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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

A [long overdue] silly post

For those of you who may not be familiar with the typical Israeli radio news format, each hour (on the hour) a series of short beeps emanates from radios around the country, and a final slightly longer beep compels people to look at their watches as they listen to the opening words from the somber-voiced newscaster.

The whole 'somber voice thing' must be some sort of job requirement in Israeli news circles because each one of the small pool of regular newscasters seems to try to out-do one another with ever greater levels of deep, deep concern dripping from every syllable (and everyone in the country seems to have their personal favorite).

When I first moved here I started worrying immediately upon hearing that terribly pained tone of voice as the newscaster slowly introduced him/herself (obviously in Hebrew):

"This is the Voice of Israel from Jerusalem, the time is [...]  and this is the news as reported by [name of newscaster]... 

By this point I would be thinking to myself, 'surely something tragic has happened for the newscaster to sound like that'.  I would brace myself to hear about a terrorist attack or a horrible traffic accident... I mean if he sounds like that, someone must have died!

Even during times of relative calm, people unconsciously stop talking on buses and in offices to hear the first few lines of the hourly newscast.  If something important (i.e. bad) had happened, it would be mentioned during the first 15 seconds of the news. 

If the lead story is something mundane, people unconsciously tune out and go back to whatever they were doing when they first heard the 'beeps'.  I would wager that most Israelis don't even realize that they pause each hour to catch these first few words of the news. 

So last week I was standing in a coworker's office when the radio behind his desk started to give off the familiar beeps.  I was pleased to see that by unspoken agreement we both broke off our conversation mid-sentence and glanced at our watches in unison as we waited for the newscast to begin.

Sure enough, the voice from the radio sounded as though he were broadcasting from a state funeral.  Instinctively I braced for the worst and listened carefully as he led off with a story about some internal squabbling in the Knesset.  I breathed a sigh of relief and began to turn back to my coworker when one of the next stories caught my ear.

"What did he say?", I asked my coworker.

I usually have to concentrate quite closely to follow the news, but the words that had caught my ear were vaguely familiar... even in Hebrew.  This happens frequently since there are many English words that have been adopted for use in modern Hebrew.  But in this case I was sure I must have been mistaken.

[I'll pause here to give a quick primer to people with no background in Hebrew.  Like many languages in the world, Hebrew has masculine and feminine nouns.  If there are more than one of a particular noun it takes on either a masculine plural ending; im (pronounced 'eem') or a feminine plural ending; ot (pronounced 'oat') depending on its gender.]

Anyway, back to the story:

The news story was about the reactions of the Israeli gay and lesbian community to the various countries around the world that have recently introduced or passed legislation allowing same-sex marriage.  What had caught my ear were the terms the newscaster had used for 'gays & lesbains': 'Homo'im V'Lesbi'ot' [the 'v' sound is the Hebrew word for 'and'].

I still don't know exactly why those words gave me the giggles.  I suppose it could be that the word used for 'gay' is a mildly pejorative term (unless, of course, the person using the term is gay) in English.  On top of that was the fact that this sad-voiced newscaster was attempting to inject the maximum amount of desperation and tragedy into every word as he read the copy, without regard to the actual content of the story... so it just sounded to my foreign ears like a bad joke. 

OK, maybe not such a laugh-out-loud funny story.  But it sure made me giggle at a time when I desperately needed the laugh.

221_16_5_20

Posted by David Bogner on July 5, 2005 | Permalink

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I'm giggling too, knowing exactly what you mean.

I love your description of how everything stops at the beeps and everyone looks at their watch. So true.

And, I, too, giggle when I hear people refer to homosexual men as "homo-im." Especially if the person is an educated, sophisticated Israeli who is NOT homophobic. It just makes me think "Dear Lord, this country is so backward," and I have to laugh.

I wonder whether Israeli gays find the term pejorative. If not, then it's really our (the immigrants') cultural bias, not the Israelis'. To them it's just a word, the same way that rabbis here use the term "bullshit," because to them it's not a "bad" word.

Posted by: Sarah | Jul 5, 2005 2:47:17 PM

Ziva and I have a long running joke that as soon as we hear the "news beeps" we blast the volume and put our ears to the speaker. Good times.

Another word that doesn't have the same resonance in Hebrew is "F*ckim." While in basic training in the army, every Thursday night or Friday morning we'd have "Misdar F*ckim" where our officers would single out those soldiers who have made big mistakes (f*ckim) that week. First time I heard that I lost my sh*t.

David, I apologize for littering your journal with my nasty language. Feel free to delete if need be. No offense will be taken. ;)

Posted by: Harry | Jul 5, 2005 3:09:25 PM

Sarah... I'm quite sure that Israelis don't find the word Homo'im to be offensive. It is surely just us anglos that get the gggles.

Harry... Yes, I have also gotten a kick out of the whole 'f*ckim' issue. It is particularly funny when I hear the pretty religious girl down the hall from me me uses it in every-day conversation. :-)

Posted by: David | Jul 5, 2005 3:51:34 PM

As in asiti et ha-f*ck? I almost dropped dead the first time I heard a school aged kid utter THAT one!

Posted by: zahava | Jul 5, 2005 3:56:53 PM

It does sound funny. "homo" is obviously slang here in the USA. It sounds like the next sentence should be, (Hebrew) "hu mo harbeh gadol" as they say in Will & Grace. (Do they have that TV show in Israel? I've learned all my gay slang from it. As in "He's a great big 'mo" for someone obviously and flagrantly gay.)

Posted by: Mirty | Jul 5, 2005 4:02:08 PM

'Homo'im V'Lesbi'ot'

I would snicker if I heard that.

Posted by: Jack | Jul 5, 2005 4:18:07 PM

That's hilarious. So to an English speaker it sounds like the very serious news guy is saying "homos and lesbos", but to a native Hebrew speaker, he's just using the appropriate terms.

So, from what everyone else has commented, it sounds like it would be fine to walk up to your Rabbi and ask the Hebrew equivalent of: Hey Rabbi,,have you heard the bullsh*t that those f*uckim in the Knesset passed about the homos and lesbos?

I'm giggling just typing that! I'm very close to my Rabbi, so if we were alone, I could say that to him, but he would NOT be amused.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Jul 5, 2005 4:30:17 PM

Thankful that no where in your post were the words "not that there is anything wrong with that"!!!!
But now, you've replaced it with this lovely phrase... you straight people need a phrase of your own!!

Posted by: val | Jul 5, 2005 4:38:52 PM

Why bother with the asterisk? It's not like you're hiding the word you intended very well...

Oh, there's nothing like a little crude humor to start your morning... Today will be a good day. ;-)

Posted by: tmeishar | Jul 5, 2005 4:54:34 PM

Reminds me of the last time I was at the embassy, I confidently walk up to a bored-looking lady (Jewish, obviously) at the VISA counter and I’m like, "Shalom, ma shlomekh?”*forgive my spelling* apparently she couldn’t hear me and to me it’s like I’d said something wrong maybe confused shlomkha with shlomekh so I (more audibly) say “Oh sh*t! did I say that right way?”, she heard that very clearly, I could tell by the look on her face…I never bothered explaining myself, I spoke in English and got my business sorted out but couldn’t help imagine what was running through her mind all the time I was there.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how harmlessly you try and put it, it just ends sounding gross.


Posted by: kakarizz | Jul 5, 2005 4:56:35 PM

As a gay man living in Israel, I feel I should contribute my two cents...

The English word "homos" IS offensive to me. However, the Hebrew Homo-im isn't. In America the term "homos" was/is used in a pejorative way and hasn't really been adopted/reclaimed by the gay community as an accepted term. In Israel it seems that it is more of an abbreviation of homosexual-im rather than a putdown. Moreover, the gay community in Israel has acepted the term homo-im as an OK term. It does sound funny...

I don't think that the idea that the words we choose to describe our world is silly or trivial. Words create meaning and understanding - they're very powerful. What is funny are the ways that some non-Hebrew words are used in conversation here. My favorite this week is "le-S-M-S" meaning to send an SMS message. tes-em-es alayi!

Posted by: John | Jul 5, 2005 9:13:02 PM

back in the day, I used to mutter "zeh sof hachadashot be'yisrael" ("that ends the news in Israel," the newscaster's signoff) in shul after the long-winded announcements (now that my father's doing them, I gotta behave myself :) )

On a similar note, I get a huge kick out of listening to the Israeli cast of "Hair," and hearing "Sodomy" translated as "Mishkav Zachar." Hearing a talmudic/halakhic term on a cast recording just gives me giggle fits for some reason

Posted by: efrex | Jul 5, 2005 9:14:38 PM

Do you happen to know why Avot uses the feminine plural? I've been wondering.

Posted by: Megan | Jul 5, 2005 9:16:51 PM

What cracks me up is the elementary school kids exclaiming "sheet!". I always ask them, "Mah atah rotzeh m'ha sadin shelcha?" Then I tell them if they want to use the word, they should learn to say it correctly! Ah, such fun...

In the words of Danny Sanderson, "Kol Yisrael, ha sha'ah chamesh, harey ha chadashot...lo l'hitya'esh" (don't despair).

Posted by: AmyS | Jul 5, 2005 10:15:52 PM

On a rough day here I too got the giggles off that post..good work. I'll get on with my day and have a gay old time.

Posted by: Jewish Blogmiester | Jul 5, 2005 11:06:14 PM

AmyS: My uncle (the english major who wound up working for bank ha'poalim; remind me to tell that story someday) would routinely correct the "sheet" pronounciation by explaining "sheet is what you slEEp on, sh*t is what you slIp on" (a rather excellent parallel vowel construction that has shamefully never made into the standard educational literature)

Posted by: efrex | Jul 5, 2005 11:07:39 PM

Zahava... Yeah, something like that. :-)

Mirty... Yeah, but like the 'N' word, only those in the club are allowed to use it.

Jack... Hearing it from these somber newscasters is a gas!

Doctor Bean... I wouldn't go that far... but yeah, Israelis borrow certain curses from other languages and use them the way we would use 'drat', 'dang' or 'heck'.

Val... Who are you calling straight?! I've always felt I was a lesbian trapped in a man's body! ;-)

tmeishar... There are a couple of reasons I use the *. First and foremost is to keep people who do google searches using such words from finding me. Also, when I tell an off-color joke in 'polite company' (yes, I do that from time to time) I tend to lower my voice when using these words. It is a small thing, but I feel it is important to do something to acknowledge that the words are impolite and shouldn't be tossed around too casually.

Kakarizz... I was going to suggest that perhaps she simply wasn't expecting to hear Hebrew from a big black gentleman like yourself. But that really doesn't make sense now that we have so many Jews from Ethiopia living here. Maybe you just didn't say it loud enough. :-)

John... You are 100% right. Words can be devastating! But admit it... when talking to another gay guy you wouldn't be offended if he referred to you or another gay man as a homo, right. As I said above, I have always assumed that among members of the club the word lost some of it's teeth, so to speak.

Efrex... I don't know how you can listen to any of the Israeli cast recordings of non-Israeli shows. The translations/adaptations are often quite good, but if you know the original anything else falls short.

Megan... I don't, but if any of my readers want to venture a guess (or an actual educated answer), I would appreciate it.

AmyS... So many kids... so little time to corrupt them. :-) Thanks for the Sanderson quote. That made me smile.

Efrex... I'll have to remember that... brilliant!

Posted by: David | Jul 6, 2005 12:45:58 AM

"tes-em-es alayi!" - You can't be serious, that is hysterical! I am having such fun reading the comments, am homesick as well now. And despondent over my rapidly vanishing Hebrew. OY.

Posted by: Lioness | Jul 6, 2005 3:40:08 AM

Efrex, that IS a good one to remember! Though usually I don't bother to tell them how to say it correctly (okay, so I'm a prude...).

Posted by: AmyS | Jul 6, 2005 9:19:24 AM

David, I highly recommend Danny Sanderson's discs! He is a brilliant songwriter. One of his best, in my opinion, is Tovim L'Tais. You can listen to it here: http://www.israel-music.com/danny_sanderson/the_best_of/ Enjoy!

Posted by: AmyS | Jul 6, 2005 9:26:28 AM

When the Green Bay team was in the Super Bowl a few years back, the announcement was about "the Green Bay F*ckerim" (the /p/ and /f/ sound use the same letter in Herew). The misplaced consonant was corrected by the other announcer who said, "Peckerim! It's Peckerim!" (There is no /a/ vowel in Hebrew. The closest vowel is /eh/)

I couldn't stop laughing and still haven't even though it was years ago!

Posted by: Andy | Jul 6, 2005 2:58:30 PM

Lioness... The one sure cure for homesickness is to come home. Then you can just be plain fed up like the rest of us! :-)

AmyS... I'm a huge fan of Danny Sanderson's lyrics. I can take or leave his actual singing voice (admit it, he sounds a little funny), but he was/is a truly gifted songsmith.

Andy... Although it doesn't have the added value of being naughty the way your example did, I remember an Israeli friend telling me that he had been watching re-runs of the American television series 'Pliffer'... you know, the one about the dolphin {he was talking about 'Flipper').

Posted by: David | Jul 6, 2005 5:02:03 PM

Ah, but who else could sing "Fikshashti" the way he does? Gotta love the shlemiel in his voice, don'tcha think? ;o)

Posted by: AmyS | Jul 7, 2005 7:10:41 AM

What little things we long forget...reading this, I suddenly remembered all my long bus rides home from Jerusalem, trying to enjoy the music from the radio, but it was almost always played so low that I hardly was able to hear it. Then suddenly on the hour the beeps begin, and the volume goes way up and if you dare to speak, all eyes glared upon you. I had always hoped that the bus driver would allow the radio to stay at the same volume level, but it never failed, as soon as the news was over, down went the volume and up went my disappointment in trying to hear the music again. How funny to have that pop back into my mind after all these years. Thanks!

Posted by: ginger | Jul 7, 2005 6:27:01 PM

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