Leading Language

Hebrew is making its rounds among American TV shows and movies, but it turns out this has been going on for years

Ruta Kupfer
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Ruta Kupfer

"Have you heard about the Palestinian woman who asked whether her explosives belt made her ass look big?" joked Vince's security men in Hebrew on an episode of the American TV series "Entourage" that aired last Friday. The security guards, who are called "the Israelis," spoke among themselves outside the house - out loud of course, in a kind of mixture of American humor translated into Hebrew words (and presented in the language of someone who hasn't lived here for a long time ).

The cast of 'Entourage'

This gang, one of whose members is called "Big Yoni," is called to the house because Vince and his friends are worried about an intruder. Among themselves the friends - Vince, E, Johnny "Drama" and Turtle - wonder if these Israelis are members of the Mossad, to which Drama replies, "Aren't all the Israelis?"

According to American television shows, which lately include Hebrew with increasing and suspicious randomness, the answer is more or less in the affirmative. For example, in "Doctor for Hire?" a new series being aired this evening on Yes Stars Drama, the hero of the show and his brother - the doctor and his accountant - arrive at a party on a huge estate. At the entrance stand two swarthy, muscular guys wearing tight T-shirts.

"How cute," one arrogantly says to his friend, regarding one of the character's attempts to enter the popular party. The exchange takes place in Hebrew, because the security guards - whom the doctor later describes as members of the Mossad - are Israelis.

This evening the new series "White Collar" will also be aired on Yes. In the second episode Hebrew can be heard, this time from Israeli criminals (they aren't members of the Mossad, but they are knowledgeable about espionage and combat ).

These series were filmed before the entanglement of the Mossad in Dubai and the flotilla incident last week. The American producers do not intend to be critical; that is simply the prevailing image in America of Israelis, and apparently in Los Angeles in particular. In the current box-office hit "Date Night," American Mark Wahlberg (one of the producers of "Entourage" ) and Israeli Gal Gadot exchange a few words in Hebrew as well.

On the show "NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service," in which one of the characters is an Israeli Mossad agent named Ziva David, several of the characters sing "Had Gadya" (a song from the Passover Haggadah ) in order to improve their Hebrew. The Hebrew being heard a great deal recently on American television is not only Israel Defense Forces acronyms but rather prayers and sacred texts, stemming from the fact that some of the shows' creators are Jewish.

During one of its earlier seasons, the animation series "Family Guy" had an excellent episode called "When You Wish Upon a Weinstein." In the episode Peter understands that the only way to make his stupid son smarter is to turn him into a Jew, and therefore he has him complete a bar mitzvah service. In promos for the show's new season, the character Stewie is seen wearing a skullcap and lighting candles, while Peter says a few words in Hebrew.

The Simpsons in the Holy Land

Hebrew has already starred on American television in the past. For example on the sitcom "Frasier," when Noel offered to teach Frasier some Hebrew before a bar mitzvah.

The combined stereotype of the beautiful and tough Israeli woman, like Gal Gadot, is not new either.

In the BBC comedy series "Coupling," which aired nearly a decade ago, the foolish character of Jeff thought, because of a failure in communication with a Hebrew-speaking woman in a bar, that her name was "Shadayim" (breasts ). (In the American version of this series, the Hebrew-speaking character was played by Noa Tishby. )

And in "Weeds," in the offices of the yeshiva he studied at during one of the first seasons of the series, the character of Andy (Justin Kirk ) meets Yael (Meital Dohan ). Her role, and the Hebrew words she introduces into the scenes ("Do you know what lezayen means?" ) provided almost as much enjoyment for Israeli viewers as Sasha Baron-Cohen's Hebraicized Kazakh in the film "Borat."

And speaking of Baron-Cohen, on a special episode of "The Simpsons" aired about a month ago, the animated family visited the Holy Land with the British Jewish comedian portraying their rude Israeli tour guide.

Sexy Israeli mothers

In an interview with Haaretz four years ago, the creator of "Weeds," Jenji Kohan, explained her desire to introduce a Hebrew-speaking Jewish woman to the show.

"My children attend a Jewish school," she said. "I met a lot of Israeli mothers there, and the character of Yael is a tribute to those mothers. They're so sexy, with their big shoes. All the Israeli mothers I've met are cool, and so is Meital. Yael is a character I constructed from all the mothers in our rabbinical school. I always examine where people stand in relation to their Judaism."