Word of the Day / Kumzitz

Come gather around the fire for a story about how a Yiddish phrase became a much-loved Israeli tradition.

How did young folks entertain themselves in the early days of the State of Israel, before television, wireless Internet, iPads and stereo systems? The answer: the "kumzitz."

A "kumzitz" is a social gathering 'round a campfire, which usually happens at night, on the beach or in a field, inevitably with a guitar present and coffee and usually food to cook on the fire.

The word "kumzitz" is actually a compound of two Yiddish words: "kum" and "zitz" which, when spoken together, mean "come, sit down." The "kumzitz" holds mythological importance in Israeli culture, having been adopted as common practice by units of the early Palmach (the elite forces of the pre-state Jewish underground) as well as most Israeli youth movements and scouts. The kumzits also became part of Israelis' celebration of Lag Ba'omer, a holiday commemorating Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, during which lighting bonfires is traditional.

Despite the existence of a Talmudic term, "tuzitz" for the same activity, and the fact that Israeli linguists attempted to replace the colloquial term with a "pure Hebrew" alternative: "Shev-na" ("please sit"), "kumzitz" never gave up its seat in the collective culture and history of Israel.

Shoshana Kordova is on leave. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.