Israelis are an impatient people. They speak dugri (“directly,” an import from Arabic). They get to the point. Haval (guttural, as in Hanukkah) means “too bad.” Al hazman means “about the time.” Haval al hazman: It’s a waste of time.
Don’t even look at her, haval al hazman, she has a tall, dark paratrooper boyfriend. I’m not going to the rally in Rabin Square, haval al hazman, this dysfunctional government won’t fall.
Paradoxically, the phrase also has a positive meaning: It’s so wonderful there’s no need to waste time talking about it. Did you hear Elton John in Ramat Gan? Haval al hazman. Do you like my new haircut? Haval al hazman! How was Rome? Haval al hazman. And the food? I ate fettuccine Alfredo haval al hazman: “fabulous fettuccine Alfredo.” What’d you think of “Avatar?” Haval al hazman: “Awesome.” Though some might answer the question the same way and mean “awful.”
Another variation personalizes the idiom, adding lecha — to you — for emphasis. One kid playfully throws a rock at another but misses, the other says: Good thing you didn’t hit me, haval lecha al hazman — no need to elaborate.
Jewish parlance has long eschewed the waste of time. Rabbi Moses ben Maimon is condensed to Rambam; the Ba’al Shem Tov is the Besht. Standard Israeli Hebrew features acronyms such as mankal (menahel klali, director-general) and tzahal (tzeva haganah l’Yisrael, Israel Defense Forces). Young people sometimes save even more time by saying havlaz instead of the full haval al hazman. I started saying havlaz myself, until my 21-year-old son informed me that it was already passé. You’re an older, immigrant, American Jew, he was probably thinking. Haval al hazman.
Stuart Schoffman is a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and editor of “Havruta: A Journal of Jewish Conversation.”