Based on Lucy Shahar Cross Cultural Materials
Feel free to try out some of the following words with your Israeli colleagues – this will help you establish a connection. Please note: Hebrew is transliterated into English, the ‘ch’ is not the same as the ‘ch in chair. It is a guttural sound made at the back of the throat.
achi or achuyi– “bro”, brother, a term of intimacy. Originating in the army, in field units in Lebanon as showing the special bond formed under fire. Is now in use in all parts of society. There is a less prevalent female form “Ochti”. This term is typically accompanied by a strong “chapcha” – The open handed, hard pat on the back. As in “Achi, haven’t seen you since the army, what’s going on?” In the last election Naftali Bennett – a right winged, high-tech background candidate used this term extensively to connect to voters and show case his ‘coolness’ factor
chevreh – the “gang”, a closely knit group, typically comprised of men & women, deriving from “chever” – friend. The term used for the “in-group”. As in “these are my chevreh, they have my back”.
davka – (Aramic): a term for attitude meaning for spite, on purpose, doing the exact opposite of what is expected. As in “She is late for work, to do me davka, because she knows I want her to be on time” or “Davka now – take a vacation in Israel” – tourist ministry slogan meant to encourage Israelis to support hotels and tourist businesses, when external tourism dropped dramatically during the operation in Gaza.
dugri – (Arabic): a communication style, speaking straight, direct, no frills, very honest. When used in a sentence, it will usually proceed an unpleasant remark. As in “I’ll tell you dugri, I have always hated your friends” or “tell me dugri, doctor, will I die?”
frier – (Yiddish): sucker. What most Israelis fear most is being seen as a “frier”. They will go to any length not to be seen as one. As in “Why is he trying to pass me on the road, does he think I’m a frier?”* or “Why are you apologizing, are you a frier or something?” or “We will not be frierim (plural) by giving the Palestinians land when they have not stopped the bombings”.*
The term is much used in advertising – “Don’t be a frier, don’t pay high prices, come to us…”
* Examples from Tom Segev, top Israeli journalist and writer
Le-histader – to manage, to get along, make do. Considered a very valuable trait. As in “you can count on me, I can lehistader in any situation, throw me in the middle of the desert, I will find my way home.” Also can mean beating the system, know how to get around rules and regulations. As in “leave it to me, I can lehistader with them and you’ll get your computer through customs.”
rosh gadol – literally means “big head”. A term, originating in the army used to describe a leader. Considered a very valuable trait. Someone who takes responsibility, isn’t afraid of making decisions, takes the initiative, not afraid to take risk. His performance is beyond the call of duty and beyond his job description. He will also take responsibility for other people’s jobs and might take over. As in “she’ll make a great CEO, she is such a rosh gadol”. Or “let him organize the event, he is a rosh gadol”.
rosh katan – literally “small head.” The opposite of the previous term. Keeping a low profile, someone who doesn’t do anything beyond his job description, doesn’t assume responsibility, has no leadership aspirations. As in “what do you want from me, I am just answering phone calls? I’m just a rosh katan, minding my business, want to get home in one piece.” When someone is an extremely rosh katan, you could say he has rosh sika (pin head).
Sabra- A term coined in the 50th. Is used today in a formal way meaning born in Israel. Literally is the cactus fruit. Metaphorically, like the cactus fruit, the Israeli is sweet on the inside and thorny on the outside. Once you penetrate the prickly exterior you can enjoy the gentle interior. If you don’t know how to handle this fruit, it will be a painful experience.
smoch – A term coined in the paramilitary units, proceeding the Israeli statehood. “Count on me”, don’t worry, everything will be OK.” As in “when he tells me to smoch, I start to worry”. Or “The engineer said smoch and then the ceiling collapsed.”
yihehe beseder – it will be ok, things will work out. “Q. How are things with you? A. yihehe beseder.” Can be joined with smoch as in “Q. How will we meet the deadline? A. Why are you worried, smoch, yihehe beseder.”
tachles – (Yiddish): Literally derives from the word purpose. Bottom line, concrete, tangible. As in “That’s enough talk, tell me tachles, how much will you contribute?” When someone says “Let’s talk tachles” you know they mean business.
Sources: Dahn Ben-Amotz and Netiva Ben-Yehuda, The World Dictionary of Hebrew Slang, Parts One and Two.Tel Aviv: Zmora Betan, 1982;
Tamar Katriel, Talking Straight: Dugri Speech in Israeli Sabra Culture. London: Cambridge University Press, 1986.