A Hebrish Glossary For Making Aliyah
Words To Help Navigate The Strange Linguistic Netherworld That Lies Between English and Hebrew
Everybody knows that moving to Israel involves learning a new language: Modern Hebrew, the modern language based loosely around the ancient tongue of the Tanakh which Eliezer Ben Yehuda famously pioneered.
But in addition to learning new vocabulary, conjugation tables, and idioms, newcomers to Israel will have to navigate a strange linguistic netherworld stuck somewhere between their native language and Hebrew.
For English speakers, this language is called Hebrish: an English-Hebrew pidgin favored by English-speaking immigrants to Israel that are slowly immersing themselves in the native culture.
Here are some terms to help you get started.
Translation: You have a degree!
If the shaliach (emissary) which the Jewish Agency appoints to work on your file describes you, in an impressed tone, as an “academic,” she isn’t referring to some PhD from Harvard that you must have forgotten you hold.
Hebrish’s many idiosyncrasies derive from Hebrew, the creole’s parent tongue.
If you’re perplexed at the way in which Israelis drop the adjective ‘relevant’ into every sentence when speaking English (tell me I’m not alone here please) then you should understand that אקדמאי in Hebrew is defined (see, above) as anybody that holds an advanced / third-level degree. Similarly the definition of רלוונטי (relevant) is a little different than ‘relevant’ in English.
Note: English-speaking immigrants that are here long enough, and who integrate thoroughly enough into Hebrew-speaking contexts, almost inevitably succumb to some degree of linguistic attrition. Be warned: this may happen to you!
Language attrition is the process of losing a native or first, language. This process is generally caused by both…
Translation: You speak English!
If you’re like me (before making aliyah) the word ‘Anglo’ makes your mind hearken back to history lessons about the Anglo Saxons, which Wikipedia reminds me was a cultural group which invaded England in the 5th century (I’m already yawning).
In colloquial Hebrish, an ‘Anglo’ is short for an ‘Anglophone’ — which means English speaker.
If you hear about an ‘Anglo community gathering’ in your area, then it doesn’t really matter if you’re from South Africa or Australia: so long as you can speak English, you’re qualified to participate.
Those who are said to be “stuck in an ‘Anglo bubble’” are the ones who didn’t manage to learn Hebrew and are linguistically forced to only integrate among their English-speaking brethren. Many, it should be added, are happy with this fate; others are not.
Personally, I think that ‘Anglo’ is a ridiculous term. I propose ‘English-speaking Israeli’ as a slightly longer, but less absurd, replacement.
Translation: A highly prevalent atmosphere of multi-sensory chaos and disorder in Israel
Wedged between the sea and a couple of countries that oppose its existence, it shouldn’t come as a massive surprise to learn that Israel is often a somewhat chaotic place in which to live.
Motorists swerve precariously in and out of lanes; the sound of incessant honking is the background soundtrack to many of its cities; and the default mode of having a friendly chat sometimes seems to be wildly gesticulating and yelling at one another from a distance of about two feet.
‘Balagan’ (בלאגן) is a slang Hebrew word which roughly translates to ‘chaos’.
It can refer to a bureaucratic process as well as to the general environment that prevails in a restaurant with screaming children at every table, loud music blaring, and nobody really knowing what’s going on.
For elaboration, see layat, layat. If everything is ‘b’seder’ then everything is okay (lit. in order).
Translation: Deals, special offers
Financially, and on paper, life in Israel often makes absolutely no sense. We’ll learn more about that a little later.
In the face of a high cost of living, people search for deals to get ahead financially.
Arranging a ‘combina’ is essentially all about negotiations and leveraging them to secure some goods or services at preferential terms. You may use your protetzia to score yourself one.
Translation: Faux pas
Fadicha / fashla derives from Arabic, like much Hebrew slang. In street Hebrew, and in Hebrish, its meaning is generally an awkward or embarrassing situation.
Hosting a dinner party and then accidentally spilling red wine on your guest’s newly pressed white shirt could be considered an example of one.
Translation: A pushover
One of the strangest features of Israeli culture is the pervasive fear of being a “sucker” (freier; pronounced fry-er) which often leads to people acting needlessly aggressively and callously out of the fear of being perceived by one’s peers / compatriots as a pushover.
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Letting somebody go ahead of you in the shopping line because they only have one item (but you’re stocking up for a family of 10) would be a freier move. So would letting another motorist go ahead of you in traffic.
You can probably tell what I think about freier culture from the commentary: I think it’s a terrible and broken mentality. But you need to know about it in order to live in Israel.
Translation: Slowly, slowly
This one isn’t really Hebrish but I couldn’t resist including it.
Israel is a weird combination between a country that moves at breakneck pace (with sometimes endlessly impatient residents) but which also can’t help itself from endorsing some very laid back national platitudes (there are still official siesta hours on the books in many cities).
The two most distinctive of these are “הכל יהיה בסדר” (everything will be okay) and “לאט לטא” (slowly, slowly). This is the direct Hebrew equivalent of shway shway in Arabic.
Translation: Local convenience store
A makolet is essentially a local convenience store (as opposed to a full scale supermarket).
The line between makolets and lotto stands (their smaller and more inebriated cousins) can get very blurry indeed.
Some makolets can often be found blaring Mizrahi hits through loudspeakers while patrons drink outside, making them sort of quasi-bar, quasi-nightclub, quasi-essential supply establishments.
Other makolets are more staid and are indeed simply places where you go to buy your newspaper and eggs.
Translation: an overdraft
Minus (pronounced mee-noos) means what it sounds like in English: your bank account has a negative balance. Which means, essentially, being in overdraft.
I’ve written extensively here about Israel’s absurd cost of living — particularly as it relates to average incomes.
How do people afford it, many wonder?
Some people, of course, make comfortable salaries. Others draw upon extensive family support. And those with less financial foresight make extensive use of lies of credit.
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If your banker (typical translation: retail bank assistant) tells you that your account is in “mee-noos” then you should be aware that you’ve got an overdraft. Speaking of which, you should probably figure out what the fees rae.
Often jokingly referred to as ‘vitamin P,’ ‘protetzia’ is essentially leveraging who you know to get ahead in life and avoid being a freier (see: it’s addictive?)
Many jobs in Israel, as elsewhere, are only recruited through word of mouth. Having somebody within the company that you can leverage to get a foot in the door is the ultimate form of having ‘protetzia’.
It could also mean using “who you know” to win favors or secure contracts in the business world.
Translation: paying on credit
One of my first experiences doing supermarketing after aliyah involved attempting to be upsold on my shopping by an elderly cashier who displayed a rather unusual assortment of goods on the ledge next to the check register.
She first raised a head of garlic hopefully. After that failed to spark my interest she sheepishly held up a bar of dark chocolate. After that also didn’t sound appealing she asked me whether I want to pay in one or by tashlumim.
Tashlumim means paying in credit installments (with interest) and is highly common in Israel. Every credit card I’ve ever had supports tashlumim and even has a page for managing them in the online interface.
The unusual facet of the tashlumim system is its absolute pervasiveness. You’ll be asked if you want to pay in tashlumim everywhere from the hardware store to the supermarket.
Great Hebrish word missing from the list? Feel free to drop me a line!