Israelispeak is the way Israelis and the Israeli media use Hebrew. Behind the literal meaning of the Hebrew, there’s an additional web of suggestion, doublespeak, and cultural innuendo that too often gets lost in translation.
Now that shofar blasts are no longer reverberating in the air and sukkahs no longer sit on the balconies of the Holy Land, the long-awaited period of aharei hahagim (literally, “after the holidays”), when the nation’s month-long excuse for getting nothing done—other than shopping for chicken and pomegranates, of course—finally reaches its expiration date. This year, no less than others, aharei hahagim is a time for action.
To some extent, putting off nonessentials between Rosh Hashanah and Simchat Torah is practical, stemming from the Jewish state’s adherence to the Jewish calendar: The period turns into a national quasi-vacation in part because there are so few available workdays. On the holidays themselves, government offices and businesses are closed, and the buses don’t run. Many workplaces shut down or cut their hours the entire week of Sukkot, when schools are out and the wiser goats in the petting zoos would beg for a leave of absence if they could. In college, the first semester doesn’t begin until the holidays are over. And the media run articles urging Israelis to diet now rather than hold off until aharei hahagim or warning job seekers that companies are waiting until after the holidays to recruit new workers.
But beyond the practical side related to the lunar calendar, aharei hahagim also evokes the state of chronic deferral in which many Israelis live. Jews awaited the long-tarrying Messiah way before 1948. But Israelis have elevated the art of delay to a whole new plane.
On the day-to-day level, installment plans and overdrafts are a regular feature of Israelis’ financial lives. Go to the supermarket and the cashier will ask if you want to pay regular or in installments; there’s no shame in choosing the latter.
On a national scale, aharei hahagim is a stalling tactic. The holiday season is often a grace period for the public, after which politicians can once again do controversial or unpopular things like deporting migrant workers’ children or raising the price of government-subsidized bread. And it can be seen as an excuse for putting off unpleasant tasks like the “painful concessions” Israeli politicians tend to mention when peace talks are in the air.
This year, the two sides of the aharei hahagim coin—adherence to the Jewish calendar and the use of various tactics to keep those concessions at bay—got conflated on the first day of Sukkot, when news outlets and blogs noted that the Israeli delegation was absent from the U.N. session in which President Barack Obama called on Israel to extend its moratorium on settlement construction.
Those empty seats gave rise to talk of an Israeli snub or boycott, prompting Israel’s consulate in New York to explain that the country has a standing policy of not attending U.N. sessions on Jewish holidays or Shabbat, and that Israel had informed the Obama administration of this in advance.
But maybe that was a waste of breath—not only because it probably didn’t help much anyway in the court of public opinion, but also because it could all have been encompassed in two words: aharei hahagim.
Shoshana Kordova is an editor and translator at the English edition of Haaretz. She grew up in New Jersey and has been living in Israel since 2001.