When the Cleveland Cavaliers fired David Blatt as their head coach, Israelis took to the Internet to express their outrage. The former coach of perennial champion Maccabi Tel Aviv, and the national basketball team, Blatt is so much of a hero back home that when he shepherded his team to the NBA finals last year the prime minister himself called to offer the coach his congratulations. Blatt’s dismissal, then, particularly in the midst of a pretty good season for the Cavs, is seen by most Israelis as a slap in the face. And when Israelis are slapped in the face, they don’t take it too well.
Almost immediately, hordes of angry Israelis found their way to Lebron James’s Instagram account—the Cleveland superstar is widely believed in Israel to be the author of Blatt’s misfortune—and began cursing him out. Writing in Hebrew, more than a few greeted James with a koos achotcha, a popular Israeli phrase, borrowed from Arabic, referring to Lebron’s sister’s nether parts.
As diligent reporters back in Cleveland watched their MVP’s social media channels become littered with comments in some strange language, they copied and pasted the Hebrew missives into an online translation software, which—lacking the proper mastery of Hebrew punctuation—informed them that the phrase was Kos Achotcha, or “the cup of your sister.” Intrigued by this strange expression, the diligent reporters then Googled it, and learned that it was a Biblical reference straight out of Ezekiel: “You will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow,” the prophet thundered, “the cup of horror and desolation, the cup of your sister Samaria.” Israeli fans, the local news portal Cleveland.com concluded, were therefore cursing Lebron with some biblical hex.
Becky Griffin, one of Israel’s finest basketball writers and analysts, picked up on the mishap. On Facebook she suggested to the folks back in Ohio that they may want to brush up on their Hebrew and find out what the phrase really meant. Soon thereafter, the following correction appeared on the site: “A previous version of this story included translation of a Hebrew phrase on James’ Instagram account. The phrase was translated to English via three Hebrew-English translation websites and appeared to be a Biblical reference, but the apparent working definition of the phrase is profane and was removed from this post.”
Immediately after firing Blatt, the Cavs were trounced by the Bulls, 96 to 83. May the cup of their sister run over for the rest of the season.
Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One.