Rachel Patron: 10 Hebrew words you need when traveling in Israel

Now that it’s “quiet” in Israel I’m planning a trip accompanied by at least 20 other Floridians. You’ll be in good hands with me since I’m a Licensed Tourist Guide and can get everything for you wholesale. The good news is that I already have two passengers: myself and my imaginary friend. So, as a public service, I am offering a 10-word list of Hebrew words to make your visit pleasurable and worry-free.

1, HAMATSAV: THE SITUATION, meaning: Israel’s war with the Palestinians. My mother, a lady through and through, had a far more soothing description: “Our unpleasantness with the Arabs.” Remember how the Irish called their bloodletting The Troubles? Ah, delicacy of spirit is the mother of invention!

2. EIN B’REIRA:  THERE’S NO CHOICE. If you ask an Israeli what is the reason for this or that war, the answer will be: Ein B’reira — we had no choice. (You may not wish to pose this question about the 1982 invasion of Lebanon.)

3. HAR HABAIT:  THE TEMPLE MOUNT. The area in Jerusalem where the Temple stood before it was destroyed by the Romans in 67 A.D. Today the area houses the Dome of the Rock and is known in Arabic as Haram Al Sharif.  The Arabs claim that there has never been a Jewish Temple on this hill. Close by is the kotel, The Western Wall, once known as the Wailing Wall — an adjective rejected after Independence, because Israel was created so that Jews could stop wailing.

4. TSIYONUT: ZIONISM, much maligned and little understood. Truly, Zionism has but two components: A. Jews are entitled to have a state; B. This state should be in some part of the ancient homeland of Zion. If you criticize Zionism while in Israel, your interlocutor may embark on a lengthy lecture. Avoid lectures and suggest: Why don’t we all go out to have G’lida — ice cream in Hebrew.

5. SHOAH: THE HOLOCAUST. You must mention it — but not too often. You see, Israelis are ambivalent about the Holocaust. On the one hand, they need the visitor to understand the horrors — but not to assume that Israel was created because of them.

6. HASHEM: THE NAME. Jews don’t know God’s name. Tradition has it that only the High Priest knew the exact name, which he would utter once a year, on Yom Kippur in the seclusion of the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant resided.  Since the Temple was destroyed, God’s real name vanished. Now, hashem is used — and overused — by the Ultra-Orthodox. For example: Ask a very religious man: How are you, Moishe? And he’ll answer: Baruch Hashem — thank God. Is Uncle Shlomo coming to dinner? I’m irtze Hashem — God willing. Will you buy that Subaru you promised yourself?  B’ezrat Hashem — with God’s help. My grandfather the rabbi called such piety: peeing with olive oil.

7. TITGAYES! ENLIST! If you see a normally dressed person walk up to a young man wearing a black robe, black hat and side curls bobbing, you may hear the secular shouting: Titgayes, you parasite, meaning: “I’m sick of fighting in every war, working and paying taxes, while you ‘study’ obscure ancient scrolls, live on welfare and refuse to shed your blood.” Many years ago I threw the question to a religious man, and you know what he said?  “I pray for the army.”  To which I replied: “You go fight and I’ll pray for you.” Made no impression on him.

8. SHALOM:  PEACE. The all-encompassing Hebrew greeting. But in Israel it reaches further. For instance: How are you? Ma Shlomcha? means: How is your peace? But don’t tell them all your troubles. Maybe you should just say: Baruch Hashem.

9. HAZON: That VISION thing! In Israel the idiom is not restricted to politicians. Every citizen is entitled to a measure of hazon. Perhaps we can compare it to The American Dream.  Hazon is associated with Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism, and was often repeated by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ban Gurion.

10. DEMOCRATSIA: DEMOCRACY. No such word appears in the Bible. Moses and King David were autocrats, so the Greek name will do just fine, since — as is repeated so often — Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.

Rachel Patron is a former opinion columnist for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. She resides in Boca Raton and is at work on a contemporary American novel. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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