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Pesach: The Jewish Passover

In Judaism, Passover is one of the most important holidays of the year. It celebrates the release of the Jews from Egypt as described in the biblical book of Exodus, and commemorates the events leading up to it. 

Maybe you’ve heard of Passover before, but never really understood what it’s about or how it’s celebrated. If so, this article will be your golden ticket to understanding the basics and getting better acquainted with Jewish culture and traditions. 

Let’s get started!

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1. What is Passover?

A Depiction of the Passover Sacrifice

Passover is a Jewish holiday celebrated for seven days during אביב (aviv), or spring. The celebration of this holiday is commanded and outlined in the biblical books of Exodus and Leviticus, and the purpose of this holiday is to commemorate the events leading up to the חירות (kherut), or freedom, of the Israelites after fleeing Egypt. 

The history of Passover in the Bible can be found in the book of Exodus, according to which the Jews were once enslaved by the people of Egypt. In the form of a burning bush, Yahweh commanded משה (Moshe), or Moses, to speak with Pharaoh about releasing the Israelites. Despite Moses’s strong faith and devotion, he lacked confidence in his speaking abilities and rather had his older brother אהרון (Aharon), or Aaron, speak on his behalf. When Pharaoh refused, Yahweh brought about the עשר מכות (Eser makot), or 10 Plagues, which wreaked havoc among the Egyptians and caused many deaths. 

The last of these plagues was the killing of all Egyptian firstborn sons, including the Pharaoh’s own son. The Israelites were spared this plague, for Yahweh commanded them to mark their doors with the blood of a lamb which would cause the Angel of Death to pass over them. It is this event which the holiday is named after. 

Passover is one of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals. You can learn about the other two on our website! 

2. When is Passover This Year?

springtime flowers in a green field

The first day of Passover begins on the fifteenth of Nissan according to the Jewish calendar. Here are the start and end dates of this holiday on the Gregorian calendar for the next ten years: 

  • 2021: March 27 – April 4
  • 2022: April 15 – April 22
  • 2023: April 5 – April 12
  • 2024: April 22 – April 29
  • 2025: April 12 – April 19
  • 2026: April 1 – April 9
  • 2027: April 21 – April 29
  • 2028: April 10 – April 18
  • 2029: March 30 – April 7
  • 2030: April 17 – April 25

3. Passover Traditions

seder tu bishvat, or Passover food

Passover traditions actually begin the morning before, on the fourteenth of Nissan. This is when observant Jews scour their homes for any trace of חמץ (khametz), or hametz. Hametz refers to any type of leavened product, which is prohibited on Passover. All of the hametz that’s found in one’s home must be burned.

Another event that takes place prior to the actual Passover holiday is the Fast of the Firstborn. This is a fast that the firstborn son of every practicing Jewish family participates in to commemorate the fact that Yahweh spared all of the Jewish firstborns in the Exodus story. However, people are allowed to break this fast in the event of a celebratory event; synagogues often host such an event so that the firstborn sons can eat during Passover.

On the evening of the first day of Passover, observant Jews have the Passover seder. This is a special meal that aids in telling the Passover story and keeping it fresh in mind. The Passover meal consists of several different foods which symbolize key aspects of the Israelites’ journey to freedom: 

  • מרור (maror), which are bitter herbs symbolizing the bitterness of the Jews’ slavery
  • חרוסת (kharoset), or charoseth, which is a sweet mix of fruit and nuts with honey, symbolizing the mortar Jewish slaves used in building
  • מצה (matzah), or matzo, which is an unleavened bread product symbolizing the unleavened bread eaten by the fleeing Israelites

It’s also customary to pour wine for each guest, as well as a glass for the Prophet Elijah who is said to visit the homes of those observing the seder. 

Each of these food elements is held and consumed in accordance with the Exodus story from the Haggadah. In addition, the recital of the Four Questions takes place during the seder. 

The following day (the sixteenth of Nissan) marks another milestone on the Jewish calendar: it’s fifty days before Shavuot. It begins the Counting of the Omer, during which Jews begin the countdown to Shavuot. 

  • See our vocabulary on Israeli Food to learn more useful cuisine-related words! 

4. Afikoman

Another fascinating Passover tradition involves the children. Parents cut off part of the matzah from the seder, called the אפיקומן (Afikoman), and hide it. The children are then encouraged to find it in order to receive presents as compensation. 

A common variation of this tradition is for the children to steal the Afikoman themselves and return it in exchange for gifts. 

5. Essential Hebrew Vocabulary for Passover

different Passover foods

Here are some of the most important vocabulary words and phrases for Passover in Israel:

  • Spring – אביב (aviv), noun [m]
  • Arm – זרוע (z’roa’), noun [f]
  • Egypt – מצרים (mitz’rayim), noun [f]
  • Passover – פסח (Pesakh), noun [m]
  • Red Sea – ים סוף (Yam Suf), noun [m]
  • Pilgrimage – עליה לרגל (aliya la-regel), noun [f]
  • Afikoman – אפיקומן (Afikoman), noun [m]
  • Aaron – אהרון (Aharon), noun [m]
  • 10 Plagues – עשר מכות (Eser makot), noun [f]
  • Song of Songs – שיר השירים (Shir ha`shirim), noun [m]
  • Passover Sacrifice – קורבן פסח (Korban Pesakh), noun [m]
  • Pharaoh – פרעה (Par-oh), noun [m]
  • Moses – משה (Moshe), noun [m]
  • Matzo – מצה (matzah), noun [f]
  • Maror – מרור (maror), noun [m]
  • Hametz – חמץ (khametz), noun [m]
  • Freedom – חירות (kherut), noun [f]
  • Cleaning – נקיון (nikayon), noun [m]
  • Charoseth – חרוסת (kharoset), noun [f]

Also be sure to head over to our Passover vocabulary list! Here, you can listen to the pronunciation of each word and practice along with the recordings.

Final Thoughts

The Jewish Passover is a defining holiday for Jews in Israel and around the world, so we hope you enjoyed learning about it with us! What are some of the important religious holidays in your country? 

If you liked this lesson and want to continue exploring Israeli culture and the Hebrew language, make sure to explore HebrewPod101.com and take advantage of our numerous resources. Our free vocabulary lists, online dictionary, and numerous audio and video lessons will help you reach your language learning goals sooner than you think! 

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Premium PLUS: The Golden Ticket for Language-Learning

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As an active Premium PLUS member of JapanesePod101.com and KoreanClass101.com myself, I have an enjoyable experience learning at an accelerated pace with at least thirty minutes of study daily. The following Premium PLUS features contribute to my success:

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Pronunciation is an essential ingredient in language-learning. Proper pronunciation prompts clear understanding during conversations with native speakers.

Prior to learning full Korean sentences, my online Korean language tutor assigned the “Hana Hana Hangul” pathway to me. It demonstrated the writing and pronunciation of Hangul, the Korean alphabet. Throughout this pathway, I submitted recordings of my Hangul character pronunciations to my language teacher for review.

I was given a similar task on JapanesePod101.com with the “Ultimate Japanese Pronunciation Guide” pathway. My Japanese language teacher tested my pronunciation of the Japanese characters kana. My completion of the two pathways boosted my confidence in speaking.

Speaking is one of the more challenging components of learning a language. The voice recording tool in particular was a great way for me to improve my speaking skills. Further, because the lesson dialogues are spoken by native speakers, I’m able to practice speaking naturally.

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어디에 살고 있습니까?

eodieseo salgo isseumnikka

“Where do you live?”

If you live in Tokyo, you would readily say the following:

도쿄에 살고 있습니다.

Tokyo-e salgo isseumnida.

“I live in Tokyo.”

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Premium PLUS offers various features to expand learners’ vocabulary, including Free Gifts of the Month. HebrewPod101’s free gifts for April 2020 included an e-book with “400 Everyday Phrases for Beginners,” and the content is updated every month. When I download free resources like this, I find opportunities to use them with co-teachers, friends, or my language tutors.

An effective way to learn vocabulary is with SRS flashcards. SRS is a system designed for learning a new word and reviewing it in varying time intervals.

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With the SRS flashcards, you can change the settings to your liking. The settings range from different card types to number of new cards per deck. Personally, I give myself vocabulary tests by changing the settings.

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Your language tutor is available for outside help as well. When I bought drama CDs in Japan, I had difficulty transliterating the dialogue. My Japanese teacher forwarded me the script to read along as I listened.

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A remarkable thing happened to me in South Korea. I was stressed about opening a bank account with limited Korean. I sought help from my Korean teacher. She forwarded me a script of a bank conversation.

After two days, I visited the local bank. It all started with my opening sentence:

은행 계좌를 만들고 싶어요

eunhaeng gyejwaleul mandeulgo sip-eoyo.

I want to open a bank account.

Everything went smoothly, and I exited the bank with a new account!

The MyTeacher Messenger allows me to share visuals with my teachers for regular interaction, including videos to critique my pronunciation mechanisms. I improve my listening and speaking skills by exchanging audio with my teachers. In addition to my written homework assignments, I exchange messages with my language teachers in my target language. This connection with my teachers enables me to experience the culture as well as the language.

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It’s impossible for me to imagine my continuous progress with Japanese and Korean without Premium PLUS. Everything—from the SRS flashcards to my language teachers—makes learning languages enjoyable and clear-cut.

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Subscribe to Posted by HebrewPod101.com in Feature Spotlight, Hebrew Language, Hebrew Online, Learn Hebrew, Site Features, Speak Hebrew, Team HebrewPod101

Tisha B’Av: A Day of Mourning

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Israel had a particularly rough history, fraught with tragedies and wrongs. Each year, there’s a special day set aside just for mourning and reflection: תשעה באב (Tish-ah be-Av), or “Tisha B’Av.” 

In this article, we’ll talk about some of these tragedies, cover the most common Tisha B’Av practices and customs, and go over the most important Tisha B’Av vocabulary. 

Let’s get started.

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1. What is Tisha B’Av?

An Image of David’s Tower and the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

Tisha B’Av is a day of אבל (evel), or “grieving,” for Jews, and it serves as a time to commemorate the many tragedies that Israel has experienced. In particular, Jews mourn a collection of events that are often referred to as “the five calamities.” These events all took place on or around the date of Tisha B’Av, giving this day a negative reputation. Here’s an overview of each calamity:

1 – Moses’s Twelve Spies in Canaan

In the biblical book of Numbers, it’s said that Moses sent out twelve spies (or observers) to explore the land of Canaan, God’s “Promised Land” to Israel. 

However, ten of the twelve spies gave Moses only negative reports about the land and its people (whom the spies called Nephilim). These reports led to widespread fear among the Israelites and revealed the spies’ lack of faith in God’s promise. As a result, God made the Israelites wander in the wilderness for forty years.

Two of the spies gave Moses a positive report, and those two were the only ones allowed to enter the Promised Land after those forty years. 

2 – Destruction of the First Temple

The destruction of the first temple of Israel (which was built by King Solomon) occurred in either 587 BC or 586 BC, when King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon invaded Judah. This happened as a result of Judah’s then-vassal king turning his back on Babylon and backing the Pharaoh Hophra of Egypt instead. 

3 – Destruction of the Second Temple

The destruction of the second temple occurred in 70 CE at the hands of the Romans. This led to the people of Judea becoming scattered and marked the beginning of Israel’s גלות (galut), or “exile,” from the Holy Land. 

4 – Destruction of Betar

In 135 CE, the Romans destroyed the Jewish city of Betar following a strong revolt led by Bar Kokhba. This event resulted in the deaths of nearly 600,000 Jews. 

5 – Plowing of the Temple in Jerusalem

Not long after this massacre, a Roman commander named Turnus Rufus plowed over where the Temple of Jerusalem had once stood. 

While Tisha B’Av largely encompasses these five tragedies, this day is also a time to reflect on more recent ones, such as the First Crusade and the Holocaust. 

2. When is Tisha B’Av on the Gregorian Calendar?

The Jewish Month of Av

Each year, Tisha B’Av takes place on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av. For your convenience, we’ve listed below this holiday’s date on the Gregorian calendar for the next ten years.

  • 2020: July 30
  • 2021: July 18
  • 2022: August 7
  • 2023: July 27
  • 2024: August 13
  • 2025: August 3
  • 2026: July 23
  • 2027: August 12
  • 2028: August 1
  • 2029: July 22

Keep in mind that this holiday actually starts on the evening before the date listed.

3. Tisha B’Av Customs & Restrictions

A Woman Sitting in Front of an Empty Plate

There’s a three-week period leading up to Tisha B’Av, during which Jews may begin the mourning process. While mourning, Jews may fast from meat and neglect to shave. Those who don’t mourn during these three weeks will usually begin their mourning during the last nine days before Tisha B’Av. 

As mentioned earlier, Tisha B’Av is a time of grieving. On this day, practicing Jews are not to engage in any type of pleasurable activity. In addition, Torah reading for Tisha B’Av is limited to the מגילת איכה (Megilat Eicha), or “Book of Lamentations,” and other sad or grievous books. 

1 – Tisha B’Av Restrictions

There are חמישה איסורים (khamisha Isurim), or “five prohibitions,” that practicing Jews must adhere to on Tisha B’Av. These Tisha B’Av rules are:

  • Fasting for twenty-five hours (especially from meat and wine)
  • No showering 
  • No intimate relations
  • No leather shoes
  • No creams or oils 

Of course, there are limited exceptions to these rules. For example, if someone has a specific medical issue, they may consult a rabbi to permit them to eat as needed. 

2 – Other Customs & Activities

On Tisha B’Av, Kinot text readings and liturgies are given in the synagogues, and many Jews also read or listen to the Book of Lamentations. Both the Kinot and Lamentations mourn the destruction of Israel and the plight of Jews throughout history. 

Because this is a day of mourning, Jews tend to abstain from many day-to-day activities, especially those that are considered pleasurable. Examples include gift-giving and leaving the home for entertainment purposes. People are expected not to laugh or smile on this day, as Tisha B’Av is often labeled “the saddest day” on the Jewish calendar and a day on which bad things are likely to happen.

3 – End of Tisha B’Av

Tisha B’Av officially ends that night, though generally, Jews observe the rules and fasting until around noon of the following day. 

4. Menachem Begin’s Proposal

Former Prime Minister of Israel, Menachem Begin, once proposed that Tisha B’Av should become a holiday devoted to all of Israel’s tragedies. Under this proposal, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day, and Tisha B’Av would all be observed on this one day. 

His proposal was denied, however, probably as a means of preserving the significance of each remembrance day and the religious nature of Tisha B’Av.

5. Vocabulary for Talking About Tisha B’Av in Hebrew

The Book of Lamentations

Let’s review some of the Hebrew vocabulary words and phrases from this article!

EnglishHebrewRomanizationPart of Speech + Gender
JerusalemירושליםYerushalayimProper noun, feminine
Tisha B’Avתשעה באבTish-ah be-AvNoun, masculine
FastingצוםtsomNoun, masculine
AvאבAvNoun, masculine
Destruction of Jerusalem wallsנפילת חומות ירושליםNefilat khomot Yerushalayim
Burning of the Templeשריפת בית המקדשsrifat beit ha-mikdashFeminine
Book of Lamentationsמגילת איכהMegilat EichaNoun, feminine
GrievingאבלevelNoun, masculine
Between the gatesבין המצריםbein ha-metzarimMasculine
Cloth shoesנעלי בדna’alei badNoun, feminine
No intimate relationshipאיסור תשמיש המיטהisur tashmish ha-mitahNoun, masculine
No showerאיסור רחיצהisur rechitzahNoun, masculine
KinnotקינותKinotNoun, feminine
Five prohibitionsחמישה איסוריםkhamisha IsurimMasculine
ExileגלותGalutNoun, feminine

Remember that you can find each of these words with an audio recording of its pronunciation on our Tisha B’Av vocabulary list

Final Thoughts

The significance of Tisha B’Av in Jewish society can’t be overstated. It provides an opportunity to reflect on past wrongs, mourn accordingly, and look ahead to what the future may hold. 

What are your thoughts on Tisha B’Av? Is there a holiday of mourning or remembrance in your country? Let us know in the comments; we look forward to hearing your thoughts. 

If you want to learn more about Israel and Jewish culture, HebrewPod101.com has several free resources for you, straight from our blog:

Wherever you are in your Hebrew-learning journey, and whatever your reasons for wanting to learn, HebrewPod101 has you covered! Create your free lifetime account today and take advantage of our numerous audio and video lessons, themed vocabulary lists, spaced-repetition flashcards, and so much more.

We hope to see you around. Shalom!

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Rosh Hashanah: How to Celebrate the Jewish New Year

Rosh Hashanah, which is the Jewish New Year, is a time of new beginnings and fresh starts—very much like New Years around the world. On this day, Jews cast aside their wrongdoings from the previous year in hopes of becoming better the following year, and they wish each other a sweeter new year.

In this article, you’ll learn about the Rosh Hashanah meaning and history, and what traditional celebrations look like today. In learning about this significant religious and cultural holiday, you’ll gain much into Jewish culture. This, in turn, should fuel your desire to master the Hebrew language! On the other hand, if you’re looking for New Year’s vocabulary that would be more useful at a secular, December New Year’s Party, we’ve got something for you, too. Learn how to say all the seasonal words in Hebrew with our New Year’s vocabulary article!

At HebrewPod101.com, we hope to make every aspect of your language-learning journey both fun and informative!

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1. What is Rosh Hashanah?

Israel uses a Hebrew calendar alongside the Gregorian calendar which is used by most other countries. The Hebrew year begins on the first of Tishrei, and on that day people celebrate Rosh Hashanah—the holiday marking the beginning of the New Year. The Hebrew calendar is based on a combination of the cycles of the moon and the sun. Every year is more or less parallel to the sun cycle and contains twelve or thirteen months, each beginning in the birth of the moon and ending with the birth of the next moon.

The Jewish New Year is considered to be a Day of Judgement, or יום דין (yom din) in Hebrew. Additionally, Rosh Hashanah is considered to be the day on which God is crowned by the world. On this day, people are judged on what they did the previous year, and they predict what will happen in the coming year.

Happy New Year!
שתהיה לך שנה טובה!
she`tihiye lekha shanah tovah!

2. When is Rosh Hashanah?

Standing Up Calendar

Each year, Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah beginning on the first of the month Tishrei, and thus it varies each year on the Gregorian calendar. For your convenience, we’ve composed a list of this holiday’s start date for the next ten years on the Gregorian calendar.

  • 2019: September 29
  • 2020: September 18
  • 2021: September 6
  • 2022: September 25
  • 2023: September 15
  • 2024: October 2
  • 2025: September 22
  • 2026: September 11
  • 2027: October 1
  • 2028: September 20

3. How is Rosh Hashanah Celebrated?

On the day before Rosh Hashanah, it is customary to hold vow release rituals in which every person asks to be released of his or her vows in front of three people who act as a sort of court, holding the power to release a man from his promises.

The Shofar is the most significant and well-known custom associated with the Rosh Hashanah festival. The Shofar is made of ram’s horn, and it makes a sound that resembles crying as we blow it in-between the holiday prayers. This reminds of the true meaning and importance of Rosh Hashanah.

During the Rosh Hashanah evening, families meet together for a festive holiday meal. They consume special Rosh Hashanah foods, such as pomegranate seeds, cooked fish, dates, and desserts containing honey, or as it’s called in Hebrew, דבש (dvash). Family members will wish each other a better new year.

As Rosh Hashanah symbolizes new beginnings, the Tashlich custom is very popular. On the first day of the holiday, after lunch, we go to a seashore or river, recite special Rosh Hashanah prayers, and shake out our clothes and pockets to symbolically cast away the sins and wicked deeds we did last year, and to express our desire to be a better person the next year.

There’s a common Jewish saying: “He who sleeps on Rosh Hashanah, his luck sleeps too.” For this reason, some people don’t sleep on Rosh Hashanah.

4. Apples & Honey

Person Offering Forgiveness

Do you know why we eat apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah?

On Rosh Hashanah, we dip slices of apple in honey and offer each other Rosh Hashanah greetings that we shall be renewed with a good and sweet year. So we’re asking that the following year will be as good as the sweet taste of apples and honey.

5. Useful Vocabulary for Rosh Hashanah

Man in Deep Thought

Here’s some vocabulary you need to know for Rosh Hashana!

  • תפוח (tapu’ach) — apple
  • ראש השנה (Rosh Ha-shanna) — Jewish New Year
  • גפילטע פיש (gefilte-fish) — Gefilte fish
  • תפילה (tfilah) — prayer
  • מלכויות (Malkhuyot) — Malchuyot
  • דבש (dvash) — honey
  • שערי שמים (sha’arei shamayim) — gates of Heaven
  • סליחה (slikha) — forgiveness
  • תשליך (tashlikh) — cast away
  • ספר החיים (Sefer-Ha’khayim) — Book of Life
  • זכרונות (Zikhronot) — Zichronot
  • התחלת השנה (hatkhalat Ha’shanna) — the beginning of the year
  • שופר (Shofar) — shofar
  • חלה עגולה (khalla agula) — round challa
  • השתקפות (hishtakfut) — reflection
  • רימון (rimon) — pomegranate
  • שופרות (Shofarot) — Shofarot
  • זכרון (zikaron) — memory

To hear each of these Rosh Hashana vocabulary words pronounced, check out our relevant vocabulary list!

How HebrewPod101 Can Help You Learn About Jewish Culture

What do you think about the Jewish New Year and its traditions? How do you celebrate the new year in your country? Let us know in the comments! We always look forward to hearing from you.

To continue learning about Hebrew culture and the language, explore HebrewPod101.com. We provide an array of fun and effective learning tools for every learner, at every level:

  • Insightful blog posts on a range of cultural and language-related topics
  • Free vocabulary lists covering a variety of topics and themes
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  • Much, much more!

If you want to really get the most out of your language-learning journey, we suggest that you upgrade to Premium Plus. Doing so will give you access to your own Hebrew teacher who will help you develop a personalized learning plan based on your needs and goals. Yes, really!

Hebrew’s a beautiful language, but no easy feat to learn. Know that your effort and determination will pay off, and it will be well-worth it! HebrewPod101 will be here to help on each step of your journey to Hebrew mastery, with comprehensive lessons and constant support!

Happy Rosh Hashanah!

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Hebrew Body Language: The Top 32 Gestures You’ll Need

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Have you ever observed a couple of Israelis speaking? If you have, chances are that you’ve noticed how Israelis use not only their voice but also their hands, face, and entire body to communicate. Much as in other parts of the Mediterranean Basin (with Italians perhaps being the most famous example), Israel is a place where we speak with a high level of expressivity.

Because we Israelis are so highly expressive, mere words cannot capture all it is we wish to say. For that reason, we draw on the rest of our body to fine-tune our communication. There are many Hebrew hand gestures and body language signals we use to give added hints, embellishments, and emphasis. 

This may seem daunting at first. After all, some gestures will be completely foreign to the non-native while others may simply have a different meaning than they do in other places. 

But put your worries to rest! As always, HebrewPod101 is here to help.

In today’s lesson, we’re going to look at the top 32 gestures and bodily expressions you’re likely to encounter in Israel. We’ve broken these down into categories, including: 

  • greetings and farewells
  • gestures for everyday conversation
  • gestures used during travel
  • gestures from the religious world

Have fun with these. Try looking out for them the next time you watch an Israeli TV show or movie, or in real life as you observe conversations from a park bench or the corner of a café.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Hebrew Table of Contents
  1. Gestures Used to Greet and Take Leave
  2. Gestures Used in Everyday Conversation
  3. Gestures Used on the Road / During Travel
  4. Gestures from the Religious World
  5. Let HebrewPod101 Point You in the Right Direction

1. Gestures Used to Greet and Take Leave

Woman Extending Handshake

There’s no better place to start than with the basics. Let’s kick things off with a look at a few common Israeli gestures you may see used in greetings or farewells. 

If you’ve ever traveled, you’re likely to have noticed that there are myriad ways people greet one another from one culture to the next. That’s why it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the cultural norms of Israel in this regard. It will help you fit in while avoiding awkward moments—or even unintentional headbutts—due to poorly coordinated greetings.

  1. Handshake
    Handshake

    This one seems to be more or less universal. Israelis use it in more formal situations, rather than with friends or family.
  1. Handclap with a half-hug
    Male Israelis on familiar terms typically greet one another with an open handclap that involves the thumbs interlocking, followed by a half-hug (i.e. one arm wrapping around the other person’s back).
  1. Slap on the back
    Another, simpler way of greeting, also typically between men, is to simply clap someone on the back, either from the side or head-on by passing the arm over and behind the other person’s shoulder.
  1. Kisses on the cheek
    Man and Woman Greeting with Kisses on Cheek

    This one is more common between men and women or between two women, but some men also greet other men this way. Israelis seem to be more comfortable with their physicality—and perhaps their sexuality—than Westerners, so it’s not uncommon for men to kiss one another on the cheek. Note that the number of times one kisses varies, but the most common variant is once per cheek. You might also see twice per cheek (alternating back and forth) or a triple kiss (also alternating back and forth).

*Note that Orthodox Jews are forbidden from touching members of the opposite sex, apart from their spouses, parents, and children. For this reason, you may find yourself in a situation where no physical contact is involved when greeting someone or taking your leave. See more here.

2. Gestures Used in Everyday Conversation

The following nonverbal Israeli communication cues are the ones you’re most likely to encounter in day-to-day situations such as meeting a friend, negotiating a purchase, or asking for directions or advice. Where possible, we’ve included visual media along with a description of the gesture and its meaning to help you identify and reproduce it. Let’s plunge right in! 

  1. Raised palm with fingers gathered together into a point
    This gesture, almost ubiquitous in Israel, means “wait” or “just a moment.” While it’s considered an offensive gesture in other cultures, it’s perfectly acceptable in Israel—so don’t be taken aback when an elderly shopkeeper shoves her fingers in your face!
  1. An extended finger pointing at nothing in particular
    This one is used in Israel to show that you’re trying to teach someone something. Politicians, unsurprisingly, use it quite often.
    Finger Pointing Up
  1. Index finger touching the face beneath the eye
    This one is a way of saying, “Are you kidding me?” or “I don’t believe you.” In other words, it expresses incredulity over what the other person has just said.
  1. Creating a circle with the thumb and index finger, with the other fingers extended
    This indicates approval, satisfaction, or simply that something is great. Note that the gesture is often made with the extended fingers hanging downward, whereas in most Western countries, these fingers would be held up.
    OK Sign
  1. Beckoning with both palms up
    This gesture, one of politicians’ go-to moves, is a way of inviting the other person to meet you halfway, collaborate, etc.
    Ruben Rivlin Making Gesture Asking for Collaboration

    (Photo: Reuters / Ronen Zvulun)
  1. Shrugging with arms extending forward at the elbow, palms up
    This iconic Israeli gesture, slightly different from a typical American shrug, can mean anything from “duh” to “no idea” to “What can you do?” Note that Israelis also “shrug” with their lips by pulling the corners down sharply. You can even combine these two gestures for an extra-emphatic shrug!
  1. Two thumbs up
    This one isn’t uniquely Israeli, but it is one we use quite often. As in most places in the world, this is a way of showing approval, joy, or pride.
    Woman Giving Two Thumbs Up
  1. Pointing an index finger directly at someone and moving it in a back and forth motion
    While this might seem to have some sort of offensive connotation, in Israel, it’s just a way to say “good job,” “you did it,” etc.
    Closeup of Pointing Finger
  1. Making a V shape with the index and middle fingers
    Made famous by Winston Churchill, this is the international sign for victory. It’s common to see it used by soldiers.
    Closeup of Victory Sign
  1. Pressing palms flat together and inclining them forward toward someone
    Sometimes referred to as the Namaste gesture, this one is also fairly universal and simply means “thanks.”
    Closeup of Thank Yougesture
  1. Moving an open palm toward another person’s chest
    This one, which may be unfamiliar to many non-natives, is a way of saying either “good luck” or “congratulations” in Israel. It comes from the khamsah good luck symbol.
    Woman with Palm Forward
  1. Up-turned palm moving back and forth in a slightly swaying motion on the vertical axis
    A prime example of uniquely Israeli hand gestures, this one can be used either to ask a question or to answer one. In the former case, it would be equivalent to asking how someone or something is getting along or asking if everything is okay. As an answer, it means “so-so.”
    So-so Gesture
  1. Fingers and thumb pressed together near the lips, moving in a circle
    This one is pretty straightforward. It essentially represents sealing one’s lips to keep a secret.
    Man Sealing Lips
  1. Air quotes
    This one is fairly universal, as well. Air quotes in Israel typically suggest dubiousness or even sarcasm.
    Air Quotes

    (Picture by ‘Dronthego’ under CC BY-SA 4.0)
  1. Both index fingers extended up and touching each other
    In Israel, this one is used to indicate a close relationship or friendship, something akin to “thick as thieves” or “birds of a feather flock together.”
    Index Fingers Touching
  1. Hand hanging down with fingers upward, as if holding something, as fingers are waved up and down
    This somewhat sapian-looking gesture is used to express surprise, disbelief, shock, etc.
    Illustration of Gesture with Arrow to Indicate Movement

3. Gestures Used on the Road / During Travel

Israelis are known for using a distinct set of gestures on the road. This makes sense, considering that you may be able to see another driver or pedestrian but not hear them—in this context, gestures enable communication where words might not. That, and the fact that we just like using our hands! Here are the essential hand gestures you need for traveling in Israel.

  1. Pointing an index finger down the road
    Taxis

    Another interesting variant between cultures is how one hails a bus, taxi, or other transport vehicle. In Israel, it’s customary to point down the road in the direction of traffic to indicate that you wish for the vehicle to pick you up.
  1. Thumb extended upward
    This one should be nothing new to most people. As in the U.S. and elsewhere, a thumb extended upward and held out toward the road is a common way to signal to vehicles that you’re looking to hitch a ride. Be sure that you’re hitchhiking in a safe area!
  1. Palm down and fingers moving up in unison
    Though not a common thing for Israelis to do, this gesture is used to signal to another vehicle to advance. The fingers sort of flick forward in this one, as if brushing away a fly.
  1. Palm extended forward, facing upward
    Pedestrians

    This gesture is similar to the previous one, but is used to signal for a pedestrian to cross in front of a vehicle.

4. Gestures from the Religious World

Boy with Torah

Finally, let’s have a look at the rich contribution the religious world has made to Hebrew’s nonverbal lexicon. Obviously, some of these will only be relevant to religious people, though others have snuck in as crossover entries into the general repertoire of modern Israeli expression.

A- At the synagogue

Synagogue Interior
  1. Taking three steps backward, then three steps forward
    This movement is used during devotional services to initiate the silent prayer known as the עמידה (‘Amidah), which literally means “standing.” It represents that one is creating and delineating a sacred space.
  1. Breast-beating
    This one, also used in Catholic prayer, symbolizes an air of repentance for past transgressions. Breast-beating typically happens during silent prayer and is particularly prominent on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
  1. Raising a finger and pointing to the Torah
    This gesture represents recognition of the Torah as the source of Jewish law and morality. Depending on local customs, the pinky or index finger or the fringe of a tallit is used. It’s part of the Torah reading service and something you’ll observe the entire congregation doing when the Torah is returned to the ark in which it is housed. See the YouTube clip below for an example.
  1. Spock hand gesture
    While some people may recognize this gesture as the Star Trek Vulcan salutation popularized by the character Spock, actor Leonard Nemoy actually pilfered this one from his memories of attending synagogue as a youth. In synagogue, during ברכת כהנים (Brikat Cohanim), or “the Priests’ Blessing,” the priests bless the congregation by splitting the fingers of each hand between the middle and ring fingers, pressing the thumbs and fingers of both hands together, and outstretching them over the congregation. A representation of this gesture can often be found on graves of Cohanim.
    Spock hand Gesture
  1. Shuckling
    This word, from Yiddish rather than Hebrew, is used to describe a motion where people sway back and forth to intensify focus on prayers or study. You can see some examples in the video below.

B- At home

Judaica
  1. Making a breaststroke movement three times, then covering the eyes
    This is performed when lighting the ceremonial candles for Shabbat or holidays. You can see what it looks like in the video below.
  1. Placing both hands on a child’s head
    This is another gesture that goes along with Shabbat. Specifically, it’s used when giving children the traditional Sabbath blessing after lighting the candles.
    Father Blessing Daughter
  1. Dipping a thumb down and then up
    To end on a somewhat more humorous note, this gesture comes from the study halls, where issues of הלכה (Halakhah), or Jewish law, have always been hotly debated with much gusto. The gesture is a way of making a point in an argument.

5. Let HebrewPod101 Point You in the Right Direction

We hope you found today’s lesson on body language in Israel a fun change of pace. As you can see, Hebrew is much more than just a language; it’s an entire culture, replete with its own nonverbal communication. While most Hebrew study programs focus solely on grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation, we at HebrewPod101 go the extra mile and offer you plenty of supplementary lessons covering all aspects of Israeli and Jewish culture.

It goes without saying that part of the pleasure of learning a new language is seeing how it operates in context. Observing a single conversation between Israelis will quickly convince you that nonverbal communication is perhaps even more important in Hebrew than in some other languages. It’s certainly an integral part of how we communicate, so it’s a great idea to add some of these gestures to your repertoire.

Have you seen Israelis making any gestures you couldn’t figure out? Are you wondering if Israelis have a particular gesture for a specific idea, emotion, or situation that we didn’t cover? We’d love to hear any questions or comments you may have. Your feedback helps us to continually improve our lessons and make sure you get all the help and support you need as you study the Hebrew language.

Until next time, shalom!

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A Compact Hebrew Slang Dictionary for Texting and the Web

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It goes without saying that more and more of our lives are lived in the virtual sphere with each passing year. This is true throughout the developed world, and Israel is no exception. While it would be difficult to gauge exact numbers, there is no doubt that Israelis are communicating more via texts and chats than ever before. And, as is the case wherever people communicate via digital means, new Hebrew internet slang words have emerged. They’re characterized by the adaptation of words and expressions (both Hebrew and foreign) for use on the internet and social media, as well as by a penchant for brevity and immediacy to keep up with the pace of instant messages.

Even before the internet age, Hebrew was, in fact, already full of pithy, precision-aimed words and phrases fashioned for ease of utterance and immediacy. This is partly due to the fact that, Hebrew being an abjad, it’s easy to create acronyms and abbreviations by compounding consonants and playing with vowels to form new words. Moreover, with service in the IDF compulsory for all citizens, male and female, military lingo is also quite prevalent in the daily speech of most Israelis. Indeed, the IDF is a veritable factory churning out slang, usually in the form of abbreviated words and phrases to make communication more brief and efficient—crucial in military settings. However, the same features are clearly appealing to Israel’s fast-paced civilian population, which seems to run on a mixture of high-strength caffeine and pure gumption.

Various Slang Words and Phrases

Notwithstanding the influence of military slang on the shortening and condensing of Hebrew words and phrases, there is no doubt that the internet age has given rise to a whole new jargon that seems designed to update itself constantly. This comes much to the chagrin of parents, who often have no idea what their kids are talking about, and it poses a similar challenge to Hebrew language learners. Many students struggle to keep up with the barrage of slang streaming from the mouths and devices of young Israelis—slang that is nowhere to be found in any textbook.

Obviously, if you plan on spending any time in Israel or communicating with Israelis, it’s crucial to have at least some familiarity with internet, text, and social media slang, even if you don’t end up speaking pure code like a Hebrew millennial. 

And as always, HebrewPod101 has got you covered! To this end, we’ve compiled the top 30 Hebrew internet slang words and phrases. While some will seem totally foreign to you, rest assured that quite a few, derived as they are from English, should be wholly familiar to you. Let’s jump right in!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Hebrew Table of Contents
  1. Slang Related to the Internet / Social Media
  2. Slang Verbs Related to the Internet
  3. Slang for Using or Describing the Internet / Social Media
  4. Slang Abbreviations / Acronyms for Using or Describing the Internet
  5. Internet / Social Media Slang from English
  6. Head Spinning at All the Hebrew Slang? Let HebrewPod101 Screw it Back on Straight for You!

1. Slang Related to the Internet / Social Media

Like Icon

These first few Hebrew slang terms shouldn’t be too daunting, considering that most of them are similar in pronunciation to their English counterparts. Take a look. 

1. אינסטה
Instah
“Insta” (as in Instagram)

This one is pretty straightforward. Just as Instagram has merited a shortened form of its name in English, Israelis, too, sometimes refer to it by this abbreviation. Here’s an example sentence to illustrate:

  • ראית את מה שרותי העלתה לאינסטה שלה?
    Ra’it et mah she-Ruti he’eltah la-Instah shelah?
    “Did you see what Ruti put on her Insta?”

2. ווצאפ
Whatzap
Whatsapp

The difference between the normal form (וואטסאפ, Whatsap) of this ubiquitous instant messaging app and this shortened form may be slight, but hey, every nanosecond counts! You’ll notice that the only change is the substitution of the letters ט (tet) and ס (samekh) with the single letter צ (tzadi). Here’s an example of how it might be used in a sentence:

  • אני תכף מתקשר אליך בחזרה בווצאפ.
    Ani tekhef mitkasher eilekha be-khazarah be-Whatzap.
    “I’ll call you right back on Whatsapp.”

3. פייס
Feys
“Face” (as in Facebook)

Here’s yet another abbreviated form of a popular social media platform, which Israelis definitely love using just as much as the rest of the world.

  • ראיתי בפייס שהתחתנת. מזל טוב!
    Ra’iti ba-Fays she-hitkhatanta. Mazal tov!
    “I saw on Face that you got married. Congratulations!”

4. פיפל
pipel
“people” (in an online community)

This one might seem totally foreign upon first inspection, but if you look a bit more closely and factor in the way most Israelis pronounce English vowels, you’ll see that this is simply the English word “people” pronounced as if it were a Hebrew word. This loanword is used in a way that linguists call “narrowing,” which is where a word with a broad definition gets used to express something more specific. In this case, Israelis use the word to describe people who form an online community of some kind, such as members of a Facebook group or a forum.

  • שלום לכם, פיפל. כולכם מוזמנים לאירוע שלנו בשבוע הבא. לחצו כאן לפרטים.
    Shalom lakhem, pipel. Kulkhem muzmanim la-eyru’a shelanu ba-shavu’a haba. Lakhatzu kan li-fratim.
    “Hi there, people. You’re all invited to our event next week. Click here for details.”

5. טוקבק
tokbek
“user comments section/user comment”

This is another example of a seemingly unfamiliar word that’s really just English filtered through Israeli pronunciation. Tokbek actually comes from “talkback,” originating with early (relative to the age of the internet) online forums where users were invited to post feedback. In Israel, this word is used to refer to either the comments section or a specific comment on a webpage, social media account, or online group.

  • קראתי היום טוקבק שלפיו ראש הממשלה לא ישרוד עוד שנה עם כל האישומים נגדו.
    Karati ha-yom tokbek she-le-fiv rosh ha-memshalah lo yisrod ‘od shanah ‘im kol ha-ha’eeshumim negdo.
    “I read a user comment that says the prime minister won’t make it through another year with all the charges against him.”

2. Slang Verbs Related to the Internet

Graphic Depicting the Internet

Now let’s have a look at some verbs related to the internet. Remember that verbs are words that express actions or states. Hebrew is unique in that it almost seems to invite the formation of new verbs created from existing nouns, or even abbreviations and acronyms. This is thanks to its being an abjad, as well as to the fact that different verb forms (binyanim) inherently express a given sort of function or relationship. For instance, התפעל (hitpa’el) always expresses the reflexive, where a verb is acting on its own agent.

Here are the top Hebrew verbs you’ll need to navigate the Net. For a refresher on verb conjugation, check out this article.

6. לאנפרנד
le’anfrend
“to unfriend”

This one is another loanword from English. Interestingly, despite its flexibility in many other areas, Hebrew has no inherent system for creating a negative form of a word. This may be why Israelis have opted to simply adopt this English word instead of forming a proper Hebrew word for the act of ending an online relationship.

  • נמאס לי מכל השטויות שניר מפרסם בפייס! אני הולך לאנפרנד אותו אם הוא לא מפסיק לקשקש לי שם.
    Nimas li me-kol ha-shetuyot she-Nir mefarsem ba-Fays. Ani holekh le’anfrend oto im hu lo mafsik lekashkesh li sham.
    “I’m sick of all the stupid stuff Nir posts on Facebook. I’m going to unfriend him if he doesn’t stop with the nonsense there.”

7. להטריל
lehatril
to troll

Again, this one comes straight from English, although you can see from the vowels how the word was adapted to the הפעיל (hif’il) verb form. This form generally expresses a transitive action, as in one done by an agent to an object.

  • איזה מעצבן! אין לי מושג מי זה, אבל מישהו ממשיך להטריל אותי בטוויטר.
    Eyzeh me’atzben! Eyn li musag mi zeh, aval mishehu mamshikh lehatril oti be-Tviter.
    “This is so annoying! I have no idea who he is, but someone keeps trolling me on Twitter.”

8. ללייקק
lelaykek
“to like”

Not to be confused with the verb ללקק (lelakek), which means “to lick,” this is yet another loanword from English. It’s another example of narrowing, as it’s used in Hebrew only to refer to “liking” in terms of clicking “Like,” rather than general enjoyment or appreciation of something or someone.

  • ראית כמה אנשים לייקקו את התמונות שהעלית באינסטה שלך?
    Ra’it kamah anashim liykeku et ha-temunot she-he’elayt ba-Instah shelakh?
    “Did you see how many people liked the pictures you posted to your Insta?”

9. לגגל
legagel
“to Google”

Just as in English, the popularity of the search engine Google is such that it merits its very own verb. Don’t get this word confused with לגלגל (legalgel), though, which means to turn or spin something/someone around.

  • -מה היא עיר הבירה של סלובניה? -אין לי מושג. אני אגגל את זה.
    -Mah hi ‘ir ha-birah shel Sloveniyah? -Eyn li musag. Ani agagel et zeh.
    -“What’s the capital of Slovenia?” -“I have no idea. I’ll Google it.”

10. לאמ;לק
le’amlek
“to shorten/summarize (an online text)”

It takes a bit of analysis to get to the bottom of this one. The verb we see here originates from the acronym אמ;לק (AM;LK), which is once again from English, though this one has been properly translated. The English inspiration is the acronym TL;DR, which stands for “too long; didn’t read.” In similar fashion, the Hebrew אמ;לק stands for ארוך מדי;לא קראתי (arokh miday; lo karati), meaning “too long; didn’t read.” This verb is derived from the same, and it means to render something more easily readable by shortening or summarizing it.

  • למי שלא היה לו זמן לקרוא את המאמר המלא, אמ;לקתי אותו.
    Le-mi she-lo hayah lo zman likro et ha-ma’amar ha-male, im;lakti oto.
    “For anyone who didn’t have time to read the full article, I’ve summarized it.”

3. Slang for Using or Describing the Internet / Social Media

Hebrew Text slang

This category is somewhat of a mixed bag, but these are all popular Hebrew slang words or phrases that are used to describe either the internet or social media, or ones that are generally only used in that context. Note that the first three words have different meanings when used in other contexts, while the latter three are specific to netspeak.

11. צהוב
tzahov
“juicy” (lit.: “yellow”)

While this word simply means “yellow,” it’s used online to describe particularly juicy gossip. Most likely, this usage originates from the term “yellow journalism.” Indeed, tabloids (which generally print yellow journalism) are known in Hebrew as צהובונים (tzehubonim).

  • וואו, זה עדכון די צהוב. חשבתי שהוא נשוי…
    Wow. Zeh ‘idkun dey tzahov. Khashavti she-hu nasuy…
    “Wow. That’s a pretty juicy update. I thought he was married…”

12. שיימינג
sheyming
“shamed”

While this one can obviously have a different connotation in other contexts, when used online, this typically refers to the practice of shaming someone on social media via original posts referencing or tagging someone or through tokbekim (see above).

  • ראיתם שהיא פרסמה את ההודעה הקריפית שלו? איזה שיימינג!
    Ra’item she-hi pirsema et ha-hoda’ah ha-kripit shelo? Eyzeh sheyming!
    “Did you see that she published his creepy message? He’s totally shamed!”

13. טירוף
madness
“craziness” (lit.: “madness”)

This word, used as an intensifier, could be considered to have entered the mainstream of Hebrew speech (at least among younger generations), but it’s certainly used frequently online.

  • שמעת את השיר החדש של דודו טסה עם האמן האמירתי ההוא? פשוט טירוף!
    Shama’t et ha-shir ha-khadash shel Dudu Tasah ‘im ha-oman ha-emirati ha-hu? Pashut teruf!
    “Have you heard Dudu Tassa’s new song with that artist from the UAE? It’s simply madness!”

14.חחח
kh…
*indicates laughing (c.f. “LOL”)

This one is pretty straightforward. Just as LOL is used to indicate that you’ve found something humorous, Hebrew uses the letter ח (khet) repeated—usually three times, but sometimes more—to indicate laughter online.

  • חחח… איזה קליפ אדיר!
    Kh… Eyzeh klip adir!
    “LOL… What a great clip!”

15. מואה
mu’ah
“mwah” (*sound of a kiss)

Similar to the word above, this is simply the sound of a kiss written out.

  • כמה שאני אוהבת אתכם, חמודים! מואה!
    Kamah she-ani ohevet etkhem, khamudim! Mu’ah!
    “I love you guys so much, cuties! Mwah!”

16. פחח
pkh…
*indicates ridicule (c.f. “haha”)

This is another attempt to render in text what we would normally express vocally in a face-to-face or phone conversation. Obviously, the sounds that go with different emotions vary from language to language, so just roll with it!

  • פחח, איזה עלוב המורה שלנו.
    Pkh, eyzeh aluv ha-moreh shelanu.
    Haha, how lame is our teacher.”

4. Slang Abbreviations / Acronyms for Using or Describing the Internet

URL

Though we’ve already seen some abbreviations and acronyms, this category is exclusive to these. While we’ve provided pronunciation for these, note that they are generally reserved for written communications and are therefore not spoken out loud. Also note that while acronyms in Hebrew tend to feature a double apostrophe between the penultimate and ultimate letters, these are often omitted in online settings—once again, in the interests of expediency. 

All that said, here’s some common internet slang in Hebrew in the form of abbreviations and acronyms. 

17. בלת”ק = בלי לקרוא תגובות קודמות
BALTAK = beli likro teguvot kodmot
“without having read previous posts”

  • בלת”ק, נראה לי שמי שפרסם את זה לא יודע בכלל על מה הוא מדבר.
    BALTAK, nireh li she-mi she-pirsem et zeh lo yode’a bikhlal ‘al mah hu medaber.
    Without having read previous posts, it seems to me that the person who posted this doesn’t even know what he’s talking about.”

18. אמ;לק = ארוך מדי; לא קראתי
AMLEK = arokh miday; lo karati
“too long; didn’t read”

We saw the verb form of this previously. As we mentioned, this is the Hebrew equivalent of English’s TL;DR.

  • אמ;לק אבל נראה לי מעניין.
    AMLEK aval nireh li me’anyen.
    TL;DR but looks interesting.”

19. חיב”ס = חי בסרט
KHAYBS= khay/ah be-seret
“lives in a movie” (i.e. “dreaming”)

The phrase חי בסרט (khay be-seret) is used quite commonly in Hebrew to refer to someone who is dreaming, as if imagining life as a movie. This acronym, which carries the same meaning, is used strictly in posts and texts.

  • היא באמת חושבת שיש לה סיכוי איתו? היא פשוט חיה בסרט.
    Hi be-emet khoshevet she-yesh lah sikuy ito? Hi pashut khaya be-seret.
    “Does she really think she stands a chance with him? She’s just dreaming.”

20. משו
mashu
*short form of משהו (mashehu) – “something”

There isn’t much to say about this one except that young people in Israel must really be in a rush if they deem the omission of one letter to be a worthy gain in terms of time or effort. But, as we’ve seen, they certainly do!

  • תן לי להגיד לך משו: אתה חי בסרט.
    Ten li lehagid lekha mashu: atah khay be-seret.
    “Let me tell you something: you’re dreaming.”

21. חש = חושב את עצמו/חושבת את עצמה
KHASH = khoshev et ‘atzmo/khoshevet et ‘atzmah
“think he/she is”

This particular phrasing never has anything but a negative connotation, as we’re implying that a person believes him/herself to be something he/she is not.

  • מה היא חש? מלכת הפייס?
    Mah hi KHASHA? Malkat ha-Fays?
    “Who does she think she is? The queen of Face?”

5. Internet / Social Media Slang from English

Text Bubble with American Flag

We’ve already seen quite a number of loans from English, but this last category should contain words and phrases that you can easily recognize from their resemblance to (if not their mirroring of) their English counterparts.

22. גאד, אומייגאד
gad, omaygad
*from “oh my God/OMG”

It’s funny that Hebrew culture forbids taking the Lord’s name in vain, but apparently not if you do so in English! This one should be simple enough to identify.

  • אומייגאד! איזה מכוער יצאתי בתמונה הזאת!
    Omaygad! Eyzeh mekho’ar yatzati ba-temunah ha-zot!
    OMG! How ugly I came out in this picture!”

23. וונאבי
wanabi
*from “wannabe”

No, this is not the name of some ancient ruin site. Rather, it’s just the same slang word we know from English rendered in Hebrew!

  • איזה וונאבי אלכס! הוא בכלל לא יודע מה זה מטאל.
    Eyzeh wanabi Aleks! Hu bikhlal lo yode’a mah zeh metal.
    “What a wannabe Alex is. He doesn’t even know what metal is!”

24. יאפ
yap
*from “yup”

This one shouldn’t be too hard to work out, though as we’ve seen, Israelis’ approximation of English vowels might throw you off the first time you hear this uttered.

  • -בא לך לראות סרט אצלי הערב? –יאפ. אני אביא את השתייה.
    -Ba lakh lirot seret etzli ha-’erev? –Yap. Ani avi et ha-shtiyah.
    -“Feel like a movie at my place tonight?” -“Yup. I’ll bring drinks.”

25. יולו
YOLO
*from “YOLO (you only live once)”

  • -אז מה אתה אומר? צניחה חופשית בסופ”ש? -יאפ, יולו.
    -Az mah atah omer? Tznikhah khofshit ba-sofa”sh? -Yap, YOLO.
    -“So, what do you say? Skydiving this weekend?” -“Yup, YOLO.”

26. לאב
lav
*from “love”

Obviously, Hebrew has its own word for love, אהבה (ahavah), but saying it in English is just so much cooler. Or, as we say in Hebrew, יותר קול (yoter kul).

  • לאב! התמונה הכי יפה שלך שראיתי אי פעם.
    Lav! Ha-temunah ha-khi yafah shelkha she-ra’iti ey pa’am.
    Love! The best picture I’ve ever seen of you.”

27. לול
LOL
“LOL”

As we saw previously, Hebrew has its own equivalent of this, but sometimes we just go ahead and use the original English version, Hebraicized, just for the heck of it.

  • לול! רואים שבאמת עשיתם בלגן במסיבה.
    LOL! Ro’im she-be-emet ‘asitem balagan ba-mesibah.
    LOL! You can see that you guys really made a mess at the party.”

28. נופ
nop
“nope”

Another pretty obvious one. You’d think Hebrew’s own word for no, לא (lo), would be short enough, but once again, it seems it’s just more stylish to use English slang.

  • -כבר התרשמת לסמסטר הבא? -נופ, אבל אני אעשה את זה מחר.
    -Kvar hitrashamt la-semester ha-ba? –Nop, aval ani a’aseh et zeh makhar.
    -“Have you already signed up for next semester?” -“Nope, but I’m going to do it tomorrow.”

29. סוואג
sweg
“swag”

This word originates from the English verb “swagger,” but, as in English, the netspeak word “swag” refers to someone or something supremely cool.

  • אפילו אם הם מהאסכולה הישנה, הביסטי בויז הם עדיין הכי סוואג שיש.
    Afilu im hem me-ha-escolah ha-yeshanah, ha-Bisti Boyz hem ‘adayin ha-khi sweg she-yesh.
    “Even if they’re old-school, the Beastie Boys are still as swag as it gets.”

30. קיי
key
“‘kay” (shortened form of “okay”)

Last but not least, Israelis have adopted this monosyllabic version of English’s “okay” as an alternative to the unquestionably more syllabic בסדר (be-seder) that’s generally used to express the same sentiment.

  • -מה אתה אומר? יוצאים לבירה במקום הרגיל? -קיי, אני כבר יוצא לשם.
    -Mah atah omer? Yotzim le-birah ba-makom ha-ragil? –Key, ani kvar yotze le-sham.
    -“What do you say? Should we go out for a beer at the usual place?” -” ‘Kay, I’m heading there now.”

6. Head Spinning at All the Hebrew Slang? Let HebrewPod101 Screw it Back on Straight for You!

As you can see, Hebrew—like most languages these days—is inundated by slang, particularly slang related to the internet, social media, and texting/instant messaging. These are words and phrases you’d be hard-pressed to find in conventional dictionaries, so your best bet will always be to consult a native speaker for clarity on meaning, usage, and pronunciation. That’s exactly why all of our teachers at HebrewPod101 are native speakers, in addition to being professional educators.

We’re committed to teaching you not only “correct” textbook Hebrew, but also Hebrew as it’s spoken by native speakers. This includes a lot of slang, both from netspeak and from the military (among others), so there’s a lot to wrap your head around. But there’s absolutely no need to do it alone! Check out our numerous resources categorized by skill and topic, and you’ll see an abundance of lessons on slang of all types.

We hope you’ve found today’s lesson useful, but we know that there’s simply an endless stream of slang cropping up seemingly by the minute. So let us know if you’ve run into a slang word or phrase in Hebrew that you can’t figure out that we haven’t covered here. We’re always delighted to hear from our students, so don’t hesitate to reach out!

Until next time, shalom!

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The Top 10 Untranslatable Hebrew Words

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One of the wonderful things about studying a foreign language is that it’s not merely a matter of translating what you know from your mother tongue directly into the new language. This is especially true when the language you’re learning is linguistically unrelated to the one you already know. In the case of Hebrew and English, aside from a number of loanwords—a few words that entered English from Hebrew via the Old Testament and quite a number of English words adopted by Hebrew speakers in modernity—there’s little common ground between the two. As you’ll see, untranslatable Hebrew words are one area where you’ll notice these distinctions. 

One thing that seems universal, even in the case of languages that do pertain to the same language family, is that each language is highly unique. After all, as linguistic creatures, we humans not only use language to give expression to our thoughts; it would seem that particular languages give rise to particular ways of thinking. If this were not true, why would languages borrow loanwords from one another? Clearly, in such cases, speakers of one language recognize that speakers of another have landed upon a nuanced idea or form of expression with no parallel in their native tongue. This is simply because some things are, as the expression goes, lost in translation.

But rather than viewing this as an obstacle to acquiring a foreign language, why not celebrate the unique identity of each individual language and its special way of expressing the world around us? Today’s lesson will examine the top 10 Hebrew words with no English equivalent. We’ll show you how to pronounce them, explain what they mean, and discuss when they should be used.

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Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Hebrew Table of Contents
  1. חבל על הזמן
  2. לפרגן
  3. דווקא
  4. לחיות בסרט / לאכול סרטים
  5. לחפור
  6. יש/אין מצב
  7. לעשות חיים
  8. על הפנים
  9. להתחדש
  10. חוצפה
  11. Let HebrewPod101 Help Translate the Untranslatable

1. חבל על הזמן

Clock
עבריתחבל על הזמן
Transliterationkhaval ‘al ha-zman
Part of speechadjectival phrase
Meaning“the time is a shame” / “a shame for the time”
UsageThis phrase is used as a superlative to describe something so good, bad, crazy, etc., that it would be a shame to waste time elaborating or going into detail about how good, bad, crazy, etc. it is or was.
Sample sentenceהיין הזה כל כך טעים, חבל על הזמן.
Ha-yayin ha-zeh kol kakh ta’im, khaval ‘al ha-zman.
“This wine is so good, I’m speechless.”

2. לפרגן

People Cheering
עבריתלפרגן
Transliterationlefargen
Part of speechverb
Meaning“to delight in/congratulate/celebrate another’s success, achievements, etc.”
UsageThis one is approximately the opposite of Schadenfreude, the English loanword from German meaning to take delight in the suffering or setbacks of one’s enemy. This Hebrew verb refers to a state in which one enjoys and delights in another’s successes.
Sample sentenceלמה אתה לא יכול לפרגן לי על ההעלאה במקום לקנא?
Lamah atah lo yakhol lefargen li ‘al ha-ha’ala’ah bimkom lekane?
“Why can’t you be happy for me over the promotion instead of being jealous?”

3. דווקא

עבריתדווקא
Transliterationdavka
Part of speechadverb
Meaning“specifically” / “intentionally” / “of all things”
UsageDepending on the context, this adverb can be used to emphasize something in contrast to something else, to denote something that is not necessarily expected, or even to specify something done out of spite.
Sample sentenceאת באמת עושה מסיבה מול הבית שלי דווקא ביום שאני מתחיל לשבת שבעה על אבא שלי?
At ba-emet osah mesibah mul ha-bayit sheli davka ba-yom she-ani matkhil lashevet shiv’ah ‘al abba sheli?
“Are you really going to host a party opposite my house on the day I started to mourn my father’s death, of all days?”

4. לחיות בסרט / לאכול סרטים

Projector in Theater
עבריתלחיות בסרט / לאכול סרטים
Transliterationlikhyot be-seret / le’ekhol sratim
Part of speechphrasal verb
Meaning“to live in the movies” / “to eat movies”
UsageBoth variations have roughly the same meaning, somewhat akin to having one’s head in the clouds, being in La-La Land, etc.
Sample sentenceאם אתם חושבים שאני אשלם כפול בגלל שהגעתם שניכם לעבודה לבנאדם אחד, אתם אוכלים סרטים.
Im atem khoshvim she-ani ashalem kaful biglal she-higa’tem shneikhem le-’avodah le-benadam ekhad, atem okhlim sratim.“If you think that I’m going to pay double because two of you showed up to a job for one person, you must be dreaming.”

5. לחפור

Bulldozer
עבריתלחפור
Transliterationlakfor
Part of speechverb
Meaning“to dig” / “to excavate”
UsageThough literally meaning “to dig,” this verb is used figuratively to refer to a situation in which someone talks excessively, overwhelms someone else, or drives someone else crazy with an abundance and/or intensity of information, requests, criticisms, etc. It’s similar to “driving someone crazy” in English.
Sample sentenceהבנתי כבר שאתה רוצה לאכול! אני כבר מזמין פיצה. די לחפור!
Hevanti kvar she-atah rotzeh le’ekhol! Ani kvar mazmin pitzah. Dai lakfor!
“I got it: You want to eat! I’m already ordering a pizza right now. Stop driving me crazy!”

6. יש/אין מצב

עבריתיש/אין מצב
Transliterationyesh/en matzav
Part of speechsubject-predicate
Meaning“a situation exists” / “a situation does not exist”
UsageThough roughly equivalent to “there’s a chance” or “there’s no chance,” this phrase is used much more commonly in Hebrew than its English parallels. The affirmative form is a noncommittal way of expressing possibility, while the negative form can be used to express incredulity.
Sample sentence-את באה ליום הסטודנט? -יש מצב.
-At ba’ah le-Yom ha-Studen? 
Yesh matzav.
“Are you coming to Students’ Day?” 
-“Could be.”

אין מצב! מישהו שרט לי את האוטו.
En matzav! Mishehu sarat li et ha-oto.
No way! Someone scratched my car.”

7. לעשות חיים

Happy Girl Playing with Leaves
עבריתלעשות חיים
Transliterationla’asot khayim
Part of speechphrasal verb
Meaning“to make a life”
UsageWhile this phrase is also used to express getting by or making a living, it’s more commonly used to wish someone a good time, especially when used in the imperative form.
Sample sentenceאיזה כיף לכם שאתם טסים לפריז. תעשו חיים שם!
Eizeh kef lakhem she-atem tasim le-Pariz. Ta’asu khayim sham!
“How fun that you’re flying to Paris. Have fun there!”

8. על הפנים

Woman with Letter Making Upset Face
עבריתעל הפנים
Transliteration‘al ha-panim
Part of speechadjectival/adverbial phrase
Meaning“on the face”
UsageThough the origins of this phrase are unclear, they may come from the visualization of falling flat on one’s face as a particularly bad situation. Whatever its etymology may be, this phrase is used to describe any terrible, awful, or horrible thing or person.
Sample sentenceסמוך עליי: אל תקנה את המודל הזה. הפלאפון הזה פשוט על הפנים.
Smokh ‘alai: al tikneh et ha-model ha-zeh. Ha-pelefon ha-zeh pashut ‘al ha-panim.
“Trust me: Don’t buy this model. That cell phone is simply junk.”

9. להתחדש

עבריתלהתחדש
Transliterationlehitkhadesh
Part of speechverb
Meaning“to renew oneself” / “to be renewed”
UsageThis untranslatable Hebrew word is a reflexive verb that may have its roots in traditional religious Jewish culture, which includes the custom of saying a special blessing (שהחיינו, She-Hekhiyanu, “Who Has Given Us Life”) to celebrate renewal during any special occasion: holidays, eating a seasonal fruit for the first time that year, etc. By extension, it’s common in modern Israeli culture—secular or religious—to tell someone “to renew oneself” in the sense of celebrating a new purchase, hairstyle, relationship, and so on. The imperative form is used almost invariably in this context.
Sample sentenceוואו, איזו שמלה יפה קנית. תתחדשי!
Wau, eizo simlah yafah kanit. Titkhadshi!
“Wow, what a lovely dress you bought. Enjoy it in good health!”

10. חוצפה

Man Farting Next to Strangers
עבריתחוצפה
Transliterationkhutzpah
Part of speechnoun
Meaning“nerve” / “gall” / “cojones”
UsageThis is the only item in today’s lesson likely to be at all familiar to English speakers. This is, however, due to its entry into English via Yiddish, rather than Hebrew (notwithstanding the fact that the pronunciation is almost the same and that the word is originally from Hebrew, on which Yiddish is largely based). 
While it’s approximately equivalent to the parallels offered above (nerve, gall, and cojones), this Hebrew word has a connotation of intentionality or brazenness; this makes it that much more offensive to be accused of! 

At the same time, it’s also an integral part of the Israeli character, being a bit ruder and more direct than most cultures would consider normal. As a matter of fact, if you listen carefully, you’ll hear Israelis accusing ourselves of חוצפה on a daily basis, almost as if it were a national sport!
Sample sentenceאיזה חוצפה יש לאקס שלך להגיע לחתונה שלנו בלי הזמנה!
Eizeh khutzpah yesh la-eks shelakh lehagi’a la-khatunah shelanu bli hazmana!
“What gall your ex has to show up at our wedding without being invited!”

11. Let HebrewPod101 Help Translate the Untranslatable

Well, there you have it. The top 10 untranslatable Hebrew words. 

We hope you not only enjoyed familiarizing yourself with these words and phrases, but that you also realized that even when there is no exact equivalent of a Hebrew term or expression, it’s entirely possible to understand its meaning and usage. While it’s true that languages tend to have at least some percentage of vocabulary that does not carry over well in translation, your job as a language learner is not to translate, but to assimilate!

This means that you don’t need—nor should you seek—a one-to-one translation for every single word and phrase. Rather, it’s much more effective to try your best to think in Hebrew when studying or practicing it, and to set English aside as much as possible. In other words, as long as you can understand what a word or phrase means in the context of the Hebrew language and can utilize it correctly when necessary, you’re set!

As a matter of fact, studies have shown that those language learners who tend to get caught up on words until they find an exact equivalent in their native tongue have more difficulty progressing with their studies. This is actually quite intuitive, considering the unique nature of every language and the fact that, as today’s lesson should demonstrate, some words simply do not have an equivalent in English.

Have you come across any untranslatable words in Hebrew that we didn’t cover today? Are you still a bit unsure of how to use one of the words we did discuss in today’s lesson? That’s what we’re here for. At HebrewPod101.com, we’re always happy to hear from our many students across the globe, so don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions or doubts you may have. We look forward to hearing from you. 

Until next time, shalom!

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The Top 10 Hebrew Movies

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Unlike Hollywood, Israel’s film industry has traditionally been much smaller-scale. Still, it has been growing steadily in recent years, particularly since many breakthroughs have made their way onto Netflix or were even redone as American remakes. Hebrew movies and cinema are characterized not only by a typically more intimate, less bombastic approach to treating human stories (with some notable exceptions), but also by mixing comedy and melodrama quite naturally—something surely representative of the Israeli experience. While one could argue that more and more movies coming out of Israel today are modeled after the Tinseltown blockbuster, there have traditionally been—and still are—many unique, independent gems that could only have been made in Israel, with its singular (and often quite insane) reality.

Marquee

In addition to giving you a great glimpse inside Israeli culture, watching Israeli films can without  a doubt go a long way toward helping you as a Hebrew language learner. This is true both in terms of the exposure to natural Hebrew as spoken by actors with varying backgrounds (including non-natives), as well as the chance to pick up on themes and cultural cues unique to Israeli society. Indeed, many Israeli films deal, unsurprisingly, with themes that are particularly relevant to the reality of life in Israel: immigrant stories, intercultural clashes, the military experience, religion and secularity, etc. By watching these films, you can not only enjoy some entertainment but also deepen your language abilities while enriching your cultural appreciation for the crazy hodgepodge that is Israeli culture.

Woman with Popcorn and Soda

While there are dozens, if not hundreds, of excellent Israeli films that have come out over the years—including a number of international prize winners—we’ve put together our list of the top ten Israeli movies specifically for Hebrew learners. We’ve made our choices with an aim to represent the diversity of Israeli society while offering you a mix of comedy, drama, and other genres. We’re confident that these Hebrew-language movies will be both enjoyable and educational. Just don’t forget to jot down a few new words and phrases from each one so you don’t forget them later! A choice quote from a classic Israeli film dropped at the right moment is just the thing to add that extra touch of authenticity to your Hebrew. For more tips on using movies for learning Hebrew, check out this article.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Hebrew Table of Contents
  1. גבעת חלפון אינה עונה
  2. חתונה מאוחרת
  3. מבצע סבתא
  4. סוף העולם שמאלה
  5. קדוש
  6. האושפיזין
  7. אדמה משוגעת
  8. לבנון
  9. פעם הייתי
  10. אלכס חולה אהבה
  11. HebrewPod101 is Your Go-To for Everything Hebrew


גבעת חלפון אינה עונה .1

Our first film, גבעת חלפון אינה עונה (Giv’at Khalfon Eynah ‘Onah), ineloquently translated as “Halfon Hill Doesn’t Answer,” is a true Israeli cult classic, indeed one of the very first to come out of Israeli cinema. First released in 1976, the movie is a satire of military life in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), specifically the experience of lackadaisical reservists stationed in the Sinai Desert. (This was before Israel ceded the territory to Egypt for peace.) 

The film features the comedy troupe הגשש החיוור (Ha-Gashash ha-Khiver), meaning “The Blind Tracker.” This trio is hands-down Israel’s most iconic comedy group, and have had a particular influence on modern Hebrew with their many word plays—much in the same way that William Shakespeare influenced English through his humorous wordsmithing. This movie is no exception, and there are quite a few phrases that have made their way into Hebrew’s lexicon via גבעת חלפון אינה עונה. 

Here are some of the choicest morsels, along with an explanation of each one and how it might be used in day-to-day speech.

  • לסרג’יו פנית, לא טעית.
    Le-Serjio panita, lo ta’ita.
    “You weren’t wrong to come to Sergio.” (lit.: “You’ve come to Sergio; you weren’t wrong.”)

This one, memorable for its end rhyme, is used to say something like, “You’ve got that right,” or, “You ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie.”

  • מניאקים. כל היחידה הזאת, מניאקים.
    Maniyakim. Kol ha-yekhidah ha-zot maniyakim.
    “Nut jobs. This whole unit is a bunch of nut jobs.”

This one, as you may have guessed, is used to say that everyone around you is crazy.

  • מצפון הים המכונה תיכון, ממזרח ישראל המכונה מדינה.
    Mi-tzafon ha-yam ha-mekhuneh Tikhon, mi-mizrakh Yisra’el ha-mekhunah medinah.
    “To the north, the sea known as the Mediterranean, to the east, Israel, known as a country.”

This famous quote perfectly encapsulates the self-effacing humor so typical of this comedy group, essentially questioning whether Israel can even be taken seriously enough to be considered a country.

2. חתונה מאוחרת

Shifting from the comedic realm to the melodramatic (although this film is not without comedy), Khatunah Me’ukheret, or “Late Marriage,” is a classic film starring Lior Ashkenazi in his breakthrough role as Zaza, a 30-something bachelor reluctant to marry despite pressure from his traditional Georgian family. As they attempt to arrange a suitable marriage for him, he secretly dates a somewhat older divorcée, Yehudit (played by Ronit Elkabetz), who also happens to be of Moroccan stock—a clash with Zaza’s Georgian roots, at least as far as his parents are concerned. 

In this bittersweet tale, Zaza must ultimately choose between his love and his family. It’s a wonderful exploration of various issues facing Israel’s immigrant communities, such as opening up to Israel’s multicultural panorama as well as transitioning to a more modern, less old-fashioned lifestyle. The film is also interesting for its mix of Hebrew with Georgian, spoken by Zaza’s family.

  • כאן יש להם משהו אחר. הם קוראים לזה אהבה.
    Kan yesh lahem mashehu akher. Hem korim le-zeh ahavah.
    “Here they have something else. They call it love.”

This quote, said by Zaza’s father when trying to arrange a marriage for his son with another Georgian family, exemplifies the generational disconnect: the younger generation seeking a marriage based on love and the older generation, looking back to life in Georgia, a marriage based on practical considerations.

Theater Seats

3. מבצע סבתא

Shifting back to the realm of comedy, this film is an absolute cult classic in Israel, and one which (similar to גבעת חלפון אינה עונה) has left a deep impression on modern Hebrew as a highly quoted movie. This Hebrew comedy movie centers around three brothers originally from a kibbutz. Two of them have moved off the kibbutz, while one remains behind. When the brothers’ grandmother (their only surviving family member, their parents having died years before) passes away, and the kibbutz refuses to pay for the funeral over a technicality, they must hatch an elaborate scheme to pull off her funeral themselves while also juggling other personal obligations in their lives. The film is a hilarious romp that also affords a glimpse into the sometimes truly bizarre world of the Israeli kibbutz, as well as how it contrasts with city life.

  • סבתא חיה מתה.
    Savta Khayah metah.
    “Grandma Chaya is dead.”

The joke here is that the name חיה (Khayah) also means “lives” or “is alive.” This is one of the phrases that can be used just to get a quick laugh, but it’s often applied to paradoxical situations.

  • יש לכם 20 שניות, שזה 5 שניות יותר מדי, להשלים. זוז!
    Yeish lakhem ‘esrim sh’niyot, she-zeh khamesh shniyot yoter miday, lehashlim. Zuz!
    “You have 20 seconds, which is five seconds too many, to make up. Move!”

This line is spoken by Crembo, one of the three brothers, who is an officer in the military, to his two brothers who are fighting. It’s a good example of military speech.

  • רק שלא תגמור לנו כמו מוטי בננה בציריך, הא?
    Rak she-lo tigmor lanu kemo Moti Bananah be-Tzirikh, ha?
    “Just don’t end up like Moti Banana in Zurich, huh?”

This line is a bit nebulous, but it’s clearly a reference to some cautionary tale about someone from the kibbutz who met a sad fate in Zurich. It can be used when mentioning a fate to be avoided.

4. סוף העולם שמאלה

Classic scene from the film

Yet another film about immigrants, Sof ha-’Olam Smolah or “Turn Left at the End of the World” in English, is particularly poignant. It examines the lives of עולים (‘olim, literally “ascenders”), or immigrants who arrive in the 1960s to a town developed for immigrant absorption in the middle of Israel’s Negev Desert. The immigrant community comprises mainly Indians and Moroccans, two obviously very distant cultures. Told through the lens of two young women, one from each culture, it examines the bonds of friendship, the challenges of maturity, and all the obstacles to integration faced by some of the poorer immigrant communities in the country. It’s worth noting that in Hebrew, סוף העולם שמאלה (sof ha-’olam smolah) is an expression roughly equivalent to “the middle of nowhere.”

  • השנה 1968. האדם עומד לנחות על הירח וסטודנטים מפגינים ברחובות פריז, אך נדמה כי דבר ממאורעות אלה אינו משפיע על החיים בעיירה קטנה ומבודדת במדבר הישראלי.
    Ha-shanah elef tsha’-me’ot shishim u-shmoneh. Ha-adam ‘omed linkhot ‘al ha-yare’akh ve-studentim mafginim bi-r’khovot Pariz, akh nidmeh ki davar mi-me’ora’ot eleh einoh mashpi’a ‘al ha-khayim be-ayarah ktanah u-mevudedet ba-midbar ha-Yisra’eli.
    “The year is 1968. Man is about to land on the moon, students are out protesting in the streets of Paris, but it would seem that none of these events have any effect on life in a small and isolated town in the Israeli desert.”

This is the opening narration to the film, and sets the stage for the events to follow.

Couple Watching Movies/TV on Couch

5. קדוש

Kadosh, or “Sacred” in English, is a painful but keen examination of life in Mea Shearim, one of the most famous ultra-Orthodox communities in Jerusalem. The story follows one couple unable to have children, a situation unacceptable enough in a world so centered on procreation (the first mitzvah or “commandment” in the Bible) that it is sufficient cause for annulling the matrimony, and another couple in a passionless marriage. 

The film examines the ultra-Orthodox world from the perspective of two sisters, the wives in the aforementioned couples, and the ways in which their freedom is inhibited by the highly controlling community. In particular, it challenges the ultra-Orthodox view that a woman’s sole function is to bear children. As the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) population of Israel hovers near two million, it is well worth familiarizing yourself with it to some extent if you plan to spend time in Israel, especially in Jerusalem.

  • אתה סובל בגלל שאין לנו ילדים. אתה סובל בגלל שאתה חושב שאנחנו חיים בחטא.
    Atah sovel biglal she-ein lanu yeladim. Atah sovel biglal she-atah khoshev she-anakhnu khayim be-kheit.
    “You’re suffering because we don’t have any children. You’re suffering because you think we live in sin.”

These lines are spoken by one of the main characters, Rachel, to her husband. They encapsulate the couple’s emotional and spiritual struggle, which is at the core of the film.

6. האושפיזין

Ha-Ushpizin, which refers to the traditional guests to the סוכה (sukkah) during the festival of סוכות (Sukkot), is another film that sheds light onto the insulated world of the ultra-Orthodox. This film, however, is of a much more lighthearted nature; it’s also far less condemning and much more conciliatory. This may have a lot to do with the film’s star, Shuli Rand, who himself became ultra-Orthodox after being non-religious for many years. Such people are called חוזרים בתשובה (khozrim be-t’shuvah) or literally “those who return to the answer,” and this film is one of the few that successfully captures all of the beauty of religious values and the religious lifestyle, while not shying away from its problems either. 

The plot follows a couple as they struggle to fulfill the mitzvah of hosting friends from the main character, Moshe’s, past life as a delinquent in their sukkah. It’s both humorous and profound, and a true work of art. It’s worth noting that Rand’s wife Michal, who plays Moshe’s wife, Mali, was not a professional actress but Rand insisted that he would only act opposite his wife due to religious restrictions on male-female intimacy outside matrimony.

  • בסדר, אני יודע שאתה שונא עצבות אבל אני מה זה בעצבות. כולי עצבות. גוש של עצבות. חס ושלום אני לא חושב שמגיע לי משהו, ריבונו של עולם. לא מגיע לי כלום, אבל האמת אני לא מבין. אני אגיד לך את האמת: אני לא מבין. לפעמים אני לא יודע מה אתה רוצה ממני. לפעמים נראה לי אתה הולך איתי קצת קשה מדי.
    Beseder, ani yode’a she-atah sone ‘atzvut aval ani mah zeh be-’atzvut. Kuli ‘atzvut. Gush shel ‘atzvut. Khas ve-shalom ani lo khosheiv she-magi’a li mashehu, Ribono shel ‘Olam. Lo magi’a li klum, aval ha-emet, ani lo mevin. Ani agid lekha et ha-emet: ani lo mevin. Lif’amim ani lo yode’a mah atah rotzeh mimeni. Lif’amim nir’eh li atah holekh iti ktzat kasheh miday.
    “Okay, I know You hate sadness, but I’m really deep in sadness. My whole being is sadness. A lump of sadness. God forbid that I should think I deserve anything, Ruler of the Universe. I don’t deserve a thing, but the truth is I don’t understand. I’ll tell you the truth: I don’t understand. Sometimes I don’t know what You want from me. Sometimes I feel like you’re a little too tough on me.”

These lines come from a poignant scene where Moshe is praying to God for enough money to celebrate the Sukkot holiday. They illustrate the particularly Jewish notion of negotiating with God.

Projector

7. אדמה משוגעת

Adamah Meshuga’at (literally “Crazy Earth,” but rendered in English as “Sweet Mud”) is a painful look at the problems of kibbutz society. Told mainly from the perspective of a young boy, it illustrates how the kibbutz fails to address issues that tax its rigid ideals of a socialist society. The main character, Dvir, must care for his mentally unstable mother, a task clearly unsuitable for a young boy. The plot follows various complications that arise from this situation, and is an overall critique of kibbutz life and its disruption of family life, which is often whitewashed in Israeli popular culture as a marvelous social experiment. While lopsided in focusing only on the negative aspects of kibbutz life, the film is a good opportunity to get an intimate look at this strange world, as well as its lexis.

  • תסתכלי פנימה ותשאלי את עצמך מה את יכולה לתת לקיבוץ.
    Tistakli p’nimah ve-tish’ali et ‘atzmekh mah at yekholah latet la-kibbutz.
    “Look inside yourself and ask what you can give the kibbutz.”

These lines are spoken to Dvir’s mentally ill mother, Miri, who obviously needs psychological help but is instead pushed to be a functional member of the kibbutz, come what may, ultimately leading her to break down.

8. לבנון

Levanon (“Lebanon”) is a chillingly intimate look at combat service in a tank during the very first days of the First Lebanon War. Following the model of Das Boot, the film is shot almost exclusively within the tank or through its own scopes, so that we really feel as though we are part of the crew. The unapologetically intense film portrays the tankists’ hopes and fears as well as the claustrophobia, noise, smells, etc. of the small space within the tank, while giving us a dirty but accurate picture of the horrors of war so many young Israelis must face during their service. Without making any political statements, it manages to humanize the stories of the individuals serving on the tank as well as their relationships as they depend on, and turn against, one another.

  • יוני 1982. היום הראשון למלחמה. אני מוצא את עצמי בטנק עם שלושה אנשים שאני לא מכיר. אני מוצא את עצמי בעולם שאין לי מושג איך נכנסתי לתוכו.
    Yuni elef tsha’-me’ot shmonim u-shtayim. Ha-yom ha-rishon la-milkhamah. Ani motzeh et ‘atzmi be-tank ‘im shloshah anashim she-ani lo makir. Ani motze et ‘atzmi be-’olam she-ein li musag eikh nikhnasti le-tokho.
    “June 1982. The first day of the war. I find myself in a tank with three people I don’t know. I find myself in a world that I’m unsure how I entered into.”

These lines, spoken by one of the crew members, perfectly captures the bizarre and frightening atmosphere of being sent to a foreign country in a tank with an ad hoc crew, and the uncertainty and surrealism of a young soldier suddenly finding himself at war.

Film Slate

9. פעם הייתי

Pa’am Hayiti (literally “Once I Was,” rendered in English as “The Matchmaker”) is a touching nostalgic film about Arik, an adolescent boy who finds himself spending the summer working as an assistant to a rather unusual matchmaker, Yankele, who specializes in finding partners for difficult “matches.” The film, which takes place in Haifa, 1968, is a wonderful examination of a country still figuring out its identity. It seems to tell this story through Haifa’s underbelly, focusing on outcasts and odd characters. It also examines the scars left by the Holocaust, as many of the immigrants are survivors. Additionally, it’s a good opportunity to hear the many accents of Hebrew as spoken by immigrants, or at least actors playing immigrants.

  • שדכן אמור לתת לא מה את רוצה, אלא מה את צריכה.
    Shadkhan amur latet lo mah at rotzah, ela mah at tz’rikhah.
    “A matchmaker should give you not what you want, but what you need.”
  • שדכן עם נשמה חושב קודם כול טוב על בנאדם. רואה צולע, אומר שידוך טוב – לא ירוץ אחרי בחורות. עיוור – מצוין, לא מסתכל ימינה שמאלה. אילמת – טוב מאוד, אין ויכוחים בבית.
    Shadkhan ‘im neshamah khoshev kodem kol tov ‘al ben’adam. Ro’eh tzole’a, omer shidukh tov – lo yarutz akharei bakhurot. ‘Iver – metzuyan, lo mistakel yeminah smolah. ‘ilemet – tov me’od, ein vikukhim ba-bayit.
    “A matchmaker with a soul first thinks well of a person. He sees a man with a limp, he says, a good match – he won’t go out chasing skirts. A blind man – excellent. He doesn’t look right and left. A mute woman – very good. No arguments at home.”

Both of these quotes capture the charming and heartwarming attitude of Yankele, who seems to truly wish to spread love—particularly to those others may deem unlovable—even as he himself clearly bears great suffering and loneliness.

10. אלכס חולה אהבה

Last but not least, Aleks Kholeh Ahavah (“Lovesick Alex”) is a comedy, for sure, but one that also carries the same whiff of nostalgia as The Matchmaker. This is unsurprising as Avi Nesher directed both films and is clearly communicating his own pining for times past, an Israel lost in its own race to catch up with modernity. 

This film is really a gallimaufry of genres, as it mixes linguistic and slapstick humor, melodrama, coming of age, romance, and even a bit of tragedy. The movie focuses on its title character’s journey from boyhood to manhood, his many antics with friends, and his crush on an aunt who comes to visit from Europe in search of her betrothed, whom she lost touch with during the Holocaust. Simply one of the greatest Hebrew films, and one that could only come from Israel.

  • בחורות ערומים זה חולירע!
    Bakhurot ‘arumim zeh kholerah!
    “Naked girls are cholera!”

This is one of the many great lines from Alex’s Russian immigrant teacher, whose Hebrew is truly awful despite the fact that he’s the one teaching the class. He makes Alex repeat this with the class after catching him with some playing cards showing topless women.

  • תשתה מים קרים תקבל אנגינה.
    Tishteh mayim karim tekabel anginah.
    “Drink cold water, you’ll get angina.”

This line comes as one of the many warnings to Alex from his mother, a stereotypical Polish worrywart mother (in Hebrew, אמא פולניה [imma Poloniyah], or “Polish mother” is synonymous with this).

  • ימח שמך טרוריסט שכמוך.
    Yimakh shimkha terorist she-kamokha.
    “May your name be blotted out, a terrorist such as you.”

This hilarious line comes from the rabbi teaching Alex to read his Torah portion for his bar mitzvah, after killing a fly with a swatter.

Top Verbs

11. HebrewPod101 is Your Go-To for Everything Hebrew

We hope you found today’s lesson a fun change of pace. It’s always important to switch things up when learning a language, both to keep things interesting and also to avoid burnout. Making an effort to learn Hebrew through movies is a great option, as long as you make sure to actually find a way to pick up a few words or phrases. Remember that the more exposure you can get, the better.

We here at HebrewPod101 are constantly updating our expansive online archives to ensure that all our Hebrew language learners have access to a broad array of materials in print, audio, and video. We also publish many lessons referring our learners to other media, so make sure to browse around. Let us know how you liked the movies! And don’t forget the popkoren, as we Israelis would say. Until next time, shalom!

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Watch TV in Hebrew: Top 10 Israeli TV Shows for Learners

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One of the best ways to study any language is to expose yourself to real language as used by native speakers in natural, day-to-day contexts. Obviously, immersion is the most effective way to manage this, but not all of us have the opportunity to live in a country where the language we’re learning is spoken.

That’s where TV in Hebrew can come in handy. You can use this as a highly practical tool to expose yourself to native speech. In fact, even if we are staying in the country of our target language, or among natives of that country abroad, TV shows and movies have a certain advantage in that they allow us to pause and replay segments we wish to hear again—unlike people in real life, who tend to resist getting paused and replayed!

Another advantage of watching Israeli TV series is that they generally offer language learners very idiomatic language, as opposed to the more formal or fancy language you might encounter in literature or on the news. For this reason, TV shows are a great way to expand your vocabulary with everyday words and expressions—including slang and colloquialisms—as well as pick up on nuances of pronunciation and inflection.

And it goes without saying that watching Israeli TV shows is a fantastic way to improve your listening comprehension! The best thing of all is that, provided you choose shows that you like watching, TV can make language-learning a fun and relaxing activity which has been proven to improve learning abilities.

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Table of Contents

  1. Tips for Using Israeli TV Shows to Learn Hebrew
  2. Show #1: Ktzarim
  3. Show #2: Ha-Shoter ha-Tov
  4. Show #3: Fauda
  5. Show #4: Srugim
  6. Show #5: Eretz Nehederet
  7. Show #6: Slikhah al ha-She’elah
  8. Show #7: B’li Sodot
  9. Show #8: Mo’adon Laylah
  10. Show #9: B’ney Arubah
  11. Show #10: Ha-Gashash ha-Khiver
  12. HebrewPod101 is Here to Help You Learn the Fun Way!

1. Tips for Using Israeli TV Shows to Learn Hebrew

Study Books

Before we take a look at the top ten Israeli TV shows to learn Hebrew, let’s first see some of the most effective ways we can put TV shows in service of our language-learning goals.

  1. The first thing to remember is that the very act of watching a TV show in Hebrew is going to help you learn passively. Basically, as long as you’re exposing yourself to the sounds, patterns, and rhythms of Hebrew as it’s spoken in modern-day Israel, you’re attuning your ears and your mind to the language.
  2. A very helpful way to both expand your vocabulary and improve your listening comprehension and pronunciation is to use subtitles while watching Israeli TV shows. For beginners, it may be easier to watch Israeli TV shows with English subtitles, but as soon as you’re comfortable, you should definitely switch the subtitles to Hebrew. While it’s useful to match up the English words you see on the screen with their Hebrew equivalents as spoken by the characters in the show, it will help you much more to watch Israeli TV shows with subtitles in Hebrew as you listen to the words being pronounced.
  3. A great way to work on vocabulary acquisition and pronunciation is to set goals for each episode you watch in terms of learning new words and phrases. Say you watch a forty-five-minute show, you can set a goal, for example, to learn ten new words and/or phrases. As you watch, just jot down any unfamiliar words or phrases as you come across them. You can either write the definition if you caught it, or look them up later. Then go and practice them!
  4. To practice pronunciation specifically, you can set a similar goal of words and/or phrases to practice. Listen for whatever language is tricky or confusing for you, and replay the segments so you can practice your pronunciation, matching it to the native speakers’ in the show. You can even take this a step further by recording the bits you want to practice with your cell phone, then recording yourself saying the same bits and comparing to see how close you’ve gotten.
  5. Test your listening comprehension on short segments by trying to write a transcript of what you hear a character, or various characters, saying. Obviously, you want to either not look at the screen or turn off the subtitles while you do so. Then, watch the scene again and check the subtitles to see how close you got.
  6. Utilize the language you learn in your speech. Watching Hebrew-language TV shows is a great way to pick up commonly used words and phrases in Hebrew. Try to grasp the appropriate context in which the words or phrases are used in the show, and use them accordingly when you speak Hebrew!

2. Show #1: Ktzarim

Kids Laughing Watching Computer Screen

Let’s start with one of the best Israeli TV shows for learning Hebrew. This show, קצרים (Ktzarim) or “Shorts,” is a hilarious sketch comedy with the same five actors in a seemingly endless variety of roles and situations. The quintet includes award-winning actor Moni Moshonov, who has appeared in various English-language movies as well, alongside Keren Mor, Shmulik Levy, Riki Blich, and Yuval Segal. The best way to catch this show is on YouTube, where many full episodes as well as sketch segments are available free of charge.

This show doesn’t have any particular theme, and is based, as its name suggests, on very brief comic sketches, ranging from a few seconds to around a minute long. Generally speaking, the characters in these sketches go by their real names (first name only), and can be seen portraying just about anyone.

The main advantage of this show for language learners is that, because the sketches are so short, they provide a great opportunity to focus on listening comprehension for small chunks of language. You can definitely take advantage of their short length by doing some repeated listening and/or repeated speaking to learn new words and phrases.

3. Show #2: Ha-Shoter ha-Tov

One of the greatest Israeli TV shows on Netflix, השוטר הטוב (Ha-Shoter ha-Tov), or “The Good Cop,” is another Israeli comedy show, albeit with full-length episodes rather than sketches.

The show follows policeman Dani Confino and his fellow officers through one misadventure after another. For example, due to what’s deemed to be violent and uncontrollable behavior, Dani is sent to meet with a psychologist to talk about his issues. The scenes with the psychologist are frequent and quite funny. The series also follows Dani’s dysfunctional relationships with his parents, as he moves back in with them after finding out that his girlfriend has been cheating on him.

The show features Yuval Semo as Dani, Leora Rivlin as his mother, Moshe Ivgy as his father, Guy Loel as the station chief, Yigal Adika as Dani’s partner, and Ortal Ben Shoshan as Dani’s co-officer and eventual romantic interest.

This show offers a great opportunity to pick up day-to-day Hebrew, including slang and colloquialisms. You can also note the different accents and dialects that are featured, from Dani’s more or less standard Tel Aviv accent to his partner’s Oriental Jewish accent to Dani’s father’s Morrocan accent.

4. Show #3: Fauda

פאודה (Fauda), or “Fauda,” is an absolute must-see. The name of this action-packed Hebrew TV series is actually in Arabic, and means “chaos.” It’s interesting for both its storyline and in linguistic terms.

This show deals with IDF officers involved in Israel’s undercover security operations to track and capture terrorists within the Palestinian territories. As undercover agents, all of these characters (and thus the actors who play them) must speak perfect Arabic, so the show is a good opportunity to hear both Hebrew and Arabic and to note the differences between them. Fauda is available to stream on Netflix.

Fauda stars a number of noteworthy Israeli actors, such as Lior Raz as Doron Kavillio, Itzik Cohen as Captain Gabi Ayub, Yuval Segal as Mickey Moreno, and Rona-Lee Shim’on as Nurit. It also stars Arab-Israeli actors and even French-Lebanese actress Laëtitia Eïdo as Dr. Shirin Al Abed.

This show is a great opportunity to pick up military lingo, which is a huge part of everyday Hebrew in Israel. This is because military service in the IDF is obligatory for all citizens, male and female, upon graduating high school. For this reason, there’s a lot of military jargon—often acronyms—that gets used even in non-military contexts. To give you an idea, here are a few examples of words you may hear on the show:

  • פז”ם
    Pazam
    “Seniority” (literally the acronym for “time out” )
  • שיפצור
    Shiftzur
    “Improvised repair or improvement” (formed from שיפור צורה, shipur tzurah, “improvement of form/shape” )
  • ג’ובניק
    Jobnik
    “Non-combat soldier”

5. Show #4: Srugim

Jews Lighting Menorah

Srugim is a very interesting show that examines life within the so-called National Religious Community in Israel. Essentially, these are religious, observant Jews who are strong supporters of the modern state and participate fully and with distinction in the armed forces as well as the workforce, unlike their ultra-Orthodox counterparts.

In fact, this is the origin of the show’s title. The word סרוגים (srugim) means “knitted” or “crocheted” and refers to the style of כיפה (kipah), or “yarmulke,” that modern Orthodox Jews wear. The ultra-Orthodox tend to favor velvet or leather yarmulkes.

With well-known Israeli actors including Ohad Knoller as Dr. Nati Brenner and Yael Sharoni as Yifat, the show provides a fascinating in-depth look into the lives of Orthodox Jews living in the midst of a mostly secular Israeli society, as well as the dilemmas and choices they face. It’s unique in its attempt to portray this sector of society in an unbiased manner.

Srugim is a wonderful opportunity to learn Hebrew—not just useful daily Hebrew, but also Hebrew that pertains more to religious life, sometimes involving Biblical references (i.e. ancient Hebrew) or rabbinic sources (yet another strain of the Hebrew language).

6. Show #5: Eretz Nehederet

ארץ נהדרת (Eretz Nehederet), or “What a Wonderful Country,” is a satire show that’s similar to Saturday Night Live in that it includes sketch comedy with a notable political bent. Hosted by Eyal Kitzis, it also features such prominent comedic personalities as Tal Friedman, Alma Zak, Orna Banai, and Asi Cohen. It can be found on Netflix, with some episodes and clips available on YouTube. As with Ktzarim, since the show consists of sketches, it’s one of the most practical Israeli TV shows to watch if you want to work on comprehension or pronunciation.

As the show touches on all facets of Israeli life, all accents and dialects are represented, albeit mostly in a humorous vein. The show is also a funny opportunity to see and hear comic impersonations of various famous Israelis, from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to model Pnina Rosenblum.

7. Show #6: Slikhah al ha-She’elah

Questions Marks Above Woman's Head

סליחה על השאלה (Slikhah al ha-She’elah) means “Sorry for Asking.” As far as TV shows in Hebrew go, this one is quite unique in that the premise of the show is to ask difficult or uncommon questions received by anonymous submissions from viewers. For example, episodes may feature people who have at some point been members of a cult or people who use a wheelchair, who are asked to field a number of challenging questions.

The show does not have any set cast, as it merely shows the interviewees for each episode, with each episode having separate interviewees. In addition to providing a wonderful opportunity to hear from different—and perhaps unusual—perspectives within Israeli society, watching this show is also a fantastic way to practice questions in Hebrew! You can watch it on YouTube.

8. Show #7: B’li Sodot

This show, בלי סודות (Bli Sodot), or “Without Secrets,” is a children’s show, so it may not be for everyone. However, if you really want to work on the basics of Hebrew vocabulary and grammar, this is a great choice as far as children’s TV shows in Hebrew go. Its goal is to help teach Israeli children to read, and because it’s geared toward children, the actors—including Oshik Levi and Hanny Nahmias—tend to speak very slowly and clearly.

The show features songs and sketches which are all in some way related to words and reading, so its educational value is unquestionable. Obviously, however, it does tend to deal with juvenile topics and situations, so you may wish to limit how much you use this one for learning. It does, however, contain some great elements that can surely be helpful if you take the show as lightly as it was intended. For example:

  • The recurring character Itonaish plays a game where he must identify syllables in order to match up the ones that go together and determine which one doesn’t fit.
  • Words learned in a previous sketch are repeated, broken into syllables for ease of comprehension.
  • The recurring character Alphy creates words learned in previous sketches. Children read out the words, and in some cases Alphy removes the nikud, much to the children’s initial dismay, but later pleasure, as they realize how to read without the vowels being indicated.

9. Show #8: Mo’adon Laylah

מועדון לילה (Mo’adon Laylah), or “Nightclub,” is another Israeli satire show, hosted by Erez Tal. This show features panelists—including Ofer Shechter, Israel Katorsa, Maya Dagan, and Tal Friedman—who comment satirically on various daily events, often responding to short video clips.

This show is a great way to have fun while getting to know all about Israeli politics, celebs, sports, and more. It’s also another opportunity to expose yourself to a broad array of language, as well as different accents and dialects, including in impersonations. This show is available on YouTube.

10. Show #9: B’ney Arubah

Hands Bound

בני ערובה (B’ney Arubah), or “Hostages,” is a thrilling Israeli series that follows a family that’s taken hostage by armed men who attempt to force the mother, a prominent surgeon, to intentionally cause the prime minister’s death by botching a surgery she plans to perform on him.

Starring Ayelet Zurer as Dr. Yael Danon and Jonah Lotan as Adam, the series was so popular it was acquired by BBC to be remade in English. This show features many highly intense scenes with rapid exchanges between characters, so you can consider it advanced listening comprehension. It’s available on Netflix.

11. Show #10: Ha-Gashash ha-Khiver

Saving the best for last, this one isn’t actually confined to one show. הגשש החיוור (Ha-Gashash ha-Khiver), or “The Pale Tracker,” was a longstanding comedy trio that can perhaps be considered the most important comedic influence in modern Israeli society. The trio consisted of Yeshayahu Levi (nicknamed “Shaike”), Yisrael Poliakov (nicknamed “Poli”), and Gavriel Banai (nicknamed “Gavri”). The three produced shows, movies, and records, many of which are widely available on YouTube.

This comedy is not only brilliant but also very linguistically oriented. In fact, Ha-Gashash ha-Khiver probably influenced the modern Hebrew language much in the way the plays of Shakespeare revolutionized the English language. Plays on words, spoonerisms, neologisms, and just about every other form of language manipulation, are a regular part of the trio’s approach to humor.

The trio very often does impersonations or impressions, and even has skits about language itself. Watching these three comedians is a guaranteed way to enrich your Hebrew and laugh while doing so, while also getting great exposure to different accents and dialects.

12. HebrewPod101 is Here to Help You Learn the Fun Way!

Happy Faces

We hope you’ve enjoyed today’s change of pace. We here at HebrewPod101 are committed to providing you with learning materials that keep you interested and having fun. We know how important it is to the success of any language-learning endeavor to enjoy the process. For this reason, we try to include as much fun as we can.

As we hope you can see, Hebrew TV shows are a fantastic way to bolster your more academic lessons. By no means should you consider them secondary. On the contrary, exposing yourself to real-life Hebrew is just as important as hitting the grammar books!

There’s no better way to work on your comprehension and pronunciation than by hearing and imitating native speakers. Why not do so while enjoying a great Israeli TV show? Consider it a two-for-one: entertainment and education all in one sitting. Just don’t forget the popcorn—in Hebrew, פופקורן (popkoren)!

Which Hebrew TV show do you want to watch first? Let us know in the comments!

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Job Hunting in Hebrew — How to Find Jobs in Israel

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If you’re planning to stay in Israel for any considerable length of time, you’re probably going to consider looking for a job at some point. Beyond the obvious need to earn a living, entering the job market is also a great way to network. A work environment can open up access to new social circles, as well, and help you start forming the ties you need to navigate in a foreign country.

Israel’s job market is constantly evolving. There are jobs in Israel for English speakers if you know where and how to look, as well as what to expect in terms of the screening and interview process. Just like anywhere else, looking for work in Israel can definitely be a challenge, depending on your qualifications and the type of job you’re after. But don’t worry! We’re here to help.

In today’s lesson, we’ll cover everything you should know about:

  • Where to look for work in Israel
  • Different types of job opportunities available to foreigners
  • General tips on job-hunting in Israel

Let’s dive in. 

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Business Words and Phrases in Hebrew Table of Contents
  1. The Top Israeli Cities to Look for a Job in as a Foreigner
  2. Language Teaching Jobs
  3. Blue-Collar Jobs
  4. Office Jobs
  5. Health, Science, and Technology-Related Jobs
  6. How to Prep Your CV for the Israeli Job Market and Other Employment Tips
  7. If you want to work in Israel, learning Hebrew is the best investment you can make.

1. The Top Israeli Cities to Look for a Job in as a Foreigner

While there’s no hard-and-fast rule about where to work in Israel, it is good general practice to focus your search on large population centers where you’re more likely to encounter a variety of work opportunities.

In Israel, which is a relatively small country, the majority of the population is concentrated in Gush Dan, which contains Israel’s largest city (Tel Aviv) as well as a number of other cities and suburbs. This is going to be your best bet for industry, commerce, and high-tech, although there are other options as well. Let’s have a look at the major cities in Israel and their characteristics in terms of the job market they offer.

A- Tel Aviv and Gush Dan – תל אביב וגוש דן (Tel Aviv ve-Gush Dan)

Beach in Tel Aviv

As mentioned, Tel Aviv is Israel’s largest city and it has the most modern feel. It’s the seat of Israel’s booming high-tech industry, and it’s Israel’s major hub for finance, business, medicine, and R&D, among others. For example, Tel Aviv is home to Israel’s stock market and is near the country’s main international airport, Ben Gurion, making it an obvious choice for conducting international business.

If you have a functional level of Hebrew and the relevant credentials and experience, you could try looking for jobs in your field. Alternatively, if you’re hoping to work in a job that doesn’t require mastery of Hebrew, you could look for work in Tel Aviv’s tourist and service industry. In this case, you’ll want to look for vacancies at hotels, restaurants, and beach facilities.

You could also seek work as an English teacher—or a teacher of any other international language you may speak—at language centers such as Wall Street. In fact, you could even try to give private lessons through wanted ads in local newspapers, such as Maariv or Calcalist. You may also want to consider applying to jobs at public or private schools, provided you have the proper training to teach at this level.

B- Jerusalem – ירושלים (Yerushalayim)

Jerusalem and Wailing Wall

Though a much smaller city, Jerusalem is a hub for culture, tourism, and political and religious activity. In contrast with Tel Aviv’s modern Bauhaus look, Jerusalem feels like a portal into ancient times, with its white stone buildings and historical sites on just about every corner. Nevertheless, the city is home to a bustling economy, and even has an industrial city housing a number of prominent international companies.

Because of Jerusalem’s importance to the three major Western religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), the city is also a must-see destination for any tourist visiting the country. Additionally, it’s home to a very large expat community; some of these expats are tied to the multitude of educational institutions such as the Hebrew University.

As such, Jerusalem is a place where English can get you further than in some other parts of Israel. So if your Hebrew is just so-so, you may want to consider looking for work in the tourism and service industry, or you could apply for a position at a school or program where English is the lingua franca. And, of course, you can look for work teaching English in Jerusalem, as well.

When looking for jobs, you could use the local papers (such as Yediot Aharonot) or check in with the Jerusalem Municipality, which runs a number of programs aimed at matching up immigrants with jobs. If you’re an entrepreneur, you might also want to consider checking out the MATI Jerusalem Business Development Center, dedicated to helping business owners.

C- Haifa – חיפה (Khayfah)

Haifa

Haifa is Israel’s largest northern city, sitting on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea below the slopes of the Carmel Mountains. One of Israel’s major port cities (along with Ashdod in the South), Haifa is home to a wealth of industries, including manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, oil refineries, engineering, R&D, and high-tech. It also holds a place of prominence in the medical sphere, with an extensive hospital system.

As with the other cities we’ve seen, if your Hebrew isn’t up to snuff, you could try teaching English or look for work in the tourist and service sectors. Another option is to apply to the many international companies with branches in Haifa, such as Intel, Microsoft, Google, and Qualcomm, to name but a few.

Haifa’s Center for Employment is a great resource for job hunters, offering guidance and support for newcomers to Israel, with specific services for those seeking employment. And if you’re interested in starting your own business or setting up a branch in Israel, you can also avail yourself of the MATI Haifa Small Business Development Center.

D- Eilat – אילת (Eilat)

Eilat

Nestled right at the southern tip of the country, Eilat is a very different city from the others we’ve seen so far. A resort city on the coast of the Gulf of Eilat/Aqaba, it is home to a bustling tourism industry, both national and international.

There are many hotels, both big and small, as well as the typical service industry employers that one would usually expect to find in a resort town. While a lack of Hebrew knowledge can be an obstacle, considering the large amount of domestic tourism in Eilat, there are some opportunities available for English speakers at hotels, restaurants, gift shops, travel agencies, and the like. A good resource for these types of jobs is the Facebook page Israel Hotel Jobs for Olim & Newcomers.

As in the other cities we’ve seen, you could also look for a job teaching English, though there will be fewer such opportunities in Eilat as compared to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa. One option is to look for opportunities through English language teacher training organizations, such as TESOL, which you can check out here.

2. Language Teaching Jobs

Teacher's Desk and Blackboard

As we’ve already noted, English teaching jobs can be a good option to fall back on, particularly if your Hebrew level represents a barrier to entering the Hebrew job market. However, note that to be eligible for public and private school positions, you’ll need to demonstrate Hebrew proficiency in all four skills (speaking, listening, reading, and writing).

There are three main types of English teaching jobs you can apply for in Israel, each with its own requirements. These requirements will also vary from institution to institution, so consider these to be guidelines rather than hard-and-fast rules.

1. Teaching English at a school

All Israeli schools will require a college degree in order to consider an applicant for a teaching position. You’ll also be expected to get certified through the Israeli education system, but the good news is that such certification programs are government-subsidized.

Because elementary and junior high schools fall under the jurisdiction of the Israel Ministry of Education, you will typically get hired through a government agency rather than directly by the school where you teach.

Note that Israel has two types of public schools—namely secular and religious—as well as private schools. Expect to put in 30 hours a week of teaching at elementary schools or 24 hours a week of teaching at junior high and high schools.

Don’t expect to earn much teaching in Israel, as average teachers’ salaries are around $500-$700 per month, though you can earn a bit more based on experience and qualifications. For example, while not a requirement, a TEFL certification can give you an advantage both in terms of getting hired and in terms of your salary.

2. Teaching English at a language center

These jobs are typically easier to get. As you’ll be hired directly by a private language center, such as Wall Street or Berlitz, you can expect less scrutiny in terms of paper qualifications. Essentially, if you know English and can teach, you have a chance of getting a job.

That said, you’ll likely be asked to show a bachelor’s in some field, and TEFL certification can give you a significant leg up over other candidates. There are also programs in Israel where you can train for this certification and then seek work upon completion.

Most language centers will expect you to teach 20-25 hours per week, though this number can vary. Your students may be school-age children taking after-school classes to improve their English, young adults preparing for university entrance exams, or business professionals wishing to improve their English. Salaries vary, but a ballpark range for what you can expect to earn is somewhere between $600 and $1,200 per month.

3. Private English tutoring

Finally, you can always go the route of private tutoring, which on the plus side can give you more flexibility in terms of the types of students you work with, the amount you can charge, and your work schedule. On the downside, you’ll have to scrape together enough hours between your clients to put together a solid income.

You can look for potential students in a number of ways. Apart from scouring the classifieds of the local papers for wanted ads seeking tutors, you would also be wise to check out bulletin boards at schools and universities, as well as utilize social media. For example, the Facebook page English Teaching Community in Israel is one place you might want to look.

It’s worth noting that, particularly since the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020, many teachers are moving their teaching to online platforms. This can be a great way to find students and make some money when you can’t leave home due to lockdowns or fear of contagion.

3. Blue-Collar Jobs

Blue Collar Worker

Israel’s blue-collar job market is highly competitive, so you’ll really only want to apply to these jobs if you already have the training for them (and ideally some experience as well). You’ll also be expected to have a fluent or near-fluent level of Hebrew for many positions in the professional job market.

Here are some of the major industries and employers for those seeking blue-collar jobs in Israel.

  1. Dead Sea Works
    One of Israel’s oldest industries, Dead Sea Works is the fourth largest producer of potash and potash products in the world, with customers in over 60 countries. The company, located on Israel’s Dead Sea, also produces bath, table, and industrial salts, as well as raw materials used in the production of cosmetics.
  1. Oil refineries
    Israel has a few oil refineries, the largest being the Bazan Group (also known as ORL) in Haifa, with an annual refining capacity of some 9.8 million tons of crude. The Bazan Group also owns a number of subsidiaries engaged in the manufacture of petrochemical products used in the plastics industry, which is one of Israel’s most important industries. Ashdod Oil Refineries, located in the southern port of the same name, is the second largest refinery, employing some 230 employees.
  1. Port jobs
    The main ports of Ashdod and Haifa are another potential avenue for blue-collar professionals seeking jobs in Israel. The Ashdod Port Co., for example, employs some 5,000 workers, including engineers, machine operators, handlers, inspectors, logistics experts, and dockside/shipside crew.
  1. Kibbutz jobs
    While perhaps a bit counterintuitive, you may consider looking for a blue-collar job at one of Israel’s many kibbutzim. Since many of these communal settlements diversify their income streams, you’ll find kibbutzim engaged in the traditional agricultural endeavors but also housing factories (particularly for plastics manufacture) and other industrial and business operations.

    These can range anywhere from food and beverage production/packaging to the production of military, medical, or agribusiness products. Working on a kibbutz may also offer you the possibility of living onsite in affordable (albeit humble) housing. A good resource when looking for these jobs is the Kibbutz Industries Association website, accessible here.

4. Office Jobs

Woman Working in Office

You can also look for office jobs in Israel in pretty much any sizable city. As the famed Startup Nation, Israel is full of businesses large and small in need of qualified office personnel. In particular demand are positions for bookkeepers, IT professionals, programmers, salespeople, administrative staff, and secretaries.

Obviously, you’re unlikely to get very far without solid Hebrew knowledge, unless you apply to jobs in international organizations, which may have openings for English speakers. A good resource when looking for these sorts of jobs is the website XPat Jobs, which you can check out here.

5. Health, Science, and Technology-Related Jobs

Laser

Israel is a known leader in the fields of health, science, and technology, so there are plenty of jobs available in these spheres. However, with one of the world’s best educated workforces, you can expect to be up against stiff competition when applying to these positions. You’ll certainly be expected to demonstrate the relevant education and credentials, as well as Hebrew knowledge, to qualify for these sorts of jobs.

Some of the top options for these types of jobs are R&D, medical and scientific technology and research, as well as technical support for a broad array of industries. As a hub for tech research and development, some of Israel’s largest employers in this field include Intel, Microsoft, Apple, IBM, HP, General Motors, Samsung, Philips, Paypal, and Teva Pharmaceuticals. You can look for jobs directly with these and other employers or on job boards like AllJobs or Jobmaster.

6. How to Prep Your CV for the Israeli Job Market and Other Employment Tips

CV

A- CV tips

One of the things you’ll want to do as you prepare to look for work in Israel is to create a CV in Hebrew and according to common practice in the Israeli job market. Here are some tips for a successful Hebrew CV:

  1. Keep it short (usually one page if you have 10 years of experience or less)
  2. Emphasize demonstrable results, but in summary form rather than going into too much detail
  3. Research keywords for your industry and for the specific job you’re applying for, and incorporate these in your CV
  4. Be sure to highlight any relevant skills apart from your formal credentials, including language abilities
  5. Avoid generalities or clichés, as Israeli employers will not be impressed by these

B- Interview tips

You also want to make sure you’re properly prepared to interview successfully. As with other interactions in Israel, you’ll find some things to be similar to what you’re used to back home, while other aspects will be quite different, even shockingly so. One thing to keep in mind is that the Israeli job market is literally flooded with highly qualified candidates, so you certainly want to do everything you can to leave a good impression and stand out from the pack.

  1. Dress for success. While Israelis may be infamous for dressing down when out and about, this is not the case in the workplace.
  2. Show up on time, or better yet, early, even if your interview is likely to start late (as many things in Israel tend to do).
  3. Rehearse your interview, practicing what you think you may be asked. This includes researching the company you’re applying to as well as the specific requirements for the job and the aspects of your training and skills that are relevant.
  4. Don’t look at your phone! Better yet, turn it on silent or simply turn it off.
  5. Focus on appearing confident, but not arrogant or conceited. You want to clearly communicate why you would make a strong candidate without exaggerating.
  6. Make sure to pay attention not only to your verbal communication, but also your nonverbal communication, as Israelis rely heavily on noverbal cues and will definitely notice these in you.
  7. Follow your interview up with an email to show you’re truly interested.

C- Other tips

In general, you want to do as much research as you can about a particular industry, employer, position, or even city. Take advantage of the existing networks in Israel for expats and immigrants, such as Nefesh b’Nefesh and the Ministry of Absorption. Get as much information as you can so you can figure out a good place to relocate to in terms of job availability for your knowledge, education, and interests.

Additionally, make use of social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook, as Israelis rely heavily on the web to communicate. Many jobs, professional development opportunities, job fairs, and other relevant information is likely to appear online and not in print, while the inverse is usually not going to be true.

Nevertheless, make sure to check job boards online as well as in the local papers to increase your chances of finding a lead. You can also check out headhunters such as Janglo or Indeed—which are free—or JobMaster, Totaljobs, or Monster, which require a paid subscription. It’s a good idea to get yourself on a job mailing list or two, like AllJobs and Jobnet, so you can get updated job options sent right to your email or phone on an ongoing basis.

7. If you want to work in Israel, learning Hebrew is the best investment you can make.

As you can see, Israel has a broad job market but also one marked by extreme competition. Even if you’re interested in teaching English in Israel, you would still be wise to work on your Hebrew knowledge, as some schools will require this and others may simply use it as a filter to weed out less desirable job applicants.

Whether you’re an experienced professional or just getting started in the working world, Hebrew is your passport to success in the Israeli job market. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because most Israelis know at least some English, you’re exempted from studying the local language. While there are a few opportunities for work in Israel for English speakers, knowing Hebrew will take your professional life to a new level! 

Let HebrewPod101 be your partner in mastering the Hebrew language. We’re committed to helping you make sense of grammar and expand your vocabulary, and also aim to help you acclimatize culturally to the various aspects of life in Israel, from job hunting to ordering at a restaurant to asking someone out on a date.

Our teachers can also help you learn business language specifically and prepare for things like interviewing and even talking with your coworkers. Check out our MyTeacher page to see how you can benefit from one-on-one learning, ongoing assessment of your progress, and personalized assignments—all with constant feedback and the chance to ask questions at any time.

We hope you found today’s lesson useful. Be sure to let us know if you have any questions—or perhaps a job success story you’d like to share with fellow Israel job seekers! 

Until next time, shalom!

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