Hebrew Hear-Say: To coin a phrase

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December 25, 2008 13:00

3 minute read.



"If I were a rich man," sang Topol in Fiddler on the Roof. The Hebrew has a name for it, translating the song as "Lu hayiti Rothschild." Money makes the world go around, as we all know. But the recent financial crises have left the world spinning. Our enemies, of course, think we are obsessed with money. And with friends like Bernard L. Madoff, who needs enemies? Money. Kesef. Since I evidently have no talent at making it, all I can do is talk about it. Among the fringe benefits of being an Israeli Jew, as opposed to one living in the Diaspora, is that you can light your hanukkia (we don't call it a menora here) in your front window or even outside your front door without fear, and you can talk about money without worrying what the neighbors will say: Call it gelt without guilt. So, dear reader (koreh yakar), at the risk of sounding cheap (zol), let's talk money - bo'u nedaber kesef. It makes a change from simply letting money talk (kesef medaber). This time of year, you can even put your money where your mouth is and eat it: On Hanukka, kids are often given Hanukka gelt, dmei Hanukka, in the form of chocolate coins, a sweet change from regular pocket money (dmei kis). A friend noted recently that whenever Israelis get together they tend to talk about not having money. Whether this is a sign of the lifestyle in the country where you can bank on having an overdraft (over, roll the "r") or just against the evil eye, we couldn't decide. It is common to hear complaints like "ein li grush al haneshama" the Hebrew equivalent of "I don't have a penny to my name" shortly before getting down to the dirty business of prices. But as they say here in Hebrish: bizness zeh bizness. We do seem to have an ambivalent relationship to money: Israeli travelers, for example, have no problem sitting next to you on the plane, enquiring how much you paid for your ticket and then ruining the start of your vacation by telling you the price they got in a special deal (colloquially known as dil). Mind you, some time before the movie starts they'll also have told you how much their suitcase and everything in it is worth, leaving you thinking haval al hakesef (it's a waste of money). Big bucks, kesef gadol, can also translate into buchtot - literally wads. Really big money, a fortune, is hon. The opposite is kesef katan, small change. The Wall Street crash and the Madoff scandal are obvious reminders that there is no such thing as easy money: kesef kal. If it comes too easily, I'd place my money on it being kesef shahor (literally: black money, illegally earned). Although money goes to money, it doesn't grow on trees, even family trees. Something which brings in high profits is sometimes referred to as a mechonat kesef - a money-making machine. But machines always eventually break down and then you have expenses: hotza'ot. Whenever cars, washing machines, computers, etc. need fixing, the first question to ask the repairman is: "Ma hanezek?" ("How bad is the damage?" referring to the financial harm) or with a common sarcasm: "Kama ya'aleh hata'anug?" - how much do we have to pay for the pleasure? Most survive on plastic money - giving the credit card (kartis ashrai) its due. We swipe the plastic, or as we say around here, "iron it" - megahetz oto - and then we celebrate: hogegim. The description of someone who wastes money as having a hole in his trousers (hor bemichnasayim) is still used, but in the plastic age it is as outdated as using the lira instead of the New Israeli Shekel. Someone who has made a fortune is said to have "made a hit" or "hit the jackpot": asa maka or asa kupa. As long as it's done legally and without hurting anyone, I say good for them. Money itself is not dirty (meluchlach), but the more money you have, the more you have to make sure to keep your hands clean: and that does not mean by money laundering (halbanat hon). In the mad, mad Madoff world it is clearer than ever that no good can come out of a deal which leaves thousands crying as one person laughs all the way to the bank - tzohek kol haderech el habank. [email protected]


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