Word of the Day / B’kef: I'd Be Happy to Go on a Company Field Trip

When someone is not just smiling while helping you out, but is really having a good time.

We all know that sometimes, especially in countries that may have developed a reputation for not quite grasping the concept of customer service (ahem ahem), people provide such service rather grudgingly, even though they are paid to be of assistance.

But then there are those other times, when people not only help you out, but actually sound glad to be doing it. Whether it’s the store clerk who agrees to set aside those perfect shoes while you run home and retrieve the wallet you forgot or the friend who takes in your kids when you have a doctor’s appointment, the word you might hear in such a situation is b’simha (with happiness) or b’kef (b-KEF, with fun).

Like “with pleasure” or “gladly,” b’simha essentially means “I’d be happy to.”

(The noun simha, meaning “joy” or “happiness,” makes an appearance in a popular traditional wedding song based on a phrase repeated several times in Jeremiah: “the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness [simha], the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride.”)

Bump it up to the next level, and you get a term indicating that the person helping you out won’t just be smiling while doing so, but may even actively be having a good time: b’kef, “with fun.” It comes from the Arabic word kayf, meaning “pleasure,” “contentment” – and “hashish.”

B’kef has also found a niche on the front door of many a family home. It’s quite common for Israeli homes to have a name plaque on the front door, and some of these plaques include the phrase kan garim b’kef, followed by the family’s name. This takes us back to the similarity to b’simha, since the plaque translates roughly to “Here the Fill-in-the-blank family lives happily.” The phrase “Kan Garim B’kef” is also the name of a family sitcom based on the Canadian French-language series “Les Parent.”

Like the English word “fun,” kef can be used as a noun or an adjective. In Hebrew, the word has spurred an adjective-only spinoff, kefi, which also means “fun.” A company yom kef, or fun day – it could be a day at an amusement park or on a hike – might be described on the company website (rather repetitively) as being kefi.

Of course, the describers of a kef family life or company field trip might just be blowing smoke. But all in all, if the alternative is hearing the salesclerk nattering on her phone as she brings her fingers together in the Israeli gesture that tells you to wait while she talks about something more important, like who did what to whom at the kef party last night, then I would venture to say that hearing a well-intentioned b’simha or b’kef would be a small but welcome step toward making the day just a bit more kefi.

To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at shoshanakordova@gmail.com. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day