18 essential Hebrew words and phrases

In honor of Israel's 60th Birthday, we thought you should learn a few key words and phrases in Hebrew that will bring you closer to Israel's people and culture. This vocabulary will be useful on your next trip to Israel– or on your next trip to Ventura Boulevard. Delight your Israeli friends, teach your kids or impress a date. What better way to mark this milestone in Jewish history than to do a very Jewish thing: learn!

1. Shalom — [shuh-lohm] hello; goodbye; peace. Shalom Yossi, how are you? Probably the most uttered Hebrew word in the dictionary, its three meanings make it an indispensable tool for everyday conversation, as well as international peace summits.

2. Slicha — [slee-chah] sorry; excuse me. Slicha, I was here first. A polite word that'll come in handy when trying to get an Israeli's attention — or when trying to avoid a brawl.

3. Todah — [toe-DAH] thank you. Todah for the directions, bus driver. You should know how to thank people in every language; showing gratitude is a universally appreciated gesture — even with manner-deficient Israelis.

4. Naim me'od — [ny-EEM meh-ohd] very pleasant. Naim me'od to finally meet you. You can use this phrase to describe something, such as when the weather is very pleasant, but it is mostly used when meeting someone for the first time.

5. Lama? — [lah-mah] why? Lama don't you come visit more often? Israelis love to ask questions and challenge things and people. You may want to know how to do the same in order to fit in.

6. Yalla — [yah-lah] let's go; come on. Yalla, where is my food? You'll hear this word — which is actually an Arabic word adopted into Hebrew — said frequently, with impatience, with enthusiasm, with anger, in a song, in conversation. It typifies the impatient nature of Israelis — and Arabs for that matter.

7. Ma koreh? — [mah kor-EH] what's happening? Hi Tali, ma koreh with you lately? Young Israelis often substitute the more formal “how are you” with “ma koreh,” perhaps reflecting their interest in the recent events of a person's life as opposed to the person's feelings.

8. Chaval al ha zman — [cha-vahl ahl ha-Z-mahn] (slang) amazing; great. Thailand was chaval al ha zman. This phrase translated literally means “shame on the time” which makes no sense, but everyone — and we mean everyone — uses it to describe a wonderful experience. The next time someone asks you how your trip to Israel was, be sure to answer: chaval al ha zman!

9. Neshika — [neh-SHI-kah] kiss. Give me a big neshika. An extremely affectionate and warm people, Israelis tend to give each other abundant hugs and kisses, even if they have just met.

10. Ani ohev otach/Ani ohevet otchah — [AH-nee oh-hev oh-tach/AH-nee oh-hevett oht-cha] I love you (male to a female)/(female to a male). Dad, ani ohevet otchah. Saying I love you in a different language adds some spice to those three little words.

11. Neshama — [neh-sha-mah] soul; (slang) darling. Neshama, could you make me some coffee? A beautiful and spiritual word, you'll often hear both men and women using it as a term of endearment with each other, with children and with friends. It's just one example of how spirituality is a part of everyday life and speech in Israel.

12. Mishpacha — [Mish-PA-cha] family. I have a lot of mishpacha in Ashdod. Israelis are fiercely loyal to their families, which tend to be large in number. The country's tiny size means distant family members see each other much more frequently than American families, so you may find yourself being introduced to people way out there on the family tree.

13. Frier — [fry-ehr] (slang) sucker. Do I look like a frier to you? Being duped is one of the worst things that could happen to an Israeli. They don't like being taken advantage of or fooled, and they don't like being accused of doing it to someone else, so keep this word handy when haggling for prices at the shuk (bazaar).

14. Ezeh bassa — [eh-zah BAHS-ah] (slang) what a disappointment. Ezeh bassa, there's no cute girls at this party. Speak this phrase — another loaner from Arabic– within earshot of an Israeli, and you'll receive warm acknowledgement for being “in the know.” This is by far the coolest — though definitely not the only — way to express displeasure in Hebrew.

15. At chamuda/ata chamud — [aht chah-moo-dah/aht-ah chah-mood] you're cute (to a female)/(to a male). Hey you, at chamuda. If you want to hit on a gorgeous Israeli girl, you better know how to do it in her language. Israeli women are notoriously difficult to crack, but a compliment is a good start.

16. Chagiga — [cha-gi-ga] party; celebration. There will be an enormous chagiga in Tel Aviv on Independence Day. There is always a reason to celebrate in Israel — holidays, weddings, birthdays — and they sure know how to throw a party in the Holy Land!

17. Meshugah — [meh-shoo-gah] crazy person. Slow down, you're driving like a meshugah! You should have at least one insult in your arsenal in order to get through a trip to Israel, and this is a good one: not too offensive and applicable in many situations and to many people.

18. Tikvah — [teek-vah] hope. We still have tikvah that there will be peace. The Israeli national anthem is called “Hatikvah” — The Hope — and this word is so fundamental to the Jewish homeland's existence that every Jew in the world should know it.

WEB EXTRA AUDIO: Dikla Kadosh runs down the 18 words and phrases, with special assistance from AudioJew Jay Firestone.