Parsing Israeli Slang


Guest Editor: Judith Shulevitz

This fall, guest editors have helped to shape Forward Forum by commissioning opinion pieces. The eighth and final of the group is Judith Shulevitz, a cultural critic and magazine editor who helped to start both Slate and Lingua Franca, which won a National Magazine Award for General Excellence under her co-editorship. She has been a regular columnist for Slate and the New York Times Book Review, and is now a contributing editor at The New Republic. Her book, “The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time,” was published by Random House this year. Read More


Fuhgeddaboudit

By Stuart Schoffman

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.Read More


In the Situation Room

By Janet Aviad

Hamatzav means “the situation,” and can refer to any situation — the economic situation, the weather situation, your medical situation. However, within certain groups, at certain times, the expression came to refer to the Israeli political situation, and specifically to the Israeli-Arab situation.*Read More


Talmud of Traffic

By Philologos

‘Sa l’shalom,” said the policeman who had been about to give me a ticket for a traffic violation. (In the end he didn’t, because he discovered that he and my eldest daughter had been in the same class in elementary school, but that’s another story.) Translated freely, this meant, “You can go.”Read More


Land of the Surreal

By Gail Hareven

In 1911, when the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica was published, the entry titled “The Hebrew Language” stated: “The dream of some Zionists that Hebrew — a would-be Hebrew, that is to say — will again become a living, popular language in Palestine, has still less prospect of realization than their vision of a restored Jewish empire in the holy land.” But reality doesn’t always obey the rules of realism, and 100 years later, Hebrew — the spoken language of about six million Israeli Jews — is developing at a dizzying pace.Read More


One Born Every Minute

By Toby Perl Freilich

Nobody likes to be a sucker, but call an Israeli man a freier and you insult him to the core. Not only should he have gotten a better deal, you imply, but he has betrayed the cardinal rules of Israeli masculinity: don’t play by the rules and never let someone outsmart you. Being a freier in Israel is like being a coward in Sparta.Read More


State of Being

By Ruvik Rosenthal

When used with the definite article ha, medina, meaning state, may express anger (“The state threw us to the dogs,” say the newly unemployed); disappointment (“this is not the state we dreamed of!”); wonder (“what a state! An extraordinary state!” sings the popular entertainer Eli Luzon); even love. This range of strong emotions is a little odd when you consider the formal meaning of the word. Medina derives from the Semitic root “din,” which means rule, law or verdict. According to the etymologist Ernest Klein, a “medina” is “a district of jurisdiction.”Read More


Thinking Big

By Yossi Klein Halevi

The English word large has been absorbed into Hebrew, but in Hebrew, large is not a physical measure. It’s a measure of character, and describes an aspect of the Israeli character. “Tihiyeh large,” Israelis exhort each other: “Be generous, expansive, grand.”Read More





Find us on Facebook!
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • 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.