the 90th minute

Until September 2007, when my oldest daughter was born, this blog covered daily life and politics in Israel, as well as Hebrew-English linguistic issues, from the perspective of an American-raised journalist and translator living in Israel. Now it mostly serves as the SmunchMonk&Bear news agency, a portal into the bizarre universe of the little people. Read more at:

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

If I were Rothschild

Fiddler on the Roof” is about as culturally Jewish as culture can be, and one of its signature taglines is the title of the well-known song “If I were a rich man.” (Go ahead, sing it: All day long I'd biddy biddy bum...)

But for all that the Jewish connotations of the phrase would seem to make it quite suitable for use in Israel, Israelis actually use an altogether different expression to get across the same idea.

The Marker, an Israeli business newspaper that is part of the Haaretz Group, used the expression Monday as a front-page teaser for a story about billionaire Arcady Gaydamak’s acquisition of property on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv. The phrase? “If I were Rothschild.”

It somehow strikes me as fitting that Israelis use this phrase and not the Fiddler one. After all, the Rothschild family is renowned – here, at least – not only for their wealth, but also for their role in establishing the State of Israel.

As you can read here, the Balfour declaration, a 1917 statement of British support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” was made in a letter from Arthur James Balfour, the British foreign secretary, to Lionel Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild and a leader of British Jewry.

And so it is that those who are willing to take the chance of reading too much into a possibly innocuous idiomatic difference can see that once again, the lines between Israeli Jewry and American Jewry are being drawn, in the linguistic arena at least. While American Jewry falls back on the Diaspora image of shtetl Jews to describe their financial aspirations, Israelis look toward – well, yes, a Diaspora Jew, but one who played a key role in creating the state that bred a few million New Jews who shove and shout and ask you how much money you make and carry M-16s and create technology start-ups by the dozen: in a word, un-Tevyes.

Crossposted to Israelity.


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