Word of the Day / Haver: Friend, Comrade, and a Sometime Lover

The many pitfalls of a deceptively simple word.

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Word of the Day: Haver
Word of the Day: HaverCredit: Reuters, Haaretz
Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova

The standard definition of haver (kha-VEHR) is “friend,” as in Bill Clinton’s famous parting words to Yitzhak Rabin (more on that below), but it also means “comrade” and “member” – and no, I don’t mean that in a dirty way, I mean the kind of thing Groucho Marx did not want to be if it was the kind of club that would accept him as one.

Thus, dmai haver are membership fees, not the amount I charge if you want to be my friend (speaking of which, I have a sliding scale, so don’t by shy about applying even if you can’t afford much!).

Of course, as any critic of the fraternity and sorority system can tell you, it’s not always clear where the line is between membership fees and a pay-for-drinking-buddies requirement.

Whether and how to pay for your friends – or rather, pay them back for their assistance – becomes an even more fraught issue if you go into politics and become one of the 120 lucky souls (many of them the same ones as the last time and the time before that) who gets chosen to become a haver Knesset, or Knesset member.

As for the “friend” type of haverim, they might not let friends drive drunk, but they apparently have no problem poisoning or stabbing each other.

A civilian technician for the Israeli army who said he had been bullied at his workplace was indicted in August for putting poison in the cup of his haver la’avoda, literally his “friend of work” – his colleague or work friend – and the summer before, a man who works at a Tel Aviv bakery was suspected of fatally stabbing his haver la’avoda.

With friends like these, right? May as well stick to Facebook friends, some of whom probably used to be your haverim lakita, your “friends of the class,” or classmates.

True friendship, of course, extends beyond the bounds of the workplace or classroom.

When former army chief of staff and cabinet minister Rafael Eitan died in 2004, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon described Eitan’s death as a national loss as well as a personal one.

“Today the State of Israel has lost a brave warrior, commander and leader, and I have lost a haver l’neshek v’laderekh,” said Sharon.

Let’s parse that. Haver (mostly) means “friend,” neshek means “weapons” and derekh means “path.” So I guess that would make Eitan a friend of weapons and of the path. Hmm, let’s try again.

Haver l’neshek, literally “friend of weapons,” doesn’t mean you (necessarily) have a gun collection or think of your Kalashnikov as your best friend. It refers to someone with whom you served in the army, a comrade-in-arms. As for haver laderekh (the first word is doing double duty as part of both phrases), Sharon meant that Eitan was not just an army buddy but a friend for the long haul.

The word haver was rather more famously used in a eulogy of a different prime minister: Yitzhak Rabin, to whom Bill Clinton addressed the Hebrew words shalom, haver, meaning both “Goodbye, friend” and “Peace, friend,” after Rabin’s assassination in 1995. (A bumper sticker with those two words adorned many an Israeli car for years after Rabin’s death.)

Clinton used haver just right, but sometimes it’s a word you’d do best to stay away from. If you’re a woman who’s “just friends” with a male haver Knesset (or any male, really), you might not want to call him your haver. Sure, it means “friend,” but, Hebrew being sneaky sometimes, it also means “boyfriend.”

If you want to make it clear that the emphasis is on “friend” rather than “boy,” stick with yadid, a word for “friend” that doesn’t have romantic baggage. As for how much you ought to charge in friendship fees, well, you’ll just have to figure out that one for yourselves, my friends.

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.

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