Lowliest Guards on the Israeli Totem Pole

How 'Blaming the Shin-Gimmel' Entered Vernacular

Man In a Glass Booth: The phrase shin-gimmel refers to a battalion guard. But it has also come to mean a scapegoat.
Thinkstock
Man In a Glass Booth: The phrase shin-gimmel refers to a battalion guard. But it has also come to mean a scapegoat.

By Philologos

Published February 10, 2013, issue of February 15, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Two headlines dominated a page of The Marker, the economic section of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, on January 29. The first, captioning a straight news item, read (in my English translation): “Hershkovitz Stuns Finance Ministry: Fires Deputy.” The second, introducing a commentary on this development by correspondent Nehemia Strassler, declared: “Instead of Tackling Problems — Blame the Shin-gimmel.”

For you Forward readers, this needs some footnoting. “Hershkovitz” is Gal Hershkovitz, director of the ministry of finance’s budget division.

The deputy he fired was Eyal Epstein, the economist responsible for the budget figures that the ministry presents to the government of Israel and the Knesset. He was fired because of the unexpectedly huge deficit that the government ran in 2012, which will now lead to higher taxes and to slashes in public expenditures. “Blame the shin-gimmel” — ah, that’s a bit more complicated.

The Hebrew letters shin-gimmel stand for the words shomer g’dudi, “battalion guard.” That doesn’t mean very much in English, but every Israeli knows what a shin-gimmel is: He’s the soldier who sits in a little booth by the gate to a military base and lets no one unauthorized enter. He inspects the papers of anyone he can’t identify by sight and raises and lowers the barrier that bars or admits motor vehicles.

It’s not a thrilling or highly skilled job, which is why it’s usually assigned to the lowliest soldiers on a base. The four-hour shifts of it that I remember from my weeks of basic training were not the high points of my military career. They did, though, include one memorable incident. Late one night, a car with a military license and two passengers drove up to the barrier at which I was the shin-gimmel.

I waited, as I was supposed to do, for the driver, whose face I couldn’t make out, to present his credentials. He honked. I waited some more. He honked again. I stuck to my guns. He stepped out of the car and shouted at me to open the gate. He was, he said, the boyfriend of the base commander’s daughter, whom he was bringing home from a date. He was also, I realized at that exact moment, a cousin of mine, a pilot in the air force. We had a good laugh and met again at the wedding.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.