Maybe summing up a culture in 10 words is a bit simplistic. 10 words cannot capture the nuances and ambiguities that are found within Israel any more than 10 strokes of a paintbrush can adequately give a realistic portrait of a city in its entirety. However, if I were asked to give only 10 words to describe what it means to be “Israeli,” these would be my choice:

  1. Dafka-This is tossed around on a daily basis. The closest translation in English would be “in spite of” or “in defiance.” Israelis take this stance to the rest of the world and also in day to day interactions. If you do something “dafka,” you do it in spite of the opposite reaction being expected or desired.
  2. Chutzpah –Chutzpah is a very loaded word that can mean someone has “nerve” or “gall,” or is very audacious. It can have negative or positive connotations, such as remarking that someone has “chutzpah” to just cut in line, or that someone demonstrated “chutzpah” through a very daring action.
  3. Balagan-This word describes chaos. Israelis have become accustomed to improvising in the midst of chaos or bad news. They are creative in the midst of “balagan,” so to speak, or in the midst of messy situations.
  4. Yalla-This word originated from Arabic and was adopted into Hebrew. It probably best sums up the typical Israeli’s lack of patience. It basically means, “come on” or “let’s go.” It can be used both when waiting for something (“Yalla, where is my food?”), or when trying to get people moving or to leave when they seem to be dawdling (“Yalla, it’s already 11pm!”).
  5. Sababa-Another word adopted from Arabic, basically equivalent to English slang for “cool,” “right on” or “awesome.”
  6. Tachles- Tachles is often used to mean “without flair” or “up front and down to business.” It is classic for Israelis to get to their point and be very direct, avoiding the niceties that many other cultures use, which can be surprising for those from more polite areas of the world. Israelis will say, “let’s talk tachles,” when they really want to tell you something straight or to be brutally honest.
  7. Yiheya beseder- Meaning “it will be ok” or “everything will work out,” this phrase really captures the casual, laid-back posture that many Israelis take when looking at the future or at the moment.
  8. Friar-This word is one that is on the list because it is the very thing all Israelis strive to avoid being called and yet each Israeli becomes one at some point or another. The closest English word would be “sucker,” such as when one allows someone to cheat them or receives a bad deal.
  9. Combina or combinot (plural)-In the great effort to not be a friar, many Israelis succumb to the temptation to take part in “combinot,” or under-handed deals or ways of cheating the system. They see the “system,” or the rules, as working against them and believe these actions are necessary to prevent being cheated or being put at a disadvantage.
  10. Shalom-Every Israeli, whether right-wing or left-wing, ultimately wants “shalom,” or peace. Everyone may disagree on how to justly arrive at this utopian concept while also remaining alive, but a day does not go by without this being expressed, whether as a greeting, in songs or in conversations.

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