Hebrew Hear-Say logo.
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Although I'm not much of a sporting person, I try to be a good sport - 'sportivi' rather than 'atleti', as they around here. I admit I watched the opening ceremony and subsequent coverage of the Maccabiah Games, the Jewish Olympics, with a certain amount of pride. Yet I wasn't surprised to see the event blasted in the Hebrew press as schmaltz, that untranslatable Yiddish term that onomatopoeically gets the message across in at least three languages.
The reviews missed the point: Of course it was schmaltz or kitsch. It was meant to be. The Olympics, 'Ha'olympiada', as we call them, are about show and power. The Maccabiah is about family, with its inherent sibling rivalry and emotions. You can't beat the Olympics when it comes to the level of competition, but the Maccabiah is in a league of its own in the sporting world.
The biking events in the Besor region did not resemble the Tour de France, but only at the Maccabiah can a participant like Australia's Julian Rifkin combine the competition with a bat-mitzva ceremony for his daughter. And although the J-Date aspect of the games might have been overrated, there clearly were hormones at work among many of the young, single participants, and what's wrong with that?
The starters' whistle ('shrikat hap'tiha') gives a thrill, but finding a match of the matrimonial kind has a lasting ring to it - and who doesn't want to go for gold?
"'Ha'ikar lehishtatef'," "the main thing is to participate," goes the cliche, and we all appreciate the effort of the competitors ('mishtatfim'), but naturally it is the winners ('menatzhim') and not the losers ('mafsidim') who grab the glory. A bad loser, by the way, is such a universal figure that Hebrew slang uses the English word for it: "'loozer'." And while we're on the subject of winners and 'loozerim', I was pleased to see the Israeli contestants sporting T-shirts with the slogan "'Ani machur lesport, lo lesamim'," "I'm addicted to sport, not drugs" because it's no secret that some of the successes in the Tour de France of recent years have more to do with peddled substances than the cyclists' pedal power.
Following every major achievement or flop, the song "'Zeh rak sport'," "It's just sport," - Israel's not-so-successful entry in the 1992 Eurovision Song Contest - wins royalties. It is heard as the chorus to discussions about about sporting spirit ('ruah sportivit'). This year it's been doing overtime not just because of the Maccabiah games.
When it comes to soccer, 'kadur-regel', Israel captain Yossi Benayoun is practically beating the Brits at their own game with another lucrative contract with Liverpool, giving us a collective kick in the process.
We're getting along swimmingly in the pool ('breicha'), although it was America's Jason Lezak who not surprisingly made the biggest splash in the Maccabiah finals this week. And we've riding a wave of success with windsurfing ('glisha') and wrestling for the top judo spots for years.
Don't ask me how to translate "Anyone for tennis?" into Hebrew, but even the Russians unexpectedly met their game, set and match in the Davis Cup against Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich, who have been courting favor with the Israeli crowds for a while. As the slang phrase goes, they won big time - "'sihaku ota begadol'."
On the other hand, we've recently been witness to a lot of 'mis'hakei eggo' (literally "ego games," but used as power struggle) when it comes to my favorite local soccer club. Betar Jerusalem owner and at one point mayoral candidate Arkadi Gaydamak seems to have left the club (and the country) without clearly determining its future, leaving Betar fans screaming "foul" (pronounced "fow-el" in my neighborhood) and shouting all sorts of other things I won't publish in a family paper.
Wordsmith Ruvik Rosenthal in his 'Lexicon shel hahaim' ('The Lexicon of Life: Israeli sociolects and jargon') devotes a section to Hebrew soccer cliches including such phrases as: "'Ha'ohadim hem hasahkan hashneim asar'" (the fans are the 12th player), "'asur lezalzel beshum yariv'" (you shouldn't belittle any opponent) and the broadcasters' tried-and-trusted "'Bekadur-regel zeh lo nigmar ad shezeh lo nigmar'" "In soccer, it ain't over until it's over," matched by the players/coaches' standard comment: "'Shehem yedabru ba'iton, anahnu nedaber bamigrash'" - "Let them talk in the newspapers, we'll talk on the pitch."
And indeed, I think I'll just have to stick to 'mis'hakei milim' - word play.