Archive for the ‘Hebrew’ Category


Recently, I learned that in Israel, a flat tire on a bicycle is called a “puncher”.  I brought one with a flat tire to a local bike shop. The shop owner saw the bike and said, “Puncher?”

I didn’t know what language he was using and I certainly did not understand the question, so I told him (in Hebrew) that I didn’t understand his question. I am instantly identifiable as an English speaker as soon as I say one word in Hebrew.  The shop owner repeated his question using a full English sentence: “Do you have a puncher?”.

A puncher? This was fascinating. He was using the term “puncher” while speaking English. It was obvious that he was referring to the flat tire, so I confirmed that the tire was flat. I told him I was not familiar with the word “puncher”. He thought that was odd and asked me what it is called in the United States. I told him it was called a “flat tire”.

I asked him to pronounce the word slowly so I could really hear how it was said: pun-cher. There are many foreign words pulled into modern Hebrew, so I figured the idea was that an object punches the tire causing the flat.

Later, I had a conversation about it with my wife.  It went something like this:

Me: I found out that Israelis call a flat tire a “puncher”.

Wife: Don’t you mean a “puncture”.

Me: No, not a puncture — a puncher…. (pause) Oh, you must be right. He probably can’t say puncture.

Wife: <laughing> You thought he was saying puncher?

Me: Well, I asked him to say it slowly. He was definitely saying puncher. For what ever reason, I never thought of the word puncture.

However, it kept nagging me. He definitely said puncher and he spoke English pretty well. I had trouble believing that he couldn’t say the word “puncture”. The next time I was at his shop, I brought it up again. “You call a flat tire a puncher. Are you trying to say puncture?”

His response: “Puncture? What’s that?”

I explained what the English word puncture means and he responded by explaining to me that “puncture” has a “kah” sound, but the Hebrew word is “puncher” without the ‘kah”. He was able to say “puncture,” but he wasn’t familiar with it and the Israeli word he was using is “puncher”. I asked him if it was derived from English and he didn’t know. So, now I felt vindicated!  He wasn’t trying to say puncture after all.

However, this just didn’t seem right. The Israeli word “puncher” seems to have the same meaning as “puncture” and they sound too similar to not be related.

A few days later, I found out that the Israeli word “puncher” is derived from the English word “puncture”, but it is not a mispronunciation.  The syllables in “puncture” don’t work well in Hebrew, so the difficult sounds were dropped as the word was used over time. Now it is just some foreign-based word in the Israeli vernacular.

In general, there are many English-based words that have been pulled into modern Hebrew. Normally, you can hear the source right away. Somehow this one escaped me until my wife set me straight.

Categories: Hebrew, Israel Tags: , ,

It Came Back to Me!

It came back to me — the Feeling. I had it for a few weeks after I arrived, but it vanished about a month ago.  It came back to me this week and I cannot help but feel blessed and awed by simple things that I see around me.

I was driving my daughter to an activity today at dusk. We drove past a little playground almost completely filled with little children playing on swings and running around acting like little children.  Parents were sitting on benches chatting while sort-of watching the children. It was a completely normal scene. As I drove past with the windows down, it suddenly struck me that all the chatter and noise coming from the playground was in Hebrew.  Well, obviously all the talking would be in Hebrew, right?  But I wasn’t really thinking about it. The Feeling just bubbled up from my emotional core, this feeling that these people are talking (more or less) in the language of the Book, here, at the focal point of creation, and that I’m here too.

It is a hard feeling to explain. You cannot really explain the feelings created by an amazing sunset or a magnificent waterfall. This is a similar feeling. I’m quite certain most people would not feel it, but I do.

היום יום טוב מאוד!

Today is a very good day. This just feels like paradise. This is November. Shouldn’t it be getting cold? This is my neighborhood.


A house in the neighborhood

I live on this road

This week, I really love being here.

Yesterday, my wife and I decided to take a walk on the beach. Ra’anana is not a beach community, so we had to drive 15 minutes to reach the beach in Herzliya Pituah.

An entrance to the beach

The weather was beautiful — absolutely perfect. We walked for about a mile along the shore. The beach started as a sandy swimming area (with swimmers). This portion of the shore has a cliff line. As we walked, the beach became almost deserted. We passed rocky areas that were difficult to cross (in sandals) and more sandy areas.

We passed all the things you would expect to find at the beach. Crabs running in the sand, sea shells lining the shore, and a local neighborhood mosque.

The local neighborhood mosque is just over the cliff.

We also passed the “Hermit’s House” (also called the “Fisherman’s House”). This is a crazy structure apparently built by a hermit from debris. We didn’t actually see the hermit, although we did see his dog. My assumption is that he doesn’t have a permit for his house. I guess it would get torn down if it was built in the West Bank, but here in Herzliya Pituah, no one cares.

If we had walked a bit further, we would have come upon the ruins of a castle built by the Crusaders. (I discovered this later using Google Earth.) I’m going to try to make a bicycle trip to the castle soon.

This is just an amazing place. Right now, I cannot think of anywhere else that I would rather be.

Categories: Hebrew, Israel Tags: , , , ,

Less Is More

I finally gave up yesterday.  I was clinging by my fingernails in the “advanced-beginners” ulpan class, but on the morning of the third day, it was obvious that I just didn’t belong.  I interrupted  the teacher and tried to say (in Hebrew), “I understand very, very little.  Is this alef-plus?”  She looked at me like I was standing on my head wearing pink pajamas. This is what I was trying to say:

אני מוינ הרבה הרבה קצת. זה א פלס?

I just ran this through the Google translator and it claims that the meaning is:

“Do I Make over a long, long while. It’s a spirit level?”

After babbling along for a few more minutes speaking both broken-Hebrew and English and using the other students as partial translators, we finally decided that I should be in a lower class level.  So, just like that, I packed my things and left.

Last week, after speaking with my wife about her class, I realized that I should not be in an advanced class. She was learning things that I didn’t know.  I spoke to the clerks and the manager and we all agreed that I should just start in a basic beginners class. However, I was specifically told that I could not join my wife’s class since it was closed. Instead, I needed to come on Sunday and join a new class.

On Sunday morning, all the new students were directed to a big auditorium to get sorted into classes. I’m not talking about a few students; there must have been 150 students in the auditorium. One at a time, each teacher would stand on one side of the room while the manager called the names of the students in that class.  My name was called in the fourth class.  As soon as my name was called, the manager looks at me, talks to a few other people, and tells me that I’m not in this class and that I’ll be in a different class.  Later, my name was called again for the last class and that’s the class that I joined.  It seems obvious to me that they added my name to a beginner’s class, but didn’t remove my name from the advanced class.

After leaving the advanced class, I went back to the office and said it was too difficult and that I needed to join a beginner’s class.  Fine.  I was taken down the hall and brought into a new classroom.  There was an exchange in Hebrew with the teacher and I was told to sit.  The fascinating thing about this snafu is that my new class is also my wife’s class.

This class has been in session for over a week and they had already covered a bit of material. I made a great first impression.  The only open seat was right in the front next to a women from Venezuela (i.e., she speaks Spanish). The class was divided into groups of two (me and Ms. Venezuela were together) and each group was given a random photograph. We were suppose to create a story about the photograph using all the words that we learned. I figured we were just supposed to tell a story to each other, so me and Ms. Venezuela created a story with each other.  Meanwhile, everyone else in the class (behind me) was writing down the story knowing that they would have to stand in front of the class and tell it.  Ooops. The morah (teacher) started in the back of the room and had each group come to the front. The all did a really great job.  My wife was awesome. My group was the last. We went to the front and my extremely limited vocabulary suddenly plummeted to a level of a four-year old chimp. What a disaster. I forgot the story and I could not create a new one because I couldn’t remember any words. I think my wife is now more popular in the class because she married someone with a mental handicap.

Regardless, I can say that this is a much better class for me.  I am actually learning something.  Check this out:

עכשיו, אני לומד עברית ברעננה וגם אני גר ברעננה


Today, after class, my wife and I had a bunch or errands (this happens every day). Since this is a socialist country, the government gives money to everyone who has children.  It is a small, monthly payment paid directly into your bank account based on the number of children in the home. The catch is that the government has to be aware that you have children.

We received a letter (written in Hebrew) from some government ministry that listed our children. We figured it was related to the child allowance and we used it as a reminder to sign up. The ministry in our region is located in the town of כפר–סבא (K’far-Saba) which is a neighboring city. I didn’t know exactly where it was located and I couldn’t really read the letter, so I looked up the address on the Internet.

We drove to the location and discovered that parking in K’far-Saba is just as bad as it is in Ra’anana, i.e., you basically cannot do it.  We were in traffic trying to figure out what to do when a car pulled out in front of us from the curb. Great! My wife (who was driving) tried to jump into the spot, but couldn’t really get the angle right because of the car behind us. The car behind us also wanted the spot and wouldn’t back up. After a few minutes, the car behind us gives up, and double parks a bit in front of us. The driver jumped out of the car with some garbage bags and raced into a store. Fine. We parked!

I got out of the car to find the actual office location. I was looking for address number 39. On one block, the addresses ran 32-38, then there was a huge building under construction, followed by a block with addresses starting at 42. Hmmm. After a bit of confusion, my wife asked someone in a store and was told that the address was behind the building under construction.

Eventually we found the access to this building-behind-the-construction-area and the clerk at the desk told us that the ministry was no longer located there. Apparently it moved a while ago and the web site was not updated. However, he showed me the correct address on the letter that we received in the mail. I was able to find the correct address on my iPhone map. This whole process must have taken half an hour. During that time, my wife and daughter left to look for a snack.  When I returned to the car, I discovered that the car was gone, but the other car was still double-parked and blocking traffic in one lane. Unbelievable! Eventually, I hooked up with my wife and we headed for the new address.

The ministry was actually a nice office located in a mall. There were two security checks. The first was just a quick check of bags. The second included a metal detector and a more detailed examination of bags. This was a serious inspection. I had to go through the metal detector three times (it found my phone and then my coins). I also had a wand waved over me and they went through all of the zippers in my backpack. They managed to find my laptop and a small screwdriver and I was then informed that neither were allowed. However, they could watch my laptop (and screwdriver) at the desk. I was given a hand receipt and we moved into the office. My laptop was literally sitting on the desk. My daughter decided that she would stand by the desk and watch to make sure nothing happened to my things.

My wife and I came together to this office under the assumption that we both needed to be present. We didn’t really know if it was necessary, but it would just be to annoying to come alone and discover that both parties were required. We spoke to a very pleasant lady who explained the letter, made a phone call, and then explained that we were already signed up and didn’t need to do anything. Apparently, the health insurance company notified the government for us and the letter that we received was a notice that we were already signed up. So, although we assumed that both of us needed to be present, in reality, neither of us needed to come!

Categories: Hebrew, Israel Tags: , , ,

Rosh HaShana

Wow. I just had the best ראש השנה (Rosh HaShana) ever. I am really beginning to love living in רעננה (Ra’anana).

I’m quite certain that this must be some form of insanity. The house that we are renting is (still) a disaster. My kids complain that they don’t understand anything in school. You never stop sweating (because of the 90 degree heat and 70% humidity). People drive cars (and shopping carts) like they are in some third-world country (or Ohio). The streets in the town are arranged seemingly according to the design of some complete lunatic. Did I mention that it never cools down. It takes forever to do anything. Parking is…, well,.. actually it isn’t — parking is basically driving around the center of town endlessly until you forget what you want or get bored and go home. The traffic lights are timed and always too short. When you speak, most people don’t have a clue what you are saying.

And yet, it is really growing on me. The people in Ra’anana have been so inconceivably friendly and helpful that it defies all explanation and reason.

We joined the Beit Knesset Ohel Ari.  This is an amazing shul — simply beautiful. We joined because it is “the American shul where we will feel more comfortable because it is run like an American shul.” Hmmm, I suppose that might be true.  It does have a lot of American members and it does have a head rabbi and it does maintain a schedule.  I’ve heard that many other local shuls work differently —  local Israelis just get together at whatever time and argue about how to run the shul. I have not yet experienced this, although I plan on experimenting with other shuls since there are about 80 within a walking distance.

Having said all that, my first few visits at the Ohel Ari were underwhelming.  Back in Maryland, my local shul was a small Chabad.  Sometimes, my family would visit friends in Baltimore and we would attend services at a larger shul. The Ohel Ari, however, is huge — maybe I just felt lost (and clueless) in the crowd. But the services for Rosh HaShana were just awesome.

I started my ulpan class today. I thought ulpan meant something like “Hebrew Language Class for Dummies”.  I was wrong. I now know that ulpan really means “Hebrew Class for a Bunch of Smart Russians and Brits Along with One Dummy from Maryland”. Since I was advanced (I can spell my name) but not quite ready for aleph+, I was placed in the advanced aleph class. We “learned” at least 16 verbs (with conjugations) along with quite a few nouns. After we went over most of the verbs, the מורה (teacher) asked if anyone thought it seemed like a lot of verbs.  I raised my hand; actually I raised it only half-way. No one else bothered to respond at all.  The teacher looked at me, alone, with my hand half raised, and said, “I thought you might think so.” Then she goes on to give us more verbs.

Later, we broke into groups to work on creating sentences with all the new verbs.  We were each suppose to take turns creating sentences that everyone in the group would write. I thought trivial sentences would be fine, but I lost that vote. So, we had to create complex sentences using words and phrases that I didn’t know or understand. The group members were kind enough to explain the sentences to me though — even the ones that they wrote for me.

But it is all in good fun and I don’t mind the challenge of muddling through the super-advanced beginners class.

Categories: Hebrew, Israel Tags: ,


My wife and I started school today. Actually, my wife started. I mostly just waited in line. The school is called “ulpan” which is a fancy Hebrew word that means something like “Hebrew Language School for Dummies.”

We tried to register all last week, but there were just too many schedule conflicts. We knew that classes started today (on Sunday), so in a desperate attempt to get registered, we finally managed to show up at the “Absorption Center” last Friday. We arrived at about 2:00 pm and were greeted by a friendly, non-English speaking security guard. After suffering through 10 minutes of broken English, broken Hebrew, and broken sign-language, we finally learned that it was closed and that we should return on Sunday at 8:00 a.m.

Today, Sunday, we arrived at 8:20 to register. There were many people in line in front of us. Some spoke French, some English, others spoke Russian. The clerks and teachers, of course, spoke Hebrew and also have pretty good English skills. The line was not that long, but it moved very slowly. Think of the speed of the Los Angeles (so-called) freeway during rush hour. Even better, if you have been to an amusement park, think of the line at the “log jam” ride. This line just wouldn’t move.

Finally, they pulled a bunch of us out of the registration line to take a test to determine our Hebrew skill level. The test was all in Hebrew. It looked like it would be easy for a kindergartener. I figured out where to put my name and phone number. I also managed to answer three questions on the five-page test. I think I may have even answered them correctly.

My wife spent a couple of minutes working the test and finally said that it was ridiculous and that she was just going to start at the bottom level (called aleph). I figured that I would be joining her, but when my test was evaluated, they decided I should be in aleph+. I think that’s because I could spell my name (seriously).

My wife joined her class right away, but aleph+ doesn’t start until next Sunday. So I was given the task of standing in line and registering both of us. Remember the “log jam” line I mentioned earlier? There were only five people in front of me, but it took about an hour. I have a theory about why it took so long. When it was my turn, it only took about 5 minutes. I can speak a bit of Hebrew and the clerk could speak broken-English, so we could communicate. A couple of other English speakers also took about 5 minutes. But try to imagine a French or Russian speaker trying to register with a clerk who only knows Hebrew and broken-English. That takes a bit of time.

I have four children, but only three are living with us. They all started different schools last week. The classes are all in Hebrew, however they get pulled out of the classroom for their own ulpan. So far, it is all going according to plan. They go to school and come back claiming they didn’t learn anything. It might not be a good plan, but it is the plan. I’ve been told that they will be able to communicate within a couple of months. In the meantime, the class room learning that they are missing (or not understanding) will be supplemented via tutoring.

My wife will have class on Monday and Tuesday and then there will be a break for Rosh HaShana. While she’s in class, I think I’ll spend some time re-learning forgotten Hebrew skills — I need to be prepared for the advanced aleph class (where students can spell their names.)

Categories: Hebrew, Israel Tags: , ,
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