Going Bananas in Hebrew

Anglo family translates award-winning game for local market, including new immigrants.

Raphael Ahren
Raphael Ahren
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Raphael Ahren
Raphael Ahren

A Hebrew version of the popular word game Bananagrams is about to hit stores local stores thanks to the brainchild of an English-speaking family in Raanana which was hosting Israeli friends one Saturday.

The award-winning game was invented after Abe Nathanson played a slow game of Scrabble with his grandson, during which he said he needed an anagram game so quick it would make people go bananas. The Hebrew version was also conceived during family playtime.

Michal, 9, Robert and Sharon Dalfen in their Ra’anana home. It all started on a typical Saturday.Credit: Hindy Lederman

Were all sitting around on Shabbat and our English-speaking kids were playing Bananagrams and a bunch of Israeli kids were looking over their shoulder, very curiously, asking what is this, Sharon Dalfen, 46, told Anglo File this week. And then someone said we should do it in Hebrew. Thats how it all started, because everyone wanted to play together.

The following Monday, Dalfens husband Robert, 50 an accountant who until recently worked as CFO for a high-tech company contacted the Bananagrams head office in the U.K. and discussed the possibility of translating the game into Hebrew and bringing it to Israel. The Nathanson family, which invented and still owns all rights for the game, said they thought about a Hebrew version for a long time and immediately agreed. The Dalfens, who moved here from Montreal some 14 years ago, had 5,000 copies of the games produced in China, which are expected to arrive in Israeli stores later this month.

Similar to Scrabble, the goal of Bananagrams is to arrange tiles with letters to create words by combining them like in a crossword puzzle. But in Bananagrams, players dont take turns placing tiles on a board but each play their own handful of tiles, picking more as they use up what is in their hand. The first to use up their letters once the pool of tiles runs below the number of players in the game yells Bananas! (or Banana-Gram in the Hebrew version) and wins the game.

The original Bananagrams sold millions of copies in English and has since been translated into several languages, but never into a different alphabet. For the Israeli version, the Dalfens did not only translate the games instructions and special terms such as split, dump, and peel but also consulted a Hebrew linguist regarding the frequency of each letter. In English, for example, there are 13 As and 18 Es while Xs and Zs appear only twice among the 144 tiles.

For the Israeli version, the allocation of letters would vary depending on whether Biblical or Modern Hebrew is used, according to the linguist. The Dalfens opted to allocate letters corresponding to the spoken language.

With instructions printed both in Hebrew and English, the Dalfens see their version of Bananagrams also as an educational tool, noting that some Jewish elementary schools in United States have already expressed interest in developing curricula around the game.

Here in Israel, Bananagrams is aimed at native Israelis but also at new immigrants. Were looking at it as a tool to learn Hebrew but also to help people integrate into Israeli society, Sharon said. Indeed, hundreds of new arrivals from North America received the yellow banana-shaped bag as a welcoming present from immigration group Nefesh BNefesh this summer.

Im always telling my kids to get off the computer, they should be doing something meaningful and practical, said Sharon, a mother of four ranging from 9 to 19 and an occupational and expressive arts therapist. More and more people have to get off the computer and play games and have family time. Just to sit around and be a family together is just something thats lacking in a lot of places.

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