Hebrew Hear-Say: Love, love, love

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February 14, 2008 15:44
4 minute read.

Since Valentine's Day was celebrated yesterday, it seems a good time to talk about love. I know I am courting disaster: Don't hit the "send message" on an utterly unloving e-mail telling me that in Israel we should be ignoring February 14, named after a saint, in favor of the Jewish holiday of Tu Be'av. In theory, I agree. But just as I don't see the point in waiting for a birthday to give someone a gift, I see no reason to wait until the summer to tell someone special that you love them. The question is: How to say it? At the most simple level, almost anybody who has passed beginner's level Hebrew lessons knows that a guy says to a gal: "Ani ohev otach!" and a gal returns the compliment: "Ani ohevet otcha!" But, as anyone who has got to the stage of saying that in a romantic situation knows, love is not easy. Love (ahava) might be unchanging, but the way we express it has certainly not remained the same over the years, centuries and millennia. Just think, for example, of that line from the Song of Songs (Shir Hashirim): "Dodi li va'ani lo," "My beloved is mine and I am his." Today, if a woman talks about "dodi " in an erotic tone her poor uncle ("dod") is likely to end up answering very embarrassing questions at a local police station. Just as "my beloved" in English today sounds archaic, so does "dodi." Better to use the term "ahuvi" (or "ahuvati" referring to the fairer sex), and even that sounds so sweet it risks being perceived as sarcastic. To call someone you love "dod," with its avuncular, elderly connotation would definitely be an instant turnoff. Look to the classics for inspiration for sure, but like all things to do with the heart, handle with care. As entertainer supreme Gidi Gov noted in song, "Ha'ikar zeh haromantika" - romance is the main thing - but, as he also points out, it's easy to miss the mark. (Fortunately, for lyricists and poets, a broken heart - lev shavur - is inexplicably considered romantic [romanti].) We express our love differently from generation to generation in Hebrew as in English. For instance, you might just about get away with the word "courting," but the words of that British early 20th-century classic "How'd you like to spoon with me?" sound like they're being said by a forked tongue nowadays - as does "ben loke'ah bat," "a boy takes a girl," in the holy language. As in most other areas of life in the Promised Land, in affairs of the heart, English words have not so much crept in as made great strides. To flirt (leflartet) now comes naturally to the Hebrew-speaker too, especially now that those people once known as pnuim/pnuyot (literally: "available") are currently collectively called in Hebrew "singels." They can go out on a "date" and even a "blind date" whereas once there was only a "pgisha" and "pgisha iveret." The latest word, in both senses of the phrase, is "speed dating" which can leave you reeling but perhaps suits the Israeli mentality. In fact, the word "date" with its implication of advanced planning of the time to meet up is probably far more of an anomaly, particularly in the Facebook age. Indeed, in the electronic era, you can cut the romance in an SMS by to "alef, alef, alef" (ani ohev otach). Talk about modern love letters. The haredi sector still has shidduchim; but some in the dati-leumi (national-religious) community are grappling with terms like "tefillin date" (when the guy sleeps over and hence needs to bring his phylacteries with him). Haver/havera is still a boyfriend/girlfriend (an ordinary friend is simply yadid/yedida) but by the time you're really serious you are, at least in secular circles, likely to have become "partners" (ben/bat zug). By the way, what was once known as "yotzim kavua" - literally: permanently going out or going steady - has in the spirit of the times turned into "hofchim le'item" - become an item. The English terms "pickup bar" and "pickup line" are now called the same thing in Hebrew - and they don't sound any better. Nothing can make you want to immediately drop someone as a bad pickup line, and many pickup bars demonstrate how the phrase "cattle market" - "shuk habasar" - reached these Mediterranean shores. Those whose pickup lines need a pick-you-up say: "Love is like treasure, easily found and easily lost" ("ha'ahava hi kmo otzar - kasheh limtzo, kal le'abed.") May all those singles who are searching, speedily find their beshert (destined soul mate), and may all those who have found their beloved know how to treasure them and keep the romance alive. And may all your Valentine's Day chocolates melt your hearts without melting on your shirts. liat@jpost.com


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