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Surprising Science

Olympic Village Idiots in Sochi

A friend of mine recently posted a link to one of the hilarious articles detailing the bone-headed Olympic Games preparations in Sochi and asked, tongue not really in cheek, “Did no one know that Russia and its neighbors are still very much Chelm?”

You’ll laugh at that question if you’re familiar with traditional Jewish humor poking fun at the ironically named Wise Men of Chelm. I’ll offer a bit of explanation and some Chelm tales in a moment. But first, in case you haven’t seen some of the choice tidbits coming out of Sochi, here is a small sampling:

1. Sochi, it seems, is home to an enormous population of stray dogs. The roaming, aggressive canines pose such a nuisance the city has contracted with Basya Services, a pest company, to “catch and destroy” as many of them as possible.

2. The slopestyle competition has been thinned by one:Norwegian snowboarder Torstein Horgmo “landed heavily on his face and right shoulder,” fracturing his collarbone. Why? The course design featured some jumps that were way too steep.

3. The hotels are a holy mess:

4. Walking around Sochi is not for the faint of heart:

I could go on, but back to the Wise Men of Chelm. The trope of Jewish folklore paints the Polish village of Chelm as home to fools, men who believe themselves wise and celebrate what they take to be ingenious solutions to life’s problems. Here are some examples, courtesy of the YIVO Institute:

“Which is more important, the sun or the moon?” a citizen of Chelm asked the rabbi.

“What a silly question!” snapped the cleric. “The moon, of course! It shines at night when we really need it. But who needs the sun to shine when it is already broad daylight?”

The melamed of Chelm was speaking with his wife.

“If I were Rothschild, I’d be richer than he.”

“How can that be?” asked the wife. “You would both have the same amount of money.”

“True,” he agreed, “but I’d do a little teaching on the side.”

You can find some longer Chelm tales here to entertain you during tonight’s opening ceremonies.


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