Coffee And Politics, Or: From Cups To Coups

By Dr. Jeremy Benstein, HATC Senior Consultant

The favorite joke of one of my sons, when he was about four years old, went as follows (translated from the original Hebrew): “A man was walking along, fell into a hole, and couldn’t get out. ‘God,’ he prayed, ‘Make a miracle for me!’ God answered: ‘With sugar or without sugar?'”  

Now, in order to get this joke, you have to understand that the word for “miracle” in Hebrew is nes, which also means “instant coffee.” So, if you ask someone to make you a nes, you’re more likely to get a cup of coffee than a miracle. Even from God.  

Nes, by the way, is actually short for nescafe, which though the brand name of a type of coffee made by Nestle, is generic in Israel for “instant coffee.” The correct term for that light brown powder dissolved in hot water (which is hardly divine, by any standard) would be kafeh names, literally “dissolving coffee.” Compared to other types of coffee, this one (pronounced “nah’mess”), indeed involves less mess, and thus is somewhat miraculous.  

Today Israel boasts world-class cafes in most cities and a burgeoning coffee culture, with a plethora of brews to fit every discerning palate. But once nes was one of a mere two types of Israeli coffee.  

The other was a sort of Turkish coffee that, instead of being cooked on the stove, is simply mixed in water like nes. But since it is essentially unbrewed coffee grounds, the miraculous dissolution does not occur. This leaves a thick, black sludge at the bottom of the glass, which looks a lot like mud, or in Hebrew, botz, which became the name for this potent beverage usually served in small glass cups.  

It’s not hard to imagine the chalutzim, Israeli pioneers, after a hearty mug of muddy botz in the morning, going out to drain the swamps — the bitzot, same root — whose black peat looked and probably smelled about the same.  

Miracle or Mud? 

These two types of coffee seemed to define the two poles of Israeli reality: miracle or mud. Roses or thorns, paragon or pariah: a country of extremes. And it’s no accident that these are opposites. For the third type of coffee, which came on the scene a little later, is kafeh hafuch, or simply hafuch, meaning “opposite,” or “reversed.” Or upside-down, or inside-out, or backwards – from the Hebrew word hafuch means all those things. More on that to follow.  

In the case of coffee, though, it means something between a cappuccino and a latte (or café au lait) – a shot of espresso, with a lot of milk, and possibly some ketzef, whipped or steamed milk, depending on your taste. It’s not clear whether this is considered hafuch, backwards or reversed, because the hot milk is poured in first, and only then the coffee (not every barista would agree with that method), or simply because as opposed to nes, which is a lot of water and a little milk, this is the opposite. (While this coffee is usually not made at home, it is one of the most popular types ordered in cafes.)  

Many claim that this is a unique Israeli blend, but it turns out that in the Netherlands something like this type of coffee exists and is called verkeerd,“incorrect” or “cockeyed,” not unlike hafuch. Who knows? Perhaps it was not only the Turks who influenced Israeli coffee culture, but the Dutch as well.  

A revolutionary word 

The root of the word hafuch is h-f-ch, which may not evoke the same symbolism as do “miracles” and “mud,” but is also central to Israeli culture and history. The very oscillation between the “roses” and the “thorns” is an indication that reality here is very hafachpach, a beautiful word that means “changeable,” “volatile,” or “erratic.” It is in a form that repeats the second syllable (“f” and “p” being alternates of the same medial letter) to make it a descriptor, and almost onomatopoeic at that: one can almost hear the flip-flop.  

Probably the most well-known use of this root was by the legendary newscaster Haim Yavin, who broadcast the results of the election polls in the game-changing vote of 1977 when the Labor Party was ousted and the Likud, under the leadership of Menachem Begin, came to power for the first time in the history of the state.  

To this day, Israel uses paper ballots, and so it can take many hours to get even preliminary results. That year was the first time public opinion surveys were conducted at the polling stations to get an indication of the results before the final count. When Yavin got the news that the polls showed Likud with a significant lead, he summed it up in a word: “Mahapach!,” a reversal, an upset, a sea change.  

In saying this, Yavin meant that this was not nearly a mahapecha, a full-fledged “revolution.” And since it was achieved by democratic means, neither was it a haficha, a coup d’etat. But all of these words from h-f-ch signify different political developments that turn things, well, inside-out, upside-down, or backwards – at least relative to previous regimes or norms.  

Even though the Starbucks chain famously failed in Israel, it seems that the global coffee culture is here to stay. One might say that this trend is not hafich, “reversible.” This form makes the verb “X” mean “X-able,” such as achil “edible”, from aleph-ch-l, “eat,” or kari, “legible,” from k-r-aleph, “read” or dalik, flammable, from d-l-k, “burn.”  

But to someone who would claim that regime change or a bad political decision is irrevocable or irreversible, bilti hafich, we would say: lehefech! “Au contraire!” Hope springs eternal, and we have to believe that there’s still room for some surprising tahapuchot – turnarounds, changes of direction, though at times it may seem like this requires nothing short of a nes 

Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of Our Nation’s Capital Named a HATC Demonstration School

This past June, HATC CEO Rabbi Andrew Ergas joined the Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School community to celebrate their successful completion of four plus years as the first school in the Leading in Hebrew initiative, a project that selects Jewish day schools with a strong commitment to Hebrew education and invests in them to become “demonstration schools.” These schools become models of excellence in Hebrew teaching and learning for other day schools and communities to emulate. These model schools demonstrate successful educational outcomes, which then catalyze similar outcomes in surrounding schools and the broader field. Data dissemination and guidance on curricular approaches will subsequently expand knowledge about Hebrew education to other communities in North America. The ultimate goal of this $1.3 million dollar project is to elevate the quality of Hebrew language teaching and learning such that Hebrew becomes an integral and elevated part of Jewish life in a community. Imagine the shift in the attitudes of parents, students, and the communities in which they live when day schools begin to graduate students with a passion for the language of the Jewish people, taught by Hebrew language teachers who model the best in both language education and education writ large. Consider graduates with a passion for the language of the Jewish people and an intimate understanding of Israeli culture, ready to contribute personally to strengthening bridges between America and Israel. Equally important, these schools will provide inspiration and a new, higher standard demonstrating what is in fact achievable, establishing expectations in North America that will have transformative implications for Hebrew education everywhere and a reframing of the North American Jewish community’s relationship with world Jewry and the Jewish state.

The team at Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School worked closely with HATC’s educators and professionals over the past four and a half years articulating a vision for Hebrew, developing work plans to bring that into reality, using assessment data to inform the pathway forward, and training teachers in a wide range of Hebrew language education pedagogy. This school has worked with the other Leading in Hebrew school, the Chicago Jewish Day School, to address shared or common challenges, present at conferences, and advance the field. Milton’s Hebrew leaders have also been trained as coaches in order to prepare them to both sustain the forward progress as the school moves into its next stage of work and share their expertise with other day schools in the community and beyond. In order to realize these successes has been even more challenging over the past two plus years, as both the school and HATC have wrestled with the numerous issues emerging from the pandemic. In reflecting on the work together, Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School Hebrew leader Aliza Sandalon shared, “I am grateful for HATC’s support, especially last year, in light of the difficulties our team endured.”

As a part of the concluding ceremony, Rabbi Ergas had dinner with the entire Hebrew faculty and joined them at a reception for school Board Members. At this gathering, two eighth graders reflected on their time at the school as they prepared to graduate, with their thoughtful and sophisticated presentations done completely in Hebrew. When Rabbi Ergas later addressed the school Board of Directors, he reflected on these students, saying, “While their Hebrew was beautiful, grammatically accurate, and showed great use of vocabulary, these two non-native speakers really demonstrated their love for the language and the sense that they were completely at home in Hebrew. This only comes out of the tremendous work that we have engaged in over the past few years and the deep commitment to excellence supported by teachers, administrators, parents, and the Board. This sets the bar for every other day school that wants to know that this is truly possible!”

The Heat Of Summer – In Hebrew

Dr. Jeremy Benstein, HATC Senior Consultant

In Israel, we take our vacations very seriously. Even a short respite from work or school here is called a chufsha, from the root ch-f-sh, meaning “freedom” or “liberty.” We don’t just vacation, we escape bondage! Even more dramatically, the two-month summer break from school, which we are currently in the thick of, is called hachofesh hagadol – “The Great Freedom.”

We devote most of this chofesh, an alternative word for “vacation,” to finding ways to beat the “heat,” chom. When there’s a heat wave – gal chom – we look for galim, waves of a different sort down at the chof, “beach” (unrelated to the word for vacation).

Jerusalem, the holy city, ‘ir hakodesh, is landlocked and surrounded by hills. But coastal Tel Aviv has many beautiful beaches, making it the preeminent ‘ir shel chol – meaning both “city of sand” but also “secular city” (chol from chullin, means “secular” or “profane,” while another chol means “sand”).

The words for hot and cold have parallel forms. “Hot” is cham, “warm” is chamim and “heating” is chimum. “Cold” is kar, “cool” is karir, and “cooling” is kirur. You may be chilling drinks in the mekarer, the refrigerator. But when you drink them, please go easy on the environment, and don’t use cups made of that light-cooling stuff – kal, light, fluffy + kar, cold = kalkar, “styrofoam.”

Struggling to find time for a drink? Maybe the kids would enjoy some time at camp. There are two words for camp in Israel. “Overnight camp” – often organized by a youth movement – is a machaneh, also the word for a military encampment.

The root, ch-n-h, also gives us the contemporary word for ‘park’ – not the type where you would go camping, but what you do with your car, lehachnot, “to park,” and chanayah, “parking.” And what do you call going camping in Hebrew? La’asot kemping, of course. Go figure.

The other word for “camp,” usually used for the day camp variety, is kaytana. Since day camp is usually for small children, I used to assume the word had something to do with katan, “small.” But it turns out it’s from the Aramaic word for “summer,” kayta – kayitz in Hebrew – which also gives us kayit, a “recreational holiday.”

If you can’t ship your kids off to camp, you can all go for a dip at the pool. A pool is a bereicha, and while there probably is no linguistic connection, you may feel that on these long days in this ‘Great Freedom,’ the chofesh hagadol, there is no greater blessing, beracha, than that.

In the spirit of Purim: some antics with Semitic semantics.

In the spirit of Purim: some antics with Semitic semantics.

By Dr. Jeremy Benstein, HATC Senior Advisor

 

1. Shikker House Rules

In Yiddish, “drunk” is shikker, from the Hebrew shikor. You get shikor from liquor, that is, shekhar (Hebrew “k” and “kh” alternate). Shekhar in the Tanakh is usually paired with wine, but its Latin translators didn’t know exactly what sort of drink it was, so they just transliterated it as sicera. That entered Old French as cisdre, and finally came into English as “cider.”

So even if you prefer beer, know that cider is the real He-brew.

2. Purim Unmasked

Another interesting English-Hebrew Purim connection is the word for “mask,” maseikhah. Now masks are daily de rigueur, but once, only Purim had a “mask mandate.” They sound so similar you might think the English word is derived from an ancient Hebrew root . . . but it isn’t.

The modern Hebrew maseikhah comes from the biblical root נ-ס-כ (n-s-k), which means “liquify” or “pour.” This root gives us words like nasikh, “prince,” close cousin to the “messiah,” mashi’akh, both of whom were regally anointed with oil. In Exodus 32:4 maseikhah refers to the formation of the Golden Calf, with molten metal cast in a mold.

With the modernization of Hebrew, many new terms had to be coined. In this case, however, an old word was pressed into service with a new meaning, simply because it sounded similar.

That’s how maseikhah was chosen to mean “mask,” because of the phonetic similarity with mask, masque, maske, maska, etc. (Likewise, the older Hebrew word m’khonah, which was chosen to mean “machine,” because of its similar sound).

3. Come as You (Really) Are

Purim masks are part of getting dressed up to “masquerade,” or in Hebrew, l’hitchapes. Here’s a little grammar to understand why this is such a cool word.

The root is ח-פ-ש (ch-p-s), which means to “search” or “look for,” in a form that describes something you do to yourself. For instance, from the root ל-ב-ש (l-b-sh), “dress, wear,” we get lilbosh, “to wear,” and l’hitlabesh, “to dress oneself” (get dressed).

So l’hitchapes, “to disguise oneself,” hyper-literally means “to look for oneself.” Instead of coming as someone or something else, you’re “coming out” as who you might be if you could. Whether it’s a superhero or celebrity, we express some aspirational part of ourselves through role-playing.

So whether you’ll be inebriating, masquerading, or just plain celebrating, enjoy it while it lasts. Soon enough, we’ll take off the masks, sober up, and start getting ready for Passover.

In other words: eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we clean.