Word of the Day / Tzeva Adom: Israel’s Expanding Red-color District

This rocket alert system used to be called Shahar Adom (Red Dawn), until kids named Shahar protested.

If you had been hanging out in the Haaretz newsroom on just about any day over the past three weeks or so, you would have been likely to hear a woman’s voice calmly announcing “TZE-va a-DOM, TZE-va a-DOM” every few minutes.

Someone from Sderot or one of the other Gaza border communities would have immediately recognized this as a sign to duck and take cover, but since the newsroom is hooked into the national rocket warning system, the goal is not to warn of rockets heading over to Tel Aviv’s Schocken Street but to prompt staff members to take a look at the red rectangle that pops up on the big screen in the newsroom when a rocket is headed to Israel, read off the location of the latest attack and report the news.

Tzeva Adom, which literally means “color red,” is more frequently known as the Code Red rocket alert system, or sometimes as a red alert. The term originally referred to a voice warning system installed in Sderot and Gaza border communities to inform residents to take immediate cover from an impending attack, and featured a woman’s voice announcing those two words.

The words have also gone viral as part of a video showing a teacher leading young children in a Tzeva Adom song during a siren, to help get them into a safe space while easing their anxieties. The song begins “Tzeva Adom, Tzeva Adom / Hurry, hurry, hurry to a safe area,” and prompts the children to shake out their bodies, breathe in and out, and laugh.

The term is now widely used to refer to the sirens across the country that alert residents of incoming rockets and the widely used Tzeva Adom rocket notification app, even though neither of those involve a woman’s voice announcing “Tzeva adom.”

The system wasn’t always called Tzeva Adom. It used to be Shahar Adom, which means Red Dawn, but the name was changed in 2006 when children near Gaza who were named Shahar – a popular name for both boys and girls – complained that not only were they subject to rocket fire, they also had to deal with the added indignity of being teased, especially if they made the inadvisable decision of wearing red clothes.

Shahar Azriel, a girl from Sderot who was 9 at the time the name was changed, was one of those who asked the army to change the name of the rocket alert system, Ynet reported in July 2006.

“It really bothered me that that was the name of the system,” she said. “Every time I came to school, the kids would shout at me ‘Shahar adom,’ and if I would come with a red shirt or pants, they wouldn’t stop calling me ‘Shahar adom.’”

A Home Front Command task force was assigned to deal with the issue in response to complaints from children like Shahar Azriel and their parents, and chose Shahar Adom from among several other options, including Red Gate, Red Hail, Red Rain and Red Situation, Ynet reported.

Eli Moyal, the mayor of Sderot at the time, said he told the army he had no problem with a name change, but added eight years ago that in addition to halting use of the phrase shahar adom, “We would have preferred that the Qassam rocket fire would also be completely stopped.”

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.