It’s no secret that Israel’s mandatory service has a profound effect on Israeli culture. Here are eight terms and phrases that were born out of the Israeli Defense Forces:
Meaning: In the IDF, this word means special treat, like being able to sleep in a few minutes late or leaving the army base early for the weekend. In civilian life, the term is most often used when asking your dog if he wants a treat. Make of that what you will…
Meaning: In the army, a soldier will use this word to ask permission for speaking openly with a commander, in essence breaking rank. In civilian life, the term refers to someone who speaks straightforwardly or frankly.
Meaning: In the IDF, this word refers to the time a soldier sits in army prison and isn’t counted as time served for their army service. In civilian life, people use this word to describe someone or something that is messed up or not working properly.
Meaning: In the army, this word is used when a (usually young) soldier is given an unpleasant task that was supposed to be yours. In civilian life, it has the same meaning.
5. לילה לבן
Transliteration: lai’lah lah’van
Meaning: In the IDF, this term is used to describe a night when you do not go to sleep due to participation in a military operation. In civilian life, this term (literally meaning “White Night”) is one of the biggest cultural nights every summer in Tel Aviv.
Meaning: This term, which is part of the army’s affinity for acronyms, is abbreviated from שנת צהריים, literally meaning “afternoon sleep.” In civilian life, it is the go-to phrase for napping – especially on Friday and Saturday afternoons.
Meaning: In the IDF, this word literally means cannon, but it is often used describe someone who is outstanding or excels within their military position (e.g. a “top gun”). In civilian life, it has the same meaning.
8. שאלת קיטבג
Transliteration: sheh’eh’laht keet’bahg
Meaning: In the army, this phrase originated from soldiers being told to move somewhere, after which the soldiers would ask if they should bring their army bags with them– to which the officers would respond “of course.” If the question would not have been asked, however, the soldiers would not have needed to bring their bags with them. In civilian life, this phrase is used with regard to any type of exceptionally stupid question that causes the subordinate(s) to receive a more difficult assignment.
About the Author:
Jessica Fishman is the author of “Chutzpah and High Heels: The Search for Love and Identity in the Holy Land,” a tongue-in-cheek memoir about moving to Israel, fighting with bureaucracies, making embarrassing mistakes in Hebrew, joining the IDF, and dating Israeli men.