Shifting back to the real purpose of this blog, this post is about moments that could only happen in Israel.
Recently I got a call from my insurance company to upgrade my life insurance. For the most part, this is a pretty standard conversation. This kind of conversation is often hard for me because the guy always speaks so fast and listening to Hebrew on the phone with a diverse and unusual vocabulary such as illness and other life insurance-y terms is also a struggle.
“Hey, slow down. My native language is English.”
“Oh, sure. No problem. I’ll speak slower.” He doesn’t.
But he’s really nice about explaining things that I don’t understand. He doesn’t translate; he explains things in simpler Hebrew.
When he gets to the parts about what my benefits will be if I get cancer or any other accidents occur, he throws in a few has v’halilas. This is a phrase that more or less means “God forbid” or “Heaven forbid.” (There are a lot of discussions about the origin of this phrase, but suffice it to say its roots come from the Bible and other explanatory ancient texts. But in Modern Hebrew, it’s simply understood as “God forbid.”)
“If you should, has v’halila, get an illness – and, of course, you should always be healthy, that’s the most important thing – then the policy …”
He also has to confirm that I’m currently healthy. I say that I am and get a toda l’el (thank God).
By the end of the conversation, we’ve blessed away all potential illnesses and been grateful for good health. And as a closing, “of course, you should be healthy, happy and live a long life.”
And this is where I fail my Israeliness test. The common/correct response when getting good wishes heaped upon you is to respond, “Amen.” Ah, but the American in me still runs the auto-pilot and I say “thank you!” This leads to a confused pause, but since I’ve already explained that my Hebrew isn’t that great, it’s just seen as a cultural faux pas.
The time that I did say “Amen” it seemed more appropriate. It was the evening before a holiday and my internet went out. I called the internet company and the Russian customer service guy tried absolutely everything to get the internet stabilized. We must have been on the phone for an hour. The holiday was about to come in and he had to go home at some point. I was already at home hoping to stream TV shows during the holiday.
And then at the last minute there was a miracle. The internet worked! And my Russian customer service guy joyfully declared she’chechiyanu v’kiy’manu v’higianu l’zman ha’zeh! And my automatic response was “AMEN!”
[The she’chechiyanu is a prayer that you say at a joyful occasion, among other uses – (Praise and thanks to God) for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for allowing us to reach this season.]
There’s no reason for me to believe that either of these two guys on the phone were religious. And their invocations of God in life insurance and internet service didn’t lead me to think that they were religious either. They were just Israeli, using the vernacular of Israeli society.
And to that I say, “Amen!”
One thought on “Only in Israel”
Love the refocusing. You nailed this cultural ritual on the head. I have an Arab butcher who says,”Baruch Hashem ” Thank God…
Anti-religious friends who say Shabbat Shalom on Friday which translates into “Have a nice weekend” even though it may only be Thursday.
There is not enough emphasis on Israeli cultural differences. Especially by Americans who have been raised in the United States. I am amused when American tourists express dismay when Israelis behave like Israelis. 🇮🇱🇺🇸🇮🇱
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