Hebrew Hear-Say: A pale imitation

Most people would be satisfied with coining a phrase. Hagashash Hahiver (literally The Pale Tracker) minted an entire treasury. Simply called Hagashashim, the three members of the comedy team - Yeshayahu (Shaike) Levi, Gavriel (Gavri) Banai and Yisrael (Poli) Poliakov, who died last week - developed a language both peculiar and funny called Gashashit. This was delivered to the booming laughter of audiences in a series of skits, shows and movies which are so much a part of Hebrew culture that trying to imagine the country without them is like trying to imagine British humor without Monty Python. How did they do it? That's a she'ela she'elatit, a questioning question, as one of the phrases they made popular goes. Basically they took the melting pot that was Israel of the 1960s and '70s, added some spices, mixed the Ashkenazi and Sephardi humor together and then let it stew, having taken it off the high flame. Immigrants, veterans and sabras alike quoted them. Not knowing their work marked you as an outsider. I was exposed as a new immigrant in the army in the late 1970s. Serving on a base so close to Syria that if we sneezed in the wrong direction the UN could file a complaint of germ warfare, we suffered the tense buildup to what was to become the First Lebanon War. Whenever the situation reached Red Alert, or so it seemed to me, the powers-that-be would bring the Gashashim up to the auditorium at Kibbutz Ayelet Hashahar to give us something to laugh about. Everybody has their own Gashash favorite catchphrases. Their philosophy could be summed up in their line: Ha'olam matzhik az tzohakim - "The world is funny, so laugh." High on most fans list is "Israbloff" - the typical Israeli way of getting by - or as the bank clerk sketch has it: Hakol be'ke'ilu. Atem medabrim kacha ve'osim kacha, ya'ani Israbloff - "It's all 'as if.' You say this and do that." The tchupchik shel hakumkum (the spout of the kettle) most Israelis know (thanks to the Gashashim) is really called the zarbuvit. The phrase itself is more useful for coming to mean the inability to separate the wheat from the chaff. It is just one of the many lasting lines from the show based on a fictional radio call-in program: "Hakeh et hamumheh," "Hit the expert" ("'allo! Zeh radio?"). "Kreker neged Kreker," which came out shortly after the film Kramer vs Kramer, hit close to many a (broken) home with the wife B-b-b-barbara (a.k.a. Helikopter) who wants to keep the apartment and everything in it, including her ex-husband's reserve duty memorabilia. She's willing to let him take one extension cord. It has one quote still in use which is perfect for English speakers, even if they know no Hebrew: "Hello-o! Eny body ho-o-me?" It's all a matter of delivery - Hevanta et zeh, Baruch? ("Did you understand that, Baruch?"). There are many idiots in the works of the Gashashim, thanks to the brilliance of writers Nissim Aloni, Dan Almagor, Yossi Banai and Shaike Ophir, as well as the Gashashim's inimical style. Or as one skit put it: "Monsieur Levy: If stupidity was a painful illness, you would spend your whole life in a plaster cast" (Im hatipshut hayta mahala koevet, ata kol hahaim hayita begeves). You don't have to be very long in the country to laugh along, even with rudimentary Hebrew. How about the typical Israeli housepainter who arrives - late - at the home of an effete intellectual and eventually gets him to do all the work himself: Doctor: "I wanted blue!" Decorator: "I also wanted blue. But it didn't work out" (zeh lo yatza li). There are many hypercorrections and affectations: A personal favorite, the vegetable seller who sells books by the kilo in the market (Sfarim, rabotai, sfarim!). "That's an idea!" - zeh ra'ayon. The Gashash started out before Israel had even one (black and white) television station, and established the foundations for all the comedy shows to come. But their golden age was a different time, a time of gentle and not-so-gentle parody - not the stinging satire and vulgarity that was to come. The "me generation" still laughs at the jokes of the "Conscripted Car" (Harechev hameguyas) skit but finds it no less funny that people were willing to let their private cars be mobilized in wartime. The war might have been won, but the vehicles didn't always survive, hence the premise of the sketch in which the car comes back without a radio, upholstery or engine: Haya manoa? ("There was an engine?") Hamaftehot bifnim, sa! "The keys are inside. Go!"). As one wonderfully pompous typical Gashashit play on Hebrew grammar has it: Terem haspikoti - roughly translatable as: "I have not yet had sufficient time…" - or in my case, space - to record all their memorable contributions. All I can say, in a line from their cult movie Givat Halfon eina ona, "Halfon Hill is not answering": Tehi medinat Yisrael! "Long live the State of Israel!" Tehi Hagashashit! liat@jpost.com