USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Israel’
Folk speech

Hebrew Slang: סַבַּבָּח (Sababa)

Genre: Slang, Folk Speech

 

Nationality: Israeli and American

Location: Israel

Language: Hebrew

 

Hebrew: סַבַּבָּח (read right to left)

English: Sababa (suh-bɒ-bɒ)

 

Abstract: סַבַּבָּח (sababa) is a Hebrew word meaning “cool” or “got it.” It is a way for someone to acknowledge what someone said in one slang word. In Israel, it is considered hip and marketed to the population as such.

Background: KP is a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, but spent his entire life growing up in Israel. Both of his parents are American. He grew up in a Jewish household and learned both Hebrew and English at the same time. He served his mandatory three years of service in the Israeli Defense Force from the age of 18 until the age of 21 as a combat soldier. This particular piece of folklore was heard and seen all over the streets of Israel. KP can not trace its origin, but describes it as a word that is very common and that is often one of the first words taught to non Hebrew speaking visitors.

 

KP: It means okay, cool, yeah. Or if you want to hurry someone up so they stop talking you say “okay sababa yeah yeah” like stop it I get it.

S: Do older people use it too?

KP: No, not really, just like my age and below.

 

Examples:

 

Person 1: Want to go eat?

Person 2: Sababa.

 

Person 1: Do you understand? Do you get it? Can you get it done? You sure? Okay, you really sure?

Person 2: Sababa sababa.

 

Interpretation: When first hearing this word and definition, I almost immediately compared to the word “bet” which has become popularized to mean “alright” or “you got it.” Once again, there is an understanding in millennials of America that, even though not the traditional meaning of the word, “bet” is a word used for multiple things, in almost the same exact way, like sababa. One thing that KP showed me was a pair of boxers that had the word “sababa” written on them, as well as, marijuana leaves imprinted around the word. Israeli shops are taking advantage of/utilizing the younger culture and generation with the word sababa to make money. The appeal of the younger Israelis and tourists to be cool and in the know is making vendors money. The reason young people tend more to this word than older people is because of the pressure to appear cool. Sababa has a vibe attached to it that means “I’m cool, I don’t really worry about anything. Everything is okay with me.” It has the type of connotation that brings a certain swagger and cool factor to a person’s vocabulary.

 

Gestures
Kinesthetic

Israeli Hand Symbol to Wait

try 3Genre: Folk Kinesthetic/Gesture

 

Nationality: Israeli and American

Location: Israel

Language: Hand gesture, transcends language

 

Abstract: The hand symbol/gesture in discussion is telling someone to hold on/wait a second in a semi-aggressive manner.

 

Background: KP is a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, but spent his entire life growing up in Israel. Both of his parents are American. He grew up in a Jewish household and learned both Hebrew and English at the same time. He served his mandatory three years of service in the Israeli Defense Force from the age of 18 until the age of 21 as a combat soldier. This particular piece of folklore was brought up on a visit to Israel. When trying to get someone’s attention they gave me the symbol with their hand. I was very confused and asked KP about what it meant. He gave me a short version there, but when he came to visit America, I questioned him about it further. He can not trace it to a certain origin, but grew up using it and understanding what it meant.

 

The gesture:

 

The hand gesture is made by a person, when they are busy, towards someone else that is trying to talk them or get their attention.

 

S: Is it made it in a nice way or is it aggressive?

KP: It’s slightly aggressive. If, um, I am annoyed at someone, I will do this as a way to get them to shut up and stop bothering me. But, for the most part, people understand it means wait and they don’t really get too mad.

 

Interpretation: When someone first made this signal to me, I thought it was a way of saying “screw you” or to kind to, ya know, “[expletive] off.” So, naturally, I just did it back in a joking manner, and all of the Israelis on the trip laughed at me because they knew I obviously did not know what it meant. I had been accustomed to someone holding up a single index finger when they wanted me to wait a second. In addition, I had always seen my mother give “the hand” aggressively out of pure anger to someone while she was driving which looked exactly like this gesture. In my mind, I had been told to very aggressively screw off. In Israel, it is not as aggressive as much as it is a way to let someone know that you will be with them in a second. The reason for having this hand gesture is to be able to tell someone to give you a second without stopping the conversation and losing track of what is being discussed.

 

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Protection

Red String Bracelets

“If you go to the western wall in Israel there’s always people who are there—like around there and basically, like, they give you, um, like you’ll give them money, like, if they’re like begging and then they give you a red string and then they make a blessing on it and then you can’t take the red string, like you can’t remove it until it falls off. And that’s to keep the evil eye away. Like Jews are super into that, about keeping the evil eye away.”

 

The informant was a 22-year-old USC student who majors in English and minors in genocide studies. Although she grew up in Santa Monica, she comes from a large Jewish family and travels to Israel twice a year to visit her older brother and other extended family there. The interview occurred when we were sitting in the new Annenberg building and started talking about superstition and related practices within her family. When I asked the informant to further explain this practice, she said, “Lot of times there’s this thing—have you ever seen, like, the hand? Like the image? So it’s called a ‘hamsa’ in Hebrew and like it’s the same thing, it’s to keep the evil eye away.”

 

The informant had seen this practice occur a lot during her travels to Israel and says she first learned about it from her grandmother who “would [do that] right before she died, she was super into that.” However, at the end of the interview she told me, “I don’t do that, I don’t do evil eyes and I don’t do the hamsa . . . I don’t like it because I feel like it’s idolatry, and I don’t . . . I’m not into that. But I would do the red string ‘cause it’s kind of a cultural thing.”

 

I found this practice to be fascinating because it seems like the greater religious/spiritual meaning of it has become somewhat divorced from the physical act. Something that started as a way to “keep the evil eye away” is still done for that purpose, but also because it has become a cultural thing that someone just does. This is revealed in the fact that an informant who is quick to assure me that she does not believe in the hamsa or the evil eye on the basis of her seeing them as idolatry would still willingly participate in this practice. In addition to it being performed for the previously stated spiritual purpose, I also think there is something to the fact that someone is given these red strings by people who are begging. Because it is now considered a normal cultural practice, it has become an expected social interaction between two people of differing class status in this part of Israel. Essentially, while giving a red string and a blessing might have been an organic way of thanking someone before, it is now almost a required act of gratitude by beggars near the western wall.

Customs
Holidays

Passover

About the Interviewed: Charly Cohen is a student at the University of Southern California majoring in Theatre. Her background is nomadic, having been born in Kentucky, moved to Washington, then to Israel, then to Vancouver, and back to Washington again! Her ethnic backdrop is Jewish. She’s a fellow classmate.

Charly and I had gotten onto the subject of Jewish holidays. I asked her about Passover and her experiences in celebrating it.

Charly: “Passover revolves around a meal called the “Seder”, which means “order”. It refers to a number of things you’re expected to do around the celebration of the meal. You go through a retelling of the story of Exodus, when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, from slavery. You go through the templates, drink four traditional glasses of wine, and sing songs.”

I asked her about any differences she might have experienced celebrating Passover in Israel versus the United States.

Charly: “Passover in Israel is very different from Passover in the United States. It varies based on levels of Judaism. Many people like to think of Jews as sort of one conglomerate – ‘thing’, but there are a ton of denominations. My particular Judaism is based on my experiences at summer camp.”

“People from all sorts of different walks came to the camp –  So you get a different sort of people who celebrate these holidays in different ways.”

“In Israel, I’ve found that the Seders tend to be shorter. It cuts right to the chase, but the after celebration tends to be longer. The last Seder I went to here [in America], the story was told before the meal, but that was it, there wasn’t much afterwards.”

I asked if she felt that way her family celebrated Passover was any different than the way other families celebrated it.

Charly: “Sort of-  there are general guidelines that the observers have to follow, as laid out in the ‘Haggadah’ [Passover Texts], but many families celebrate it in their own ways.”

Summary:

Passover is a holiday with important historical and religious significance. Those who celebrate it typically follow a strict custom, though traditions vary upon where/who are celebrating it.

Though not Jewish myself, I grew up in a community of pretty active members of the faith. Hearing a summary of Passover and the traditions that come with it was very enriching. Traditions can be rigid, but they also exemplify the celebration and make events like Passover special.

 

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