Word of the Day / Ke'ilu

It may seem as if you hear this word everywhere and that it doesn't really mean much but, like, it actually has an important biblical history.

Tradition tells us that during the upcoming holiday of Passover we are supposed to become so enmeshed in the retelling of the story of the Israelites' exodus from Egypt that we should see ourselves ke'ilu (ke-EE-loo)–"as though" or "as if" – we ourselves are the ones who were taken out of slavery.

Ke'ilu is a composite of three Hebrew words: k'mo (like), im(if) and lu (if only). The latter two make up the word ilu, which can be found in another ancient reference to slavery: Queen Esther's dramatic plea to King Ahaseurus to spare her life and that of her brethren. She explains that her people are destined to be slain, adding that if, on the other hand (ve'ilu), the Jews had merely been sold into slavery she would not have bothered the king about it. It is left to the reader to decide whether this is an accurate statement or a rhetorical gambit.

In a more colloquial sense, ke'ilu means "like," in the overused American teenagery kind of way: "So ke'ilu I went to the party ke'ilu? And it was, ke'ilu, such a blast."

If no such event had taken place, however, or if the speaker attended it only in her imagination, she would have been at the party beke'ilu, meaning "for pretend."

When kids play wrestling, they're fighting beke'ilu, and when the city of Hadera is cutting down hundreds of trees while boasting of its abundance of nature, as charged in a Maariv article last spring, then, as the headline put it, it may be, like, a "green" city only beke'ilu.

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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