Not long after I moved to Israel in my early 20s, I was sitting at my desk at a different newspaper when an Orthodox man at the office asked me where my colleague was. When I mentioned that she was getting married, he responded with the two words that constitute what is possibly the most feather-ruffling Hebrew phrase a single woman can hear: bekarov etzlekh, literally meaning "soon by you."
This ostensible blessing, often rendered "im yirtzeh Hashem" [God willing] in Orthodox circles in English-speaking countries, expresses the hope that the target of this phrase should find her match imminently and hustle off to the huppah. (There's a masculine version of the phrase too – bekarov etzlekha – but I strongly suspect that's used less frequently than the feminine.)
The common practice of wishing singles an imminent marriage is the subject of a song by Avi Ben-Abu, a Mizrahi singer who is a former contestant on "Kohav Nolad," Israel's version of "American Idol." The lyrics include a reference to the Jewish custom of the groom's breaking a glass under the huppah: "Your heart is breaking, when are we breaking the glass / One day someone will show up and not leave / Only then might they stop saying: / Bekarov etzlekh."
As for my own experience, I think the reason I still remember the throwaway line at the office is that while I could have braced myself for being on the receiving end of such wishes at a wedding – probably the most common time Jewish singles are told they are expected to get cracking – I was startled, if not dismayed, to hear the comment in my workplace. In response to what I perceived as a condescending and tactless (if arguably well-intentioned) remark, I was flooded with uncharitable thoughts that pretty much boiled down to "Who do you think you are to make assumptions about whether, and how soon, I want to walk down the aisle?" I've been married for a decade now, and those two Hebrew words still rankle.
And so my advice is this: Just because you know what some Israelis say to the single friends of the bride or groom, that doesn't mean you have to say it too.
To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.
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