On Root / Weathering the Israeli Summer

Israelis spend much of their summer vacations handling, and talking about handling, the heat.

In Israel, we take our vacations very seriously. Even a short respite from work or school here is called a chufsha, from the root ch-f-sh, meaning "freedom" or "liberty." We don't just vacation, we escape bondage! Even more dramatically, the two-month summer break from school, which we are currently in the thick of, is called hachofesh hagadol – "The Great Freedom."

We devote most of this chofesh, an alternative word for "vacation," to finding ways to beat the "heat," chom – which has recently been topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. The current gal chom, literally "heat wave," is driving Israelis toward the cooler waves of the chof, "beach," though unrelated to the word for vacation.

Jerusalem, the holy city, 'ir hakodesh, is landlocked and surrounded by hills. But coastal Tel Aviv has many beautiful beaches, making it the preeminent 'ir shel chol – meaning both "secular city" and "city of sand" (chol from chullin, means "secular" or "profane," while another chol means "sand").


The land of acronyms

Between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv lies another destination for heat-fleeing vacationers. The signs pointing the way often mystify non-Hebrew speakers. What is this Natbag, with its own train station and tens of thousands of Israeli visitors every month? As it turns out, most tourists have already been there – Natbag is just the acronym for Ben Gurion Airport (Nemal Te'ufah Ben Gurion).

Hebrew has a lot of acronyms, many of them from military and religious sources. Basad – short for basiyata d'shmaya, "with the help of heaven" – a future column will deal with this topic.

Where do Israelis go when they take off from Natbag? Amazingly, they all go to the same place - to chul. Chul also an acronym, and stands for chutz la'aretz, "outside the country," or "abroad." Like New Yorkers, for whom everything beyond the City is basically a suburb, Israelis call their country – like this newspaper – ha'aretz, "the Land," with the rest of world somewhere out there.

If you don't want to head to the chof yam, "seashore" or to an overseas locale, you can sit at home in front of your mazgan. While this look likes another acronym, it's actually just short for mazgan avir, "air conditioner." Mezeg avir means "weather," and adding "—an" to the first word creates a reference to a person or thing with a certain job (safran means librarian, from sefer, book). So an air conditioner is a "weather-maker" for your home.

Mezeg, from m-z-g, means a "mixture" or "condition." Like the weather, a person's mezeg, or "temperament," can be warm, cool or downright cold. While you're sitting in the cold, a quick way to improve your own mood is to mozeg, "pour" or "mix" yourself, a cold drink.

The words for hot and cold have parallel forms. "Hot" is cham, "warm" is chamim and "heating" is chimum. "Cold" is kar, "cool" is karir, and "cooling" is kirur. Those drinks have been chilling in the mekarer, the refrigerator. But when you drink them, please go easy on the environment, and don't use cups made of that light-cooling stuff – kal, light, fluffy + kar, cold = kalkar , "styrofoam."


Cooling down

Struggling to find time for a drink? Maybe the kids would enjoy some time at camp. There are two words for camp in Israel. "Overnight camp" – often organized by a youth movement – is a machaneh, also the word for a military encampment.

The root, ch-n-h, also gives us the contemporary word for 'park' – not the type where you would go camping, but what you do with your car, lehachnot, "to park," and chanayah, "parking."And what do you call going camping in Hebrew? La'asot kemping, of course. Go figure.

The other word for "camp," usually used for the day camp variety, is kaytana. Since day camp is usually for small children, I used to assume the word had something to do with katan, "small." But it turns out it's from the Aramaic word for "summer," kaytakayitz in Hebrew – which also gives us kayit, a "recreational holiday."

If you can't ship your kids off to camp, you can all go for dip at the local public pool. A pool is a bereicha, and while there probably is no linguistic connection, you may feel that on these long days in this 'Great Freedom,' the chofesh hagadol, there is no greater blessing, beracha, than that.


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