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The Seven Words That Define Israel

The Academy of the Hebrew Language asked Israelis to choose the most definitive word for each of the nation’s seven decades. The results aren’t what you’d expect.

Liel Leibovitz
April 18, 2018

To celebrate Israel’s 70th Independence Day, the Academy of the Hebrew Language asked Israelis to select the seven most influential words in the nation’s history, one for each decade. It’s a tough challenge: Which word best captures the uncertainty of the 1940s and 1950s, when the state was still busy being born and fighting for its survival? Which embodies the 1960s and 1970s, when the country was growing at a dizzying pace? And which best describes the 1980s and 1990s, when the nation grappled with war and peace, rampant globalization and political assassination, hope and despair? Thousands of Israelis wrote in with their thoughts, and, surprisingly for any task undertaken by a large group of Jews, a consensus was reached without too much difficulty. Here, then, to celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut, are the seven definitive Israeli words:

The First Decade (1948-1958): Atzmaut. No surprise, this word, meaning independence, was favored by 57 percent of voters.

The Second Decade (1958-1968): Mitun. Hebrew for “recession,” there’s no better term for a decade in which Israelis, under a strict policy of austerity, were issued coupon books that regulated which groceries they were entitled to buy, giving birth to a robust black market of meat, eggs, and dairy.

The Third Decade (1968-1978): Ma’Hapach. A hard one to translate, the word means “turnaround” or “upheaval,” and refers to the stunning electoral victory of Menachem Begin’s Likud after 29 years of Labor being in power.

The Fourth Decade (1978-1988): Shekel. Up until 1980, Israel’s official currency was the Lira, replaced by the Shekel and then, in 1985, by the New Shekel, the ubiquitous tiny and silvery coin lovingly known as a jook, Hebrew for bug.

The Fifth Decade (1988-1998): Taklitor. You’d think that the decade that unleashed the first Intifadah, the Oslo Accords, and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin would evoke something more momentous, but 32 percent of voters went with the Hebrew word for CD-Rom, a beloved innovation of the Nineties.

The Sixth Decade (1998-2008): Misron. Once unleashed, the torrent of tech was apparently impossible to stop: 48 percent of voters selected the Hebrew word for text message, with Mirshetet, the Hebrew word for the Internet, and Hevrat Heznek, better known as a start-up, coming in a distant second and third.

The Seventh Decade (2008-2018): Yesumon. By now, it shouldn’t be too difficult to guess the word-du-decade: You’ve scores of them on your phone, though you know them better as apps, proving that Start-Up Nation favors the language of tech above all.

Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.

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