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Learn, Practice, and Perfect Your Hebrew: Talking the Talk in Israel

The StreetWise podcast from TLV1 in Israel can help you use Hebrew to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut

Rose Kaplan
May 10, 2016

Three years ago, David Ben-Gurion’s grandson read the following excerpt from Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, as reported by Tablet contributor Tal Kra-Oz.

The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

Today, of course, is Yom Ha’atzmaut—a day for remembering Israel’s independence “on the fifth of Iyar 1948 and in the shadow of war.” It’s a time to explore a personal relationship with Israel, and a day to take stock of the ways in which Israel has (and has not, for that matter) lived up to Ben Gurion’s vision. Accordingly, here are five different ways you can celebrate with Guy Sharrett’s TLV1 StreetWise Hebrew podcast. Each episode features a word or term that, in its own way, illustrates a particular feature of Israeli culture and society.

How to talk ‘ceasefire’ in Hebrew
In this episode, Sharrett goes over variations of hafsaka, which can be used for anything from a literal “ceasefire,” to a break between classes at school, to a way to talk about quitting smoking.

Our missile-protected room is called Mamad. What does it stand for?

Released during the 2014 shelling of Gaza, Sharrett starts this episode with an expression of hope towards an end to the Israeli violence there—a hafsaka, or “ceasefire,” according to the episode above. He then explores a variety of conflict- and emergency-related language that comes up far too often in Israel, including az’aka (“alarm” or “siren”) and mamad (an acronym for merhav mugan dirati meaning, roughly, a protected part of one’s living space).

A dose of vitamin P to heal your bureaucratis

Here, Guy helps listeners navigate Israeli bureaucracy. For example, shitat matsli’ach—literally “successful technique.” The term comes from an Israeli joke—a waiter tries to charge a customer for a nonexistent dish called matsli’ach, and hopes the customer won’t notice. It represents ways that companies can gouge us without our picking up on it, but also the ways that we can have our own successes, sometimes just by getting on the phone and asking for a better deal from, for example, our phone company—that is, if they’re not a monopol, or “monopoly.”


Kombina is one of the most salient terms in Israeli society, Sharrett explains here. It likely comes from the Spanish word combinar (“mix,” “match,” “combine,” “arrange”) via Ladino, although the word itself is also likely a “combination” of combinar and the word combinato (“trick” or “trickster”), which appeared in many old Hebrew dictionaries and comes from Yiddish. In Israel it’s used as a noun, indicating the many ways to fend for oneself to survive, via a combination of contacts, resourcefulness, and creativity. It’s often used as a synonym for “scheme” or “plan.”

What’s your ‘matsav’?

Ma ha-matsav?” you ask a friend, wondering, “How are things?” Matsav is a versatile word, Sharrett tells us here. On its own it can mean “situation,” “state,” or “condition.” And, of course, as a semi-proper noun with the prefix ha-, ha-matsav can refer specifically to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Rose Kaplan is an intern at Tablet.