There’s an old saying that the difference between doctors and journalists is that the former bury their mistakes while the latter publish them. In a semi-annual traditional twist, I like to publish other people’s mistakes – and every time I ask for Hebrew bloopers (be it at Rosh Hashana or Passover), I always hear about a doctor/dentist who confused the word michnasayim (trousers) with mishkafayim (glasses) – with predictable results. The offending (or accidentally offensive) medical practitioner nearly died of embarrassment while the patient could have died laughing.

Since April, when I published the last collection of “Did I say that?” memories – memories no one will ever let you live down – I have received another bumper crop. One new immigrant says she wished the earth would open up and swallow her when unstuck in the holy tongue: She confused aduma (the feminine form of the color red) with adama (ground) when telling a cosmetician what color she thought she wanted her cheeks. By the time she had been corrected, her face was naturally the shade she wanted.

A reader shared this deadly serious mistake: “A friend of mine, who was new in Israel, was walking in town with her baby and her husband (about 18 years ago, before cell phones) and they somehow got separated in the crowd. She went into a store and seemed distressed, and they asked why. She wanted to say she was lost, but she said, ‘Ani mit’abedet’ (‘I’m committing suicide’). They sat her down, calmed her down, brought her tea, and she just kept saying ‘Ani mit’abedet.’ “They said, ‘But what about your baby?’ and she answered, ‘Gam hi mitabedet’ (She’s also committing suicide.) They asked her why, and she said, ‘Ki ba’ali azav oti’ (Because my husband left me.) “Finally, her husband walked into the store looking for her, and almost got killed by the people who thought that he had walked out on his wife, driving her to suicide.” Note: the root letters for suicide in Hebrew might be the same as those for being lost (halachti le’ibud), but something got seriously lost in the mistranslation.

That, of course, was a clean mistake. Many of the bloopers submitted gave me a good laugh but cannot be shared in a family paper. As a colleague pointed out when I first started collecting these misunderstandings: It’s as if someone were to go into a store in the US and ask for a sex-pack instead of a six-pack.

More than one hapless (or helpless) young lady living somewhere without a working doorbell has put a notice on the door “Na lidfok hazak” which should mean “Please knock loudly” but doesn’t. It is more an invitation to knock the woman up in the American slang sense.

Someone wrote in to tell me that she and her husband participated in a volunteer English teaching program in Tel Aviv schools last winter. “On the last day of the program, when he returned to our hotel, another volunteer... suggested I ask my husband what had occurred that day; I thought it would be somehow connected to sadness in leaving and saying goodbye to the kids. Oh no! He had decided that he was ready to address the entire faculty and student body with his goodbye... in his less than toddler Hebrew... Holding the microphone firmly he said clearly, loudly and distinctly, ‘Ani ochel yeladim!’ [I eat children]... His buddy whispered to him, ‘ohev’ [love]! Say ‘ohev!’ ... Alas, too late.

“No, the words weren’t even alike; no letters were transposed. Just a remarkable speech.” The kids were lucky that he’d actually liked them and not bitten their heads off, I suppose.

Sometimes newcomers think they know best, as illustrated by this submission: “Forty three years ago, as new immigrants with my husband and three small children, living in the Lod absorption center, I quickly learned the word for a train – rakevet. So when, soon after, my Israeli sister-in-law gave me the addresses to send invitations for our son’s bar mitzva, I was quite certain that Rehov Rakefet [Cyclamen Street] was a spelling mistake. So I corrected it!” Well, no one promised new immigrants a rose garden.

Apropos, a reader “once told my physician about my problems with the roses (vradim) in my legs instead of my veins (vridim).”

Another reader still remembers how years ago she went to a mikve (ritual bath) in Beersheba and informed the assistant she needed a miklat (shelter) instead of miklahat (shower).

“By the way, at the time as I was dunking,” she recalls, “I heard the ululating sound – something I had never heard in my native Toronto. In panic I turned to the mikva lady and yelled ‘mihablim’ [terrorists]. I thought that I had made aliya only to be killed in a mikva in a terrorist attack. That was my first experience with the lovely henna party at the mikva for brides before their wedding.”

Another reader wrote in: “When I worked on a kibbutz for a year in 1966/7 I could not hear the difference between lehitgaleah (to shave) and lehitkaleah (to have a shower) with ensuing frequent misunderstandings.

“... as a teenager, my wife went to a felafel kiosk and asked for a hetzi monit (half a taxi) instead of hetzi mana (half portion).

“Not to be beaten... one of our daughters in her teens sitting around a table with friends at a hotel in Herzliya... beckoned a waiter and said to him ‘Efshar lekabel shtuyot?’ (Can I get nonsense?).” She had meant to ask “Efshar lekabel (mashehu) lishtot?” (Can I get something to drink?) A colleague tells of a French-speaking new arrival who requested “mitz gever” (which translates as “man juice”) instead of the more conventional order of “mitz gezer” (carrot juice.) Someone else wrote in with a selection of choice misunderstandings including the following:

“When we first came to Israel, we lived on a kibbutz. One day we received a visit from the Jewish Agency to see how all the new immigrants were settling down. One of the new immigrants wanted to show off his Hebrew but instead of saying: ‘Ani merasess et hazvuvim’ - I am spraying the flies, he said: ‘Ani mesaress et hazvuvim‘ (I am castrating the flies.)” Definitely a cut above the rest.

The same reader had other mistakes to share: “One day many years later when I was studying at the university, I was waiting in line at the library behind a young man. He approached a young, very pretty librarian to ask her if they had a copy of A.B. Yehoshua’s novel The Lover. He asked her in Hebrew: ‘Yesh lach me’ahev?’ Do you have a lover? “She blushed scarlet and replied angrily, ‘None of your business!’” And another mistake by the same reader: “Before I retired I worked for an international firm.

During Pessah [Passover] I wrote a letter to our Israeli representative at the Japanese branch ending the letter with ‘Chag Sameach’ and signed my name. For years after I would receive mail from his secretary addressed to Dear Mrs. Chag Sameach.

May we all have a hag sameah (happy holiday), may all our mistakes be good for a laugh and may the year (and not our veins) come up roses.

liat@jpost.com

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