During the Likud primary of 2005, just after Ariel Sharon quit Likud to form Kadima and withdraw from the Gaza Strip, Benjamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz were vying for the chance to succeed Sharon as Likud leader.
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Mofaz, who is currently the leader of an anemic two-seat Kadima but at the time insisted he would not leave his political home, launched a negative campaign tarring Netanyahu with a cream-flavored brush. He said that Netanyahu – who had recently completed a two-year term as a finance minister who cut welfare benefits -- was a rich kid, a spoiled brat who was out of touch with the regular folk.
“There are leaders who grew up with a golden spoon in the mouth, and Bibi is one of them,” Mofaz said at the time. And then he broke out the prevalent Israeli epithet for someone born with such a spoon in one’s mouth (be it gold or silver): “sour cream boy,” or yeled shamenet (YE-led sh-MEN-et).
Shamenet itself means “cream,” but in the absence of a modifier it is generally understood to be “sour cream” (shamenet hamutzah for the removal of all doubt). The other kind is usually referred to as shamenet metukah (“sweet cream”).
The phrase reflects the difficulty of accessing certain food products during Israel’s decade-long austerity period, which lasted through 1959 and coincided with the first 10 years of Netanyahu’s life.
In a song called “Yeled Shamenet,” the now-defunct Israeli pop group Puncture sang a parody song from the perspective of a spoiled rich kid. The chorus includes the lines: “I have a pool but it’s not heated / How I suffer / I’m a yeled shamenet.”
Shamenet is particularly relevant during Hanukkah, not just because sour cream is a popular latkes topping but also because shamenet shares a root with shemen zayit, the olive oil whose longevity is commemorated by lighting eight candles, or oil lamps, during the holiday.
Not coincidentally, shamenet and shemen are also linked to the Hebrew word for “fat.” Shuman is the noun referring to the substance itself, while shamen (masculine) and shmena (feminine) are the adjectives describing how one might look after eating too much of it – which is all too easy to do on this eight-day festival of high-fat fried foods.
Come Hanukkah, whether you like Bibi or hate him, we are all yaldei shamenet.
To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day