niro andDustin Hoffman.

“I’m anxious to put my skills to work.”Michael Aushenker, Community Editor

For more information on Staples’ magicentertainment and exotic animal services, contact Brian at (213)804-5609.

100 Rabbis Online to Help Converts toJudaism

The Conversion to Judaism Home Page( now has direct e-mail links to more than 100 Rabbisfrom all movements in Judaism. The rabbis are available to answerquestions and help people interested in conversion to Judaism. TheHome Page provides extensive information and advice for those who areexploring the option of joining the Jewish people.

The website was created by Lawrence J. Epstein, anauthor of four books on conversion. The site is part of theConversion to Judaism Resource Center. Those without access to thesite can get a free copy of the Center’s brochures “Should I Convertto Judaism?” and “How to Discuss Conversion to Judaism” by writingto: Resource Center, 74 Hauppauge Road, Room 53, Commack, NY 11725 orcalling (516) 462-5826.


Yes, Jerry Seinfeld, left, actually metMake-A-Wish Foundation recipient Ayal Beer at a taping of one of thefinal episodes of “Seinfeld.”


When 13-year old Ayal Beer spent almost all oflast year at an Israeli hospital for treatment of acute leukemia, theordeal was brightened by regularly watching the Jerry Seinfeldshow.

So when the Make-A-Wish Foundation, whichspecializes in fulfilling the requests of children withlife-threatening illnesses, asked Ayal for his biggest wish, theanswer was easy: to meet Seinfeld and watch him tape a show.

Last week, Ayal’s dream came true. Accompanied byhis parents and a sister, he watched in fascination for more thanthree hours as the cast taped one of its last shows on the tightlyguarded set at the CBS-TV studio.

The climax came when Seinfeld himself walked overto the Beer family for a brief chat.

“It was great, I actually got to meet Jerry,” Ayalsaid later. “I told him how much people in Israel liked his show andgave him a T- shirt which said ‘I Met Ayal Beer’ in front and ‘Jerry’on the back.”

Seinfeld, in turn, marveled that Israelis spokesuch accentless English, explained by the fact that the Beer parents,Leo and Nettie, are both native New Yorkers who moved to Israel in1975.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation in Israel, which scoreda coup last summer when it arranged a meeting between young YoniDotan and President Clinton, almost despaired at the even tougherassignment of lining up Seinfeld.

However, with the help of Michael Forman, a LosAngeles entertainment executive, Lori Schaefer Bacher, theorganization’s Israel coordinator, got the green light two daysbefore the taping.

She notified the Beer family, then visitingrelatives in New Jersey, and the following day the Beers were ontheir way to Los Angeles.

They were picked up at the airport by a limousine,were housed in a luxury hotel, and even managed to visit Disneyland,said Leo Beer, a dentist practicing in Rehovot, near Tel Aviv.

Make-A-Wish is an international volunteerorganization, active in 14 countries. The Israel branch, known asMishalat Lev and founded one year ago, has fulfilled the requests of43 children during that period, said Bacher. — Tom Tugend, ContributingEditor